The presence of a coda as a structural element in a musical movement is especially clear in works written in particular musical forms. In a sonata form movement, the recapitulation section will generally follow the exposition in its thematic content, while adhering to the home key. The recapitulation often ends with a passage that sounds like a termination, paralleling the music that ended the exposition; thus any music coming after this termination will be perceived as extra material; i.e. as a coda. In works in variation form, the coda occurs following the last variation and will be very noticeable as the first music not based on the theme.
Codas were commonly used in both sonata form and variation movements during the Classical era. One of the ways that Beethoven extended and intensified Classical practice was to expand the coda sections, producing a final section sometimes of equal musical weight to the foregoing exposition, development and recapitulation sections and completing the musical argument. For one famous example, see Symphony No. 8 (Beethoven).
Charles Burkhart (2005, 12) suggests that the reason codas are common, even necessary, is that in the climax of the main body of a piece a "particularly effortful passage", often an expanded phrase, is often created by "working an idea through to its structural conclusions" and that after all this momentum is created a coda is required to "look back" on the main body, allow listeners to "take it all in", and "create a sense of balance."
In music notation, the coda symbol is used as a navigation marker, similarly to the dal Segno sign. It looks like a set of crosshairs. It is encountered mainly in transcriptions of popular music, and is used where the exit from a repeated section is within that section rather than at the end. The instruction "To Coda" indicated that the performer is to jump to the separate section headed with the symbol.
Many songs in rock and other genres of popular music have sections identifiable as codas. A coda in these genres is sometimes referred to as an outro and in jazz and worship music as a tag. See also fade out.