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Abbreviations and Signs - Part 1

Abbreviations and Signs - Part 1


Abbreviations and Signs - Part 1

In this lesson we are going to learn about  abbreviation, and Signs used in music notation. Remember that it is the correct use of these signs and abbreviations  that enable us to read and interpret sheet music accurately. Let us begin with repeat marks.

Repeat marks are signs that help us to know where and how we are to repeat sections of music. It is easier to use these repeat marks that to write a section or the whole music again. They also help to save space on paper.
A double bar line with either two or four dots indicates that a section is to be repeated. If the repeat marks occur at only one point the entire preceding part is to be repeated, but if the marks occur twice (the first time at the right of the bar but the second time at the left), only the section thus enclosed by the marks is to be repeated.


Sometimes a different cadence (or ending) is to be used for the repetition, and this is indicated as in Fig. 24.

Repetition of music can also be indicated by the use of words for example:

  • The words da capo, abbreviated as (D.C.) literally means "from the head," i.e., repeat from the beginning.
  • The words dal segno, abbreviated as(D.S.) indicate a repetition from the sign ( or ) instead of from the beginning.
  • In the case of both D.C and D.S the word fine (literally meaning the end) is ordinarily used to designate the point at which the repeated section is to end.

The fermata () was formerly in common use for this same purpose, but is seldom so employed at present.


  • fine means—repeat from the beginning to the word "fine."
  • D.C. al means—repeat to the fermata (or hold).
  • D.C. senza repetizione, or D.C. ma senza repetizione, both mean—repeat from the beginning, but without observing other repeat marks during the repetition.
  • D.C. e poi la coda means—repeat the first section only to the mark , then skip to the coda.


Apart from those we have already learnt, there are a number of methods of economizing in musical notation by simplifying the representation of:

  1. Rests of more than one bar,
  2. Reiterated notes,
  3. Repetition of groups of bars

So let us learn these one step at a time.


  1. Rests of more than one bar

This is most useful to orchestral players, particularly brass and percussion players, who frequently have nothing to play for many bars. When some part is to rest for two or more measures several methods of notation are possible. A rest of two measures is usually indicated thus . Three measures thus . Four measures thus . Rests of more than[Pg 15] four measures are usually indicated in one of the following


ways: . Sometimes the number of measures is written directly on the staff, thus; .

  1. Reiterated notes.

These are shorthand devices that are used to make reading repeated notes easy. They also help to save space and time.


  1. Repetition of groups of bars

In Fig. 28 the repetition of an entire measure is called for.


Other abbreviation and signs
The word simile (sometimes segue) indicates that a certain effect previously begun is to be continued, as e.g., staccato playing, pedalling, style of bowing in violin music, etc. The word segue is also occasionally used to show that an accompaniment figure (especially in orchestral music) is to be continued.

The letters G.P. (general pause, or grosse pause), the words lunga pausa, or simply the word lunga, are sometimes written over a rest to show that there is to be a prolonged pause or rest in all parts. Such expressions are found only in ensemble music, i.e., music in which several performers are engaged at the same time.

The fermata or hold over a note or chord indicates that the tone is to be prolonged, the duration of the prolongation depending upon the character of the music and the taste of the performer or conductor. It has already been noted that the hold over a bar was formerly used to designate the end of the composition, as the word fine is employed at present, but this usage has practically disappeared and the hold over the bar now usually indicates a short rest between two sections of a composition.

The sign 8va...... (an abbreviation of all'ottava, literally at the octave) above the staff, indicates that all tones are to be sounded an octave higher than the notes would indicate. When found below the staff the same sign serves to indicate that the tones are to be sounded an octave lower. The term 8va bassa has also this latter signification.
Sometimes the word loco (in place) is used to show that the part is no longer to be sounded an octave higher (or lower), but this is more often indicated by the termination of the dotted (or wavy) line.

The sign Col 8 (coll'ottava—with the octave) shows that the tones an octave higher or lower are to be soundedwith the tones indicated by the printed notes.

We are yet to cove more signs and abbreviation such as the slur, the tie and other. You can go ahead and read about these signs and abbreviation before our next lesson.