Don’t Fear the Theory 4:  Repeats

So far we’ve learnt about counting out the pulse, the heartbeat of the music.  You know what a bar is and how to count through it. You might be expecting us to start learning to read the notes.  I’m going to take a left turn here, though, and jump straight to navigating your way around the music.  The next three sections are all about how to follow a song on the page.

When we write the lyrics of a song, usually we write out everything that happens in the order that it happens.  Sometimes, if there’s a chorus that comes back using the same words every time, you might just get “Chorus” in the text, or the first couple of words with some dots (e.g. So hoist up the John B’s sails…)

When you have all the music for a song, especially one in four parts, it takes up a lot of space.  Much of the music will be repeated. Each verse will have the same tune but different words. There might be a bridge or a refrain that comes back several times.  In musical notation we use several systems to send you back to a previous location to recycle some music you have sung before.

The most straightforward is the repeat.

What to look for on the page:

Two dots in the five lines of the stave mark the beginning and the end of the section that is repeated.  When you get to this sign you go back to the opening set of dots and sing that section again. 

Help! I can’t find the opening dots.

If you get to an end-repeat sign and you can’t find the begin-repeat sign, that means repeat from the beginning.

If there are two or more lines of lyrics underneath the music, sing the second ones the second time through. And the third one the third time through…

The graphic above shows you how to navigate a repeated section in the middle of a piece – this is exactly what happens in “Accentuate the Positive”. Intro, sung once, middle section, sung twice (or more, that’s a performance decision), and finally the outro which just comes once.

Hope that helps.