DJA’s Notes: Do not abuse one-bar and two-bar repeats


Editor’s note: DJA’s Notes is a series inspired by Darcy James Argue‘s Facebook posts, which offer some quick, basic steps to improve the appearance of notated music, especially from a jazz/big band perspective. Here at Scoring Notes, we’ve replicated the content of Darcy’s posts and have added instructions for how to achieve the desired result in the major commercial desktop notation programs.

Do not abuse one-bar and two-bar repeats. The figure must be written out in full at the beginning of every system and — I can’t believe I have to say this — at the beginning of every score page.

[You see, when I’m sight-conducting a piece with a big band, I don’t actually have perfect recall of whatever repeated figure the piano player started playing three pages ago… ]

If you use a ton of one-bar repeats per system (for instance, instead of slashes in a drum part — which is also something you should generally not do, but, okay, one thing at a time… ) then you need to number them: (4), (8), etc. And — this is important — the number indicates the total number of times the figure is played. Not the total number of one-bar repeats.

ALSO: when using two-bar repeats BOTH. MEASURES. MUST. BE. ON. THE. SAME. SYSTEM. This is true for both the fully-notated measures to be repeated and the measures that employ the 2-bar repeat. (Thanks to Russ Anixter for reminding me of this egregious and all-too-common violation.)

Finally, do not use 4-bar repeats. Just… no.

Cheers, and best,



To apply a one- or two-bar repeat

Select the music to apply the repeat to.

Right-click (or Control-click on Mac) the selection, and choose Staff Style > Apply Staff Style…

Choose the desired repeat style, and click OK.

It is also possible, and ultimately faster, to make the selection while in Tools > Staff and type the O or T metatool for one- or two-bar repeats, respectively (set as defaults in Finale files).

To apply slash notation

Use the above method, but choose the Slash Notation staff style.

To fit music onto a system

In View > Page View, click the measure to be moved and press Up Arrow to move it to the end of the previous system or Down Arrow to move it to the beginning of the next system.

To fit a desired number of measures to a system, select the range of measures for which you want to specify the number of measures per line, and go to Utilities > Fit Measures.

In Lock Layout with _ Measure(s) per System, enter the number of measures per system, and click OK.

To number repeated bars

This is not easily done automatically in Finale. The Number Repeated Measures plug-in, located in Plug-ins > Measures, is not very good.

On his Of Note blog, Robert Puff offers some various suggestions to place repeated numbers and control their appearance and positioning.


To apply a one- or two-bar repeat

Select the music, then choose the desired repeat from the fifth Keypad layout (Jazz articulations).

To apply slash notation

Go to File > Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins.

In the category Notes and rests, choose the plug-in Fill Selection With Slash Notes.

Click Install, then Close.

In the score, select the music to apply the slash notation to.

Run the plug-in Fill Selection With Slash Notes. by typing it into the Search bar in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, or finding it from Home > Plug-ins.

Choose from the various options. Choosing Hide existing music in selection (in v. 1.10 or later) will change any existing music to hidden notes, so that playback is maintained.

To fit music onto a system

Select the music, and choose Layout > Format > Make Into System.

To fit a desired number of bars to a system, go to Layout > Breaks > Auto Breaks. In System Breaks, check Use auto system breaks and select the number of desired bars per system. Note that Sibelius will do this throughout the document, although you can override this on a case-by-case basis by using Layout > Format > Make Into System on any selection.

To number repeated bars (with applied repeat signs)

Go to Appearance > Engraving Rules and select Bar Rests (somewhat confusingly) from the left-hand menu.

Under Repeat Bars, make the appropriate choices.

Repeat bars successfully applied in Sibelius. The blue icons signify that the bars are to be made into a system

To number repeated bars (ordinary music or slash notation)

Select the music, then choose Text > Plug-ins > Number Bars (this plug-in ships with Sibelius).

Make the appropriate choices.

After successfully running the Number Bars plug-in


Dorico 1 does not support one- or two-bar repeats.

Slash notation is not officially supported, but a workaround method is described in this Scoring Notes post.


  1. Malcolm Miles

    That’s the strangest version of Coltrane’s Miles Mode I’ve ever seen! ;)

    On a serious note, I agree with what you’re saying of course but back in the days of copying by hand, those repeat bars where a life saver.

  2. Albert

    Please, update Dorico’s way to get this! It can be done pretty easily in Dorico 2.

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