Musical Directions

Today I’ll be posting on musical directions – and when I write “musical directions”, I mean the road map of a piece. Where to start, stop, repeat, and cut across.

Just the other day I was editing an arrangement of a piece and I needed to do a repeat – well, something a little more complicated than a repeat, but basically a repeat. I realized that I was getting quite rusty on the uses of D.S. al fine and D.C. al coda and all that. Therefore, this post is a discussion on the guidelines for using and listening to the musical directions of D.C. and D.S. Since the basic repeat signs are pretty straightforward, I’m going skip all that and go straight to the D.C. and D.S.


D.C.

D.C. stands for da capo and translated from Italian means “from the beginning” or literally “from the head”. There are two variations of da capo, but to begin with, the basic meaning of D.C. is a repeat from the beginning – no matter which variation is used.

D.C. is an indication to repeat from the beginning.

Variation I – D.C. al fine

The first type of D.C. is da capo al fine. Let me make a point of mentioning here that fine means “end”, but it doesn’t mean a repeat from the beginning to the end of the music. What D.C. al fine means is “repeat from the beginning to the word fine.” Fine is an artificial “end” the composer can insert wherever he wants. Sometimes fine is at the real end, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always end at the end. Music is confusing sometimes, isn’t it?

In essence, the directions for D.C al fine are: “repeat from the beginning and play until the word fine.”

D.C. al fine.png

An example of D.C. al fine

Variation II – D.C. al coda

A coda

The second type of D.C. is da capo al codaAl coda means “to the tail”, or “to the end” of the piece, so da capo al coda means “from the head to the tail” or “from the beginning to the end”. This is a bit more complicated: Repeat from the beginning; play until you reach the phrase al coda (or to coda); and finally skip to the coda sign (see picture) to continue playing until the end.

Fun fact: Sometimes the part of a piece from the second coda sign to the end is called the coda section.

D.C. al coda.png

An example of D.C. al coda


D.S.

D.S. stands for dal segno, “from the sign” (see picture). This is an indication to repeat “from the sign” and continue as directed – depending on what kind of D.S. it is, al fine or al coda. Note that the segno has no role in the music until you come back to it for the D.S. al something repeat.

Unlike D.C., D.S. never means a repeat from the beginning – it is an indication to repeat from the segno.

Again, there are two variations to the D.S. theme:

Variation I – D.S. al fine

D.S. al fine means “from the sign to the end”, and again, al fine does not mean the literal end of the music. It means “to the word fine“, which the composer can insert anywhere. The directions in the vernacular are: “Repeat from the segno and end at the word fine.”

D.S. al fine.png

An example of D.S. al fine

Variation II – D.S. al coda

Da segno al coda means “from the sign to the coda”. This is going to get a little complicated, but bear with me. What it really should say is D.S. al coda al coda, “from the sign to the coda to the coda”. I’ll show you why. The meaning of D.S. al coda is “go to the sign, play until the words al coda or to coda, skip to the coda sign, and play to the end.”

It’s hard to get the hang of it, but fortunately this D.S al coda is pretty much the most complicated a musical direction can get.

D.S. al coda.png

An example of D.S. al coda


Summary

D.C. al fine – repeat from the beginning to the word fine.

D.C. al coda – repeat from the beginning to the words al coda or to coda, skip to the coda sign, play to the end.

D.S. al fine – repeat from the segno to the word fine.

D.S. al coda – repeat from the segno to the words al coda or to coda, skip to the coda sign, play to the end.


Thanks for reading!

~ Maggie J.

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