What to Do When Dal Segno Appears in Sheet Music?

Navigation signs direct musicians through a song

A segno mark in piano music.
Image © Brandy Kraemer

Imagine driving in a car and seeing a detour or dead end sign, that sign would redirect the driver to take another route. Similarly, when a musician sees a dal segno in sheet music, that is a navigation sign telling the musician to skip to another part of the music.

Dal Segno Defined

The musical term dal segno, which is Italian for “from the sign," refers to a symbol or navigation marker that instructs a musician to repeat a passage starting from the sign.

In word form, it is most often abbreviated D.S. in musical notation or just called a segno in English. It does not make sense to refer to a segno as a "segno sign," since that redundantly translates to mean "sign sign."

Musical Notation Marks

There are a number of musical notation marks when reading sheet music. Some may be directional marks like dal segno, other may be instructional to the musician to adjust volume or the speed of the music. Other marks can tell a musician how to play a single note, such as with an accent or to hold it out.

Below is a chart of navigational or directional markers involving dal segno.

MarkerTranslationDirection
D.S. or dal segnoFrom the signStart playing from the segno
D.S. al fineFrom the sign to the endPlay from the segno to the end of the music
D.S. al codaFrom the sign to the codaPlay from the segno to the coda mark

D.S. Al Fine

D.S. al fine is a common navigational marker that instructs a musician to go back to the sign and end the piece at al fine, which is Italian for the word, "the end." The end can be marked by a final barline, a double-barline or is marked with the word fine.

D.S. Al Coda

Another common navigational marker is D.S. al coda, which instructs a musician reading sheet music to go back to the sign, and when a coda sign appears, skip to the next coda.

A coda is an oval-shaped musical symbol with oversized crosshairs. Coda is Italian for the word "tail." Similarly, a coda is a passage that brings a piece or musical movement to an end.

Technically, it is an expanded musical cadence. This navigation may add a few measures, or it may be as complex as to add an entire musical section.


Musical Symbols:
Staff & Barlines
The Grand Staff
Key Signatures
Time Signatures
Note Lengths
Dotted Notes
Music Rests
Tempo Commands
Accidentals
Articulation
Dynamics & Volume
8va & Octave Commands
Repeat Signs
Segno & Coda Signs
Pedal Marks
Piano Chords
Trills
Turns
Tremolos
Glissando
Mordents

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