I'm arranging a long(ish) medley of video game music for piano duet, and I'm running into a recurring problem.

Most of the movements in my medley have repeat bars, with a 1st and 2nd ending - easy enough.
But I'd like to introduce some very small changes to a few of the notes during the 2nd playthrough, hopefully without having to remove the repeat bars (because the song will be 20 pages long if I can't consolidate - duets require considerably more paper space).

I've spent my whole life assuming that you can't use repeat bars if you don't want the music to be identical on both playthroughs - but I've never looked for alternative ideas either.

Are there any good, clean, methods of notating a couple small changes to a few notes here and there for the 2nd playthrough, while using repeat bars, for cases where the 2nd playthrough is still 99% identical?

  • 2
    Are you trying to notate variations in the middle of a repeated section or in the last bar(s) only? In the case of the latter, you can just use alternate endings. Otherwise, I think it's usually done by creating a separate voice with smaller note heads, but it is unlikely to help with score size and readability.
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Apr 5, 2020 at 15:52

2 Answers 2


You can use the same technique hymnals use where there are different numbers of syllables in different verses (example A). You can use an ossia stave (example B). You can use inline 1x and 2x brackets (example C). Non-standard notation, but quite often found in published song copies where it would save pages!

This sort of shortcut is permissable in inverse proportion to the likelihood of the music being sight-read. OK in a reference copy, NOT OK for a recording session.

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This is a recurring problem, and various solutions have been used depending on the exact purpose of the variations.

  • If you want to support different lyrics in different stanzas of the same piece, write grace notes and or dotted slurs or flags.
  • If repeated sections should play specific things differently, either introduce instructions such as "2a volta: f", or an additional voice with the alternate figures. These voices can be introduced opportunistically, i.e. they don't have to span the entire section. (Example: Mozart, The Magic Flute includes staffs captioned "Glockenspiel das erste Mal"/"Glockenspiel das zweite Mal/Glockenspiel das dritte Mal".)
  • If you just want more variation and ornamentation in the repeat of a section, those styles in which this is common (baroque, jazz) already assume this - it probably needn't be notated at all.
  • If the alternation is only towards the end of a section, you can just use alternate endings as you suggested.
  • "2a volta ..." is sometimes written as "IIda volta ..." Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 4:03

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