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I'm arranging a song and I have a jam section in it that could be repeated an arbitrary amount of times. The problem is that the jam section itself contains repeats, so I have "nested repeats".

What I want to accomplish can be illustrated with this picture:
score with nested repeats

So the jam section is on the form AABC, and this whole form should be repeated until the conductor gives a cue.

There will be music both before and after this section. How do I handle nested repeats in a good way?

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  • 3
    Just want to point out that, technically, a single start repeat is sufficient in this case, since they both go back to the same spot. That said, musicians will probably assume that the first :|| should be a :||: since that is an extremely common mistake. Hence the need to find a way to make it perfectly clear that you go back to the same place both times.
    – trlkly
    Aug 26, 2018 at 17:59
  • Oh, those ledger lines! 😲 Aug 27, 2018 at 13:45
  • 2
    If this is supposed to be a Jazz piece, then it is assumed that the form will repeat. Aug 27, 2018 at 18:17
  • Fiddle tunes (in old-time American music) can also be assumed to repeat. Aug 28, 2018 at 20:46
  • I’m voting to close this question because the newer duplicate has the same and better answers. Merging the two might be helpful in this case. Is there a way to notate the repeat of a larger section that itself has repeats in it?
    – Aaron
    Dec 2, 2020 at 6:26

5 Answers 5

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Repeat barlines for the short repeat, DS for the big one. Probably with some explanatory text. Or just write the 8 bars out twice.

You'll find this sort of thing (picture) too, but with even more emphasised 'wings' on the outside repeat barlines. Easy to do effectively handwritten, not so easy in a notation program.

enter image description here

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    Thanks. I should have mentioned that this was in Musescore, but this is a good answer the question I actually asked.
    – klutt
    Aug 26, 2018 at 17:05
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    With DC or DS, it's customary to skip repeats on the second run, and it's unusual to repeat an indefinite number of times. This is going to require some explanatory text, perhaps as a footnote, to explain the composer's intention. Aug 27, 2018 at 16:42
  • It was customary to skip repeats after a DS or DC in short 18th century dance-style movements. Perhaps because a student pianist's early musical journey is dominated by such pieces, it became considered more of a 'rule' than it deserves to be. It was baked into early versions of Sibelius, until it became an option.
    – Laurence
    Jan 30, 2022 at 14:46
  • Btw, Lilypond do have winged repeat signs :) It just won't be easy to place both the winged and unwinged ones next to each other. But heck, you might just use the winged one at the beginning of the repeats, as the other ones would be implied...
    – yo'
    Mar 2, 2023 at 16:27
  • I'm sure every competent notation program has winged repeats. My point was that this benefits from enhanced ones. Heavy strokes and red ink!
    – Laurence
    Mar 3, 2023 at 22:59
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In this case, especially since your A section is only eight measures long, it's an easy enough thing to just write out the A section a second time without using repeats. (I can think of several examples from Brahms, Schumann, Chopin, and the like where the composer decided to do just that.) This then removes any confusion about where the repeat at the end of C goes to. And remember: the Golden Rule of Notation is to make things as clear as possible to the performers!

I know that's answering your question with a bit of a non-answer, but I thought it was important enough to mention, especially since there is a clear historical precedent.

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  • For reading, this is certainly the safest option. Unfortunately it violates the DRY principle... annoying when you've written out everything multiple times and then want to change something – even a digital score can't easily be tackled with regular expressions. — In e.g. Lilypond, I would always write material only once and just bind it twice in the rendered parts. Aug 27, 2018 at 10:13
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    Ah, but performers are not compilers. You have a relationship (through the written medium) with a real-life human being, and that human being is busy enough playing and jamming without using second-degree logic to interpret confusing notation. (not to say that a nested notation is necessarily confusing... but that firm DRY is probably going to be frustrating eventually.) Also, you aren't "debugging" your melody--- some of the benefits of DRY are lost in composition. Aug 27, 2018 at 14:09
  • @elliotsvensson And when creating the sheet, you can use clever programs to unfold a repeat for you. Heck, LilyPond even has a command for that, including the way to include different alternatives at the end of the repeat.
    – yo'
    Dec 3, 2020 at 14:10
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Write the following:

(segno sign) [: A :] B C (D.S. con rep.)

I would never use nested repeats. Better use this sort of navigation aids. The segno sign is traditional, the other way is to write a big [A] rehearsal mark at the beginning and write Repeat from [A] at the end.

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  • This is the right answer, exactly suited to OP's form.
    – John Wu
    Aug 27, 2018 at 9:59
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    Note that a DS in some traditions (I have seen it particularily in marches, personally) are automatically assumed to be without repetitions the second time around (although "D.S. senza rep." is common enough). So "D.S. con rep." may be necessary.
    – Arthur
    Aug 27, 2018 at 13:56
  • @Arthur True; here it would be probably assumed, given it's basically jazz, but it's good to be on the safe side :-)
    – yo'
    Aug 27, 2018 at 13:57
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I came up with quite a hack to make it work with playback in Musescore.

enter image description here

I did not want the whole jam part repeat, even though the scores says so. I tried setting repeat count to 1, but then it did not continue to bar 75. I also tried adding D.S. and Segno to bypass that, but that did not work either.

However, it did work when I introduced an extra bar after 74 and put the D.S. before the extra added bar. So I just introduced the D.S. and Segno and made them invisible as can be seen. I also made the bar line invisible after bar 74.

To get the extra repeat in the beginning I had to introduce an extra bar, which I made only 1/64 long. This is short enough to be barely noticed during playback. If you want to make it even less noticeable, you can temporarily raise the tempo there. The reason I added one extra 1/64 before that was to trick Musescore to make page break work as intended.

If you get confused about these measure counts, I can mention that I used "exclude from measure counts" for these three extra bars.

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  • I find the D.S. usage incomprehensible, and I'm also not a fan of the 1/64 rest hack. Aug 27, 2018 at 17:35
  • @200_success May I ask what the problem is? No one will ever see it. It is a hack to fix the playback.
    – klutt
    Aug 27, 2018 at 19:24
  • Is this question about notation or about how to use MuseScore? Are those gray rests and noteheads invisible when printed? If so, then this isn't an answer to the notation question. Aug 27, 2018 at 19:30
  • @200_success I know. I realized that when people already had started answering the question, and I did not want to edit the question then because that would have invalidated the existing answers.
    – klutt
    Aug 27, 2018 at 20:46
  • To clarify: the AABC-form "Jam" section should be repeated in performance (AABC AABC ...), but played only once when playing back within MuseScore. Yes?
    – Aaron
    Jul 26, 2022 at 6:13
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Clarity and readability are more important than cleverness and compactness.

There are plenty of pieces where the repetitive flow is not notated using any special tricks. A few examples come to mind:

  • Maurice Ravel's Boléro. The theme occurs 18 times, but varying slightly each time.
  • Frédéric Chopin's Nocturne in A♭ Major, Op. 32 No. 2. A very long section is repeated, one semitone higher. There's no standard repeat notation to accommodate that.
  • Edvard Grieg's Bryllupsdag på Troldhaugen, in A-B-A-Coda form. Everything is written out, except for a short repeat within section B, even though the composer could have chosen to write it using a D.C. al Coda.

Your section A is just 8 measures, so don't bother using any fancy notation to indicate that it should be played twice. It's much easier on everyone to copy and paste those 8 measures.

Once the nested repeat is eliminated, then it's a matter of notating the indefinite repeat. You'll just have to write a footnote to indicate that it should be repeated at the conductor's discretion.

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