Is there a definitive notation for repeating a section more than twice? Say you want a section to be played four times. I have mostly seen this:

𝄆 .... 𝄇

meaning "play four times", but I have also seen this:

𝄆 .... 𝄇

meaning repeat three times.

I've seen the first version often in the sheet music I've sung at a choir, but transcription software I've used outputs the second version. They can't both be right, so which one is correct?

  • I've seen third and fourth endings for repeated sections with no corresponding "x3" or "x4" markings, so it's quite possible that there is no definitive notation for repeating a section more than twice. – Dekkadeci Aug 26 '18 at 7:08

If it's choir music, then the number of times to repeat is usually apparent from the number of verses in the lyrics. Here's an example from the Lilypond documentation:

Example of repeat with three verses

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    Well, sure. I'm really trying to find out, though, whether or not there's any standard convention for the meaning of "x4" type notation, and whether it means "play x4" or "repeat x4". – Len Aug 28 '18 at 23:46
  • It's very rare for purely instrumental music to be that repetitive, though. If the lyrics don't differ, and there aren't alternate endings, and it's not repeating infinitely with fade out, then it just seems like poor composition to play a passage more than twice in a row. – 200_success Aug 28 '18 at 23:52
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    I think that depends on the type of music. Perhaps in classical music that is so, but I'm transcribing speed metal (X Japan's "Stab me in the back", specifically). There are lots of bars that are repeated but don't have any lyrics. – Len Aug 29 '18 at 3:34
  • the tension of this piece is fantastic – Manuel Araoz Nov 10 '20 at 22:55
  • @Len If the length of the repeated part is short, maybe just copy and paste the same bars instead of writing a repeat sign? – Divide1918 Jan 10 at 4:25

Could try something like this:

Repeat four times


You are correct. 'X3' and 'X4' are ambiguous. Put 'Play 4x' preferably at the BEGINNING of the repeated section.

If your notation software requires a particular other notation for playback, perhaps you can retain it, hidden, and add a non-functional text instruction for the benefit of live musicians. Sibelius can certainly do that. TuxGuitar I don't know.

  • That does not answer my question. Besides, I do not have the option of using that notation in the software I use. It can play the piece back, and so if the section is marked with a repeat "x3" it will repeat it 3 times, whether I like it or not. I'm pondering arguing for a feature request/bug fix, but I wanted to find and actual definitive source about whether they're right or wrong. – Len Aug 27 '18 at 11:51
  • Er, to clarify, if marked with a "x3" it will play the section four times. Or, if I want the notation to say "x4", it will actually play it fives times. – Len Aug 27 '18 at 11:57
  • What software is it? – Laurence Payne Aug 29 '18 at 18:58
  • It's TuxGuitar. – Len Aug 30 '18 at 0:50

@Len, the problem is that the performer won't know whether the sign x3 written at the end of the repeated section means "play 3 times" or "repeat 3 times". It could mean either, so therefore you can not say that either way is correct.

Your computer program is obviously programmed to treat one way as correct, but that won't help if musicians don't regard it that way. Some people even gets confused when you say "repeat 3 times" and think it means play 3 times, so they missed that the first time is not a repeat.

In ensembles I have often played music with multipple repeats. Often it was not clear what the intention was, but since the composer was present it could be solved.

Based on those experiences I think I will prefer that it is stated in the beginning how many times it is supposed to be played, like "Play 4x" as @Laurence Payne suggested. Except if it is written the way suggested by @Meekohi with a box that says 1.,2.,3. and a box that says 4; but such boxes are only applied if there is a difference at the end of the section the last time it is played.


What I know is writing this % in middle of the measure, means going over one time the preceding measure, with two slashes means repeat two preceding measures, yesterday I saw in a promotion clip that you could use even four slashes between the circles to notate four measure repeat. I hope this answers you question.

  • That's not quite how it works. Two slashes actually means repeat the last 2 bars. – Dekkadeci Aug 28 '18 at 14:20
  • @Dekkadeci Your right I didn't write it correctly. Im going to edit my answer. – Nachmen Aug 29 '18 at 6:52

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