Connecticut Shoreline Studio for Music Lessons
in Voice, Piano, Guitar & the Fundamentals of Music

All Skill Levels Welcome, Ages 4 -104

Connecticut Shoreline Studio for Music Lessons
in Voice, Piano, Guitar & the Fundamentals of Music

Clef Notes

How to Follow Signs in Sheet Music

Do You Know How to Follow All the Common Road Signs in Music

Musicians use all kinds of ways to communicate with each other about what notes to play from scribbles on a napkin to full-fledged orchestral scores, but one of the most popular ways is via sheet music. I have bookcases full of it that I use every day with my students. Many of the beginners find it difficult to navigate because they are unfamiliar with the road signs. Here is an explanation about how to follow the basic signs used most of the time.

Why Road Signs Are Useful

The reason for most road signs is to make it so that you can fit the music onto as few pages as possible. Rather than taking up the ten pages it would take to write out a song in it’s entirety from beginning to end, you could use some symbols that mean “Repeat that section” or “Go back to that other section and play it again” and maybe get the page count down to three or four.

One of the things that makes music enjoyable is it’s predictability. Choruses are repeated; verse melodies are repeated with different lyrics. If we could write out the verse melody or chorus once and just refer back to it, we could use way fewer pages. Not only that, it makes it clearer how many different kinds of sections there really are. 

The Repeat Sign

Everything between these two signs is to be repeated once.

Repeat Signs

Sometimes you will only see the second one, and it means “Repeat from the beginning.” So both of these…

I Like Unicorns
I Like Unicorns 2

… are meant to be read:

I like unicorns.

I like unicorns.

First & Second Endings

These are always used in conjunction with a repeat sign. You use the first one on the first go around and you use the second one on the second go around. A chart I wrote recently with John Hurley for “Tumbling Dice” includes six endings so we were able to fit it all onto one page.

1st and 2nd Endings

Here’s an example of how you could use them:

Unicorns with 1st and 2nd Endings

This is meant to be executed as a first verse and a second verse that are using the same melody for those first two words:

I like unicorns.
I love fluffy kittens.

The Fine Sign & The Double Bar

Pronounced “Fee-nay,” it just means “End.”

It is often found with it’s best friend “The Double Bar,” which also notates the end of a piece of music.

The Double Bar

The Fine sign is also often used in conjunction with “Da Capo.” 

The D. C. or Da Capo Sign

Capo means “beginning” and Da Capo means “to the beginning” and is often abbreviated as D. C.

Da Capo

Here’s an example:

Unicorns Are Magical

This is meant to be executed as follows:

Unicorns are magical and beautiful.
Why can’t I have one right now?
Unicorns are magical and beautiful.

The Segno & D. S.

I call this the Weirdo Sign because, well, I mean really.


It’s usually used in conjunction with Dal and abbreviated:

The Coda

Sometimes a Coda is not very fancy at all. It could just be one bar that got left over cause they couldn’t fit it into any other section. But it’s always what you call that fancy ending of the song that isn’t really like anything else that’s happened up to that point.

Using a Coda with a D.S.

Usually a D.S. is accompanied by an al Coda.

Dal Segno: To the Weirdo Sign

Here’s how it looks in action:

I Love Unicorns

This is meant to be executed as follows:

I love unicorns
Unicorns with sparkly alicorns
And kittens with acorns.
Unicorns with sparkly alicorns.
Just wait until they start farting rainbows.

Putting It All Together

Now let’s try putting all these signs into a couple of poems. (You can probably already see why I am not a songwriter.)

This is my song called “Let’s All Go to the Beach.”

Let's Go to the Beach

It goes like this:

Verse 1

Hello, how’s it going?
I hope you’re having a great day.


It’s so nice and sunny.
I can’t wait to go to the beach.

Verse 2

Say “Hi” to your mom
And all your brothers and sisters


It’s so nice and sunny.
I can’t wait to go to the beach.


Don’t you wanna
Be in the sun all day
Quit working and take a nap?


It’s so nice and sunny.
I can’t wait to go to the beach.


Let’s all go together right now.

Go Find Some Road Signs

Now it’s time to put your new knowledge to the test by looking at some sheet music for songs you know and see if you can find some of these common road signs.

Sometimes it feels like a scavenger hunt. If you want a real challenge, go look up the sheet music for Bob Dylan’s  song, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Whoever engraved that sheet music should be shot! Saving paper should not be at the expense of making the road signs clear.

2 thoughts on “How to Follow Signs in Sheet Music”

  1. Sandy – your piece is hilarious and useful – D.C. al fine. You know I’ve had trouble with that stuff (e.g. “Cecilia”) and you’ve gathered it all together into one article. I’m printing it to add to my binder! Thank you!


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