Musical notation: phrases that are repeated more than twice

I’m stumped. I took piano for many years, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a notation that indicates a phrase played more than 2x.

I’m trying to notate a piece of music called “Music for a Found Harmonium” by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and it’s very repetitious. In one version, a phrase is played at least three times in a row.

I’ve searched on the Internet but I can’t seem to find any information on how this type of thing should be notated. I only find the classical “repeat once” instruction, or 1 and 2 ending.

Does anyone out there know how to do this?

Repeat Sign.

The easiest way is to simply add text to the beginning of the repeat that says ‘Play 3 times.’ For good measure, (Ha!) put 1,2 in the ‘first’ ending bracket and 3. in the ‘second’ ending’s bracket. In Sibelius, the brackets are under ‘Create > Line’ (you can get blank ones.) and the instructions are under ‘Create > Text > Other Staff Text > Plain Text’. Other programs probably have similar routes; I’m only familiar (and I use ‘familiar’ in its loosest possible sense.) with Sibelius.

I find it more specific to say ‘Play 4 x’ rather than ‘Repeat 3x’. Logically, they both mean the same thing, but there’s a moment with the ‘repeat’ instruction where I always wonder ‘Wait, did you mean…’. Just my opinion.

Thanks, Ministre, I just discovered this absolutely terrific free GNU software called “MuseScore”. It even plays the notes you write down, and I’m experimenting with it. I realized I needed this type of software today, because I am learning a new instrument by ear, but I tend to forget the bits of the songs I figure out between sessions and am tired of repeating my efforts. After completing about 3 sloppy measures by hand, I remembered once again why I never liked writing down music on paper myself. (Although I have known people who seem to make it their hobby)! It is TEDIOUS. I immediately turned to the Internet, and ten minutes later had this beautiful program up and running. What a breeze! You can even upload your notation or creation to the MuseScore website and it will play in a web browser for others to hear! I highly recommend MuseScore.

I’m wondering if I stick two brackets into one measure, if the software will play 1 and 2 before going to 3. I already know the software will play measure 1 and then repeat with the measure 2 ending. Of course that’s not necessary for printing the sheet music with instructions, but it would be really cool.

John Mace, like all former music students, I am very familiar with the repeat sign. The Wikipedia article did not shed light on my question before I posted here, and it has not improved with age.

And you can do the ending brackets thing even if the phrase is always the same at the end. Just notate the last measure twice.

But do be aware that short phrases do not generally use repeat signs at all. And they are not usually used if one instrument repeats, but another does not, as measure numbers have to match up. That’s what simile marks are used for.

You put in the repeat signs, then add a number on top, indicating how many times to play the phrase.

As a percussionist who’s played a lot of repetitive stuff (often with sheet music of questionable help) I’ve actually seen sheet music that reminds me of the notation used in polymers. That is, a bar in parentheses with a subscript number for the amount of repeats.

Wouldn’t that only work for polymerhythms?

Rusalka - Getting the program to play it back for you is a different problem. There are a few pages in the Sibelius manual dedicated to fixing repeats, Da Capos, Dal Segnos and codas when they don’t play back the way you expected.

If you’re using it primarily for playback for yourself, you could just copy and paste the relevant passages. A kludge I’ve had reason to use a few times. You can also force it to rename the measures so that it goes 32-39, 32a-39a, 32b-39b. I haven’t worked with MuseScore - there’s always a way to write something down despite the program, though. :slight_smile:

Depending on what the OP is notating exactly, simile marks are the first thing that came to mind for me, too.

Me too, and numbers in parenthesis above the staff help you keep track when there are many multiple measure repeats. Not the OP question, but numbers in parenthesis are also very helpful in multiple single measure repeats. If you are making charts for other musicians, they will be very appreciative.

I’ve never seen simile marks before, is this a recent invention? I’m not quite understanding the difference between simile marks and the repeats.

You can read about them a bit more here.

They’re (in my opinion) a useful and flexible shorthand, and are different than repeats as they are reserved for much shorter note sequences than repeats are used for, and they are helpful in multi-instrument scores where you want the bars to line up. So, if say the drums are repeating kick-snare-kick-snare, while everybody else is doing something different each bar, you can just write out the first measure of the drum part, and drop in the simile for every bar until you need the beat to change.

You’ll also find them in some jazz lead sheets that are notated in this manner, to tell you to keep the chord from the last measure.

Simile marks are at least a few decades old, 'cuz we saw them when I was in school all the time. Multiple repeats were denoted by a number written above the simile mark.


Are simile marks written mostly into multi-part music? I am most familiar with piano music.

The only time I recall coming across them in piano music is in the shortcut jazz notation I’ve noted above. Otherwise, I’ve just seen it in multi-instrumental scores.

In classical music, simile markings are mostly used to denote that staccato marking, or pattern of accents, or occasionally, a triplet rhythm, continues through an entire passage. A hold-over from when scores were written by hand, and doing six accents per bar across 20 staves got old real fast.