I’m writing a piece with a movement that has two different endings: one to use if continuing on to the next movement, and one to use if playing the movement as a standalone piece. The players take either one path or the other:

flow of the music

There isn’t just a difference of a single note or two; the two endings have a different number of measures. They need to be notated as separate passages of music, like a “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

I’ve come up with a few alternatives for notating this that seem reasonable. However, I'm wondering: is there a precedent for this? I feel like other pieces must do it, but can’t find any. I don't see anything about it in the notation references I have handy.

To be clear, I’m not looking for ad hoc opinions on what notation to use; I’m wondering whether there is a precedent I should be aware of — either specific pieces that do this or discussion of the problem in some notation reference work — or whether I’m free to just wing it.

Update: In case anyone’s curious, here’s what I ended up doing, based loosely on the Elgar example Rosie found:

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  • By far the most common precedent is to write both endings after another and clarify your intent with a footnote. There is no recurring notation device specific to this special case. Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 8:26
  • @KilianFoth: Can you think of any specific examples of pieces that do this? Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 16:52

3 Answers 3


Var. XII of Elgar's Enigma Variations has a 1-bar ending (for playing stand-alone); there is no music played only when the entire work is played. In the full score, the extra bar has a reference to an explanatory footnote. There is also the mark "attacca" just before that extra bar.

  • Thanks! Though Elgar gives an extra bar if played alone, not a different one, I dug up the score for the piece and it does provide several useful precedents: (1) both paths on the same system, sharing staves; (2) a double bar to separate the options; (3) a volta bracket (i.e. in the style of a 2nd ending) over the alternate measure; and (4) “attaca” showing where to proceed to the next movement. All of this is useful guidance in my situation. Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 1:33

This may seem like a non-answer, but:

is there a precedent for this?

Yes, sort of. Consider the introduction to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. In the full work, the introduction transitions into C minor and the start Act I. But Wagner also wrote a concert ending that concludes in A. He did this—and here comes the letdown—by just having two versions of the score.

I say this because it isn't uncommon for musicians to have an extra page or two inserted into their score to add at any time. Pit musicians in operas, ballets, and musicals do it constantly. If you can't come up with a cleaner solution, don't be afraid to take this one; I can't imagine any experienced musician turning their nose up to it.

You may also consider some music within the aleatoric tradition. I no longer have those scores with me, but there are definitely scores within this "choose your own adventure" vein. Roll two dice, for instance, and the number you role determines what section you play next.


Possible choices, listed in my order of preference.

"alt" with perhaps a few words indicating "when standalone" and "when full piece"

"ossia", which is usually provided as a different set of notes, printed in smaller type above the normal passage.

"optare" , Italian for "to choose"

  • 3
    A ossia is for an alternative version of the SAME music, not an alternative ending.
    – Laurence
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 14:03
  • @LaurencePayne I'm aware of that. It can, however, apply to the last N bars of a piece. I agree that it's not the best choice in this situation Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 14:07
  • Here the ossia works especially poorly because (1) the two alternative paths contain a different number of measures, and (2) the ossia would have to contain all the staves for all the players. @CarlWitthoft, per the question, can you think of any specific pieces that do something like this? Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 16:58

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