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 (TuxGuitar) 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
    Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 7:08
  • See also music.stackexchange.com/q/77914/9426. I'd have thought if the x4 was at the Start Repeat mark that would clearly mean "four times in total". x3 at the End Repeat mark means "repeat a further three times". But it's not very clear at all. Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 16:55

6 Answers 6


Could try something like this:

Repeat four times

  • 4
    What if there is no difference in the last measure?
    – Tom
    Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 20:38

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

  • 2
    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". Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 23:46
  • 1
    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. Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 23:52
  • 3
    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. Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 3:34
  • 1
    the tension of this piece is fantastic Commented Nov 10, 2020 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
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 4:25

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. Commented Aug 27, 2018 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. Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 11:57

The most common way to indicate multiple repeats is to write

Play X times

at the beginning of the repeated part. "Times" is often abbreviated with a lower-case "x".

For example:

X: 1
T: Multiple repeats
M: 4/4
K: none
L: 1/4
[K: clef=perc stafflines=1] B B B B [|: "Play 3x"B B B B :|]

NOTE: One needs to be clear on the difference between "play 3 times" and "repeat 3 times".

  • "Play 3 times" means the measure will be played a total of three times.
  • "Repeat 3 times" should be avoided because it's ambiguous. It could mean the same as "Play 3 times", or it could mean the measure will be played a total of four times (a first play plus three repeats).
  • I thought one used three dots instead of two?
    – Emil
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 7:51
  • @Emil By "dots", do you mean the dots that are part of the repeat signs?
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 8:23
  • Yes @Aaron, It might be an assumption from me though, I don't have any reference for that.
    – Emil
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 10:20
  • @Emil I've never see it before. Always two dots, with an annotation if the passage should be repeated more than one time.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 14:35
  • The problem with play/repeat 3 times is that it is language dependent. Musical notation usually doesn't require you to know a certain language (except Italian).
    – d-b
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 6:49

@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.


I had this same question and I think you are right, that there may be no standardised answer. From the well-meaning answers given above, though not all seem to be directly helpful, it seems obvious that there is at least confusion.

Writing "Play X times" above the measure is useful for the written score but not for the playback in your transcriptipon software and in that case you need to use the syntax of the software. There may be an option in the 'Tuxguitar' settings which allows you to choose how the multiple repeat function is displayed on the score, but you'll need to google that one. I use GuitarPro and it certainly has the capability to include non functional notes above the score, Eg. lyric cues.

Why not choose to use the same syntax as your software does and then ensure you communicate that with any musicians who will use your score? When there is no agreed upon standard you get to choose your preferred convention in my opinion.

I think of it as: the repeat symbol itself implies the first repeat and the number above the repeat symbol tells you how many extra times you play it; if you play the repeated section exactly twice (i.e repeat once) then you do not indicate it with a "x1" above the score, but if you play it thrice (i.e. repeat twice) then you would indicate that with a "x2" etc...

In the end, I have written a lot of words, but have probably also not been directly helpful!

All the best, Frank

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.