When a portion of music, say 16 bars from the start, has a repeat sign at the end of that 16th bar, the direction means go back and start again. The sign I mean is II: at the beginning. So why do some pieces have a reverse repeat sign at the beginning. There's nowhere else to go back to, it seems pointless. Why is it featured in some music?

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    Any image example of notation? If the piece starts with a "|:", then I would say that the typesetter just wanted to "close their parentheses". If it starts with a ":|", well then it's something weird and I haven't ever seen that. (I haven't seen either, in fact.)
    – Ramillies
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 16:22
  • I haven't seen this as well, and would like to see an example, if you have one.
    – Arsak
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 16:57
  • I'm thinking I've seen this in vocal parts for congregational singing where the instrumental introduction is omitted. But I don't think it has any significance anywhere it might appear.
    – Don Hosek
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 18:30
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    @Tim this is in the same category as "why mark naturals in the measure after an accidental" -- it's done to make the music easier to read and reduce any question of typos in the published part. Consider it a musical equivalent of a CRC or FEC (terms from digital communication theory) Commented May 6, 2020 at 12:05
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    @Tim yes,the short answer is "courtesy repeat" . As to jargon, defining them won't make sense unless you're sufficiently curious to run off and learn about error-handling in digital transmissions, Shannon Theory, and all sort of other techno nerd stuff :-) Commented May 6, 2020 at 17:21

3 Answers 3


Are you talking about something like this? This is a excerpt from “The Latin Real Book” by Sher Publishing.

enter image description here

I learned a backward repeat goes back to the top if there is no forward repeat and I agree it is not necessary but then again I have seen dozens of published pieces and professionally copied charts written with and without the starting repeat at the top. I’m guessing someone decided to do it x years ago, maybe for the sake of clarity and it caught on.

It doesn’t bother me personally because if I’m sight reading I start with the knowledge that I will be returning to the top of the piece.

  • That's the point. Why bother? It's a sort of musical tautology.
    – Tim
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 19:52
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    @Tim So is this a question with a pinch of complaint? Commented May 5, 2020 at 20:49
  • It's a question which asks why do the unnecessary. In life, don't we try to improve, streamline, make more efficient?
    – Tim
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 5:39
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    This example comes from a realbook. The score is likely to be read a vista so this extra hint may help the musician to get it right first time. Commented May 6, 2020 at 17:13
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    Accepted answer based on last para. It's more than a courtesy, it's a warning!
    – Tim
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 13:48

Yes, when a repeat goes back to the beginning, a Start Repeat barline is not required. But neither is it prohibited. And you'll often see one.

There's no logical 'why'. Not like the 'why for a cautionary accidental. People do it. It does no harm. Be like Elsa and Let It Go.

  • I do often see one. The question is why? Just another piece of superfluous information.
    – Tim
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 6:23
  • @Tim - I think John Belzaguy's answer has why: while redundant, the starting repeat sign unambiguously declares that the beginning music will be repeated at some point.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 14:18
  • @Dekkadeci - that actually, is probably the real reason for it - to warn that there will be a repeat sign soonish. But, in reality, it's still pointless, imo.
    – Tim
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 14:26
  • There's no logical 'why'. Not like the 'why for a cautionary accidental.
    – Laurence
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 14:30
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    @Tim again, the best way to ensure error-free operation is in fact to allow for some redundancy or "superfluousness." Don't make things difficult for the user in the name of some peri-OCD reasoning. It's like saying there shouldn't be keyboard shortcuts for menu items 3 layers deep . Commented May 6, 2020 at 17:24

It might just be for consistency, because that is how one would usually enclose repeats. Also, it doesn’t hurt to make things unambiguous, even though it’s not really necessary, sort of like a courtesy accidental, perhaps.

Also, sometimes there is an anacrusis right before the reverse repeat sign, in which case you would not repeat the anacrusis; but I don’t think this is what you were talking about.

Edit: I don't know much about the use of courtesy/cautionary accidentals, so maybe I shouldn't have made that comparison. Anyways, the point I was trying to make was that being unambiguous doesn't hurt.

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    With an anarucis, there would be a necessity for the 'reverse repeat' (as I call it).
    – Tim
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 20:31
  • @Tim Yes, I agree.
    – twosigma
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 20:34

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