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The Importance of Repeat Signs in Music

Learn more about this important element of music theory

Released on June 11, 2014

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Video Transcription

Hi and welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a very important show, The Importance of Repeat Signs in Music. Yes, you see them all the time, the double bar with the two dots, tells you to repeat and a lot of people think, oh, that's kind of optional. Well, is it? Well, that's what we're going to talk about today.

Often times I have students ask me, what are repeat signs all about? Why are they there? And you know what the simple answer is? To save paper. That's right! The repeat signs are only there so that you don't have to write out the music all over again. In fact, sometimes you'll find the same exact piece sometimes with a repeat sign and in other editions the notes are all written out. Now you would never think of leaving out the notes just because it's the same notes in music. Well, repeat signs are just as important for the structure of the music.

To demonstrate this, I'm going to play the beginning of the famous Beethoven piece Fur Elise which starts with a repeated theme and you're going to hear it first without taking the repeat that's written and listen to the structure of this and the form. And then right after, I'm going to play the first section with the repeat and you'll notice there's a very different nuance of flavor and mood. So once again, this is without the repeat.

Okay, it's fine but listen to it when you take the repeat that Beethoven wrote in, the very first section repeats.

It makes a tremendous difference. Not only that, there are many pieces of music where I'll hear a pianist or other instrumentalist start the piece at some ridiculously, what I think is a ridiculously slow tempo, and I know right away, as soon as they get to the repeat, they're not going to take it. Why? Because they've taken too slow a tempo and it doesn't work at that slow tempo with a repeat. So is the thinking that the composer made a mistake putting the repeat in there? No! You must find the tempo that works with the repeats. It's an intrinsic part of the music.

I want all of you to try your music with all the repeats and see how refreshing it is, see how the form comes to life. The composers did not haphazardly put the repeat signs in. They are part of the music and you should play them whenever possible as long as there aren't time constraints in your program. Thanks for joining me! Robert Estrin here at and
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Laurel Gibson * VSM MEMBER * on June 12, 2014 @7:54 am PST
I have that "you don't repeat a repeat" when going back to da capo....And yet there seems to be instances where you do...Is there any hard and fast rule, or are we at the mercy of the publishers to figure it out?
Ernest on June 12, 2014 @1:59 am PST
great,these videos has helped me greatly in increasing my musical knowledge
Tony Lockwood * VSM MEMBER * on June 11, 2014 @3:37 pm PST
Thankyou - that was well presented and covered a basic subject. I look forward to the next. Thanks again.
Bill * VSM MEMBER * on June 11, 2014 @4:55 am PST
I’m just an amateur composer, and so can’t be considered an authority, I suppose, but any repeats I incorporate in my music are absolutely integral and the effect wouldn’t be the same without them. Skipping my repeats would be like editing out parts of (rewriting) my music without my permission.
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