Instruments of the Indiana Brass Band

Confessions of an Ophicleide Player

I can now confess to being fascinated by the Ophicleide for over 40 years. And, the desire to try one of these beasts was fulfilled when the Indiana Brass Band gave me the opportunity to learn to play one. There are a number of unique features of this antique instrument. Among them are its characteristic sound, its fingering, and good notes vs. iffy notes.

Sound: Although its sound is characteristic, one can hardily say that is has a single tone. At times, it sounds a bit like a bassoon and at times like a baritone sax. [In fact, it looks like its parents WERE a bassoon and a baritone sax! ] Other times, it sounds more like the braying of cattle. [Though, it doesn't seem to share any of those physical characteristics.]

Good Notes: The instrument is cursed with intonation problems throughout it's playing range. Each octave on the instrument appear to be just a little 'short'. Performer will want to tune the instrument to the range in which they will be primarly playing. Otherwise, highter notes will be flat, and lower notes will be sharp. There are some notes that will be relatively in tune; while others, like the infamous low Ab (which is very flat), will require some lipping. And while, there are some notes that are relatively solid and reliable; others are vague and slippery.

Fingering: The fingering system is bizzare. There are keys for the thumb and first three fingers on the left hand. And, there are keys for the thumb and all fingers on the right hand. [All the bad notes are in the right hand, so of course it has more keys than the left hand!] To give an idea of the fingering, a C scale in the low octave is:

The next octave keeps some of the same fingering but replaces:

The Ophicleide's little brother, alto ranged Quinticlav, has similar fingering. However, it should be noted that the fingerings can vary from instrument to instrument, as there are a number of alternate fingerings which seem to work better on some horns than on others.

The Ophicleide appears to have the largest practical range of the keyed brass family. It can play from 3 lines below the bass clef staff, to three lines above the staff. It is possible to extend the range, both above and below, but the notes get pretty tenuous.

The current Indiana Brass Band represents the historical bands in three different configurations that include: