from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A keyed brass instrument of the bugle family with a baritone range that was the structural precursor of the bass saxophone and was replaced by the tuba in orchestras.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun In organ-building, a powerful reed stop with a trumpet-like tone.
  • noun A metal musical wind-instrument, invented about 1790, having a large tube of conical bore, bent double, with a cupped mouthpiece.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Mus.) A large brass wind instrument, formerly used in the orchestra and in military bands, having a loud tone, deep pitch, and a compass of three octaves; -- now generally supplanted by bass and contrabass tubas. It developed from the older wooden instrument called the serpent.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun music A keyed brass baritone bugle, now replaced by the tuba in orchestral music


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[French : Greek ophis, snake (from its resemblance to the serpent, a musical instrument) + Greek klēis, klēid-, key.]



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  • Unkindly known in Victorian times as the chromatic bullock. Mendelssohn requires one in his overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream. It does Bottom's braying beautifully.

    September 1, 2008

  • interesting one, thank you! :-)

    September 2, 2008

  • A rather cumbersome 19th century keyed brass instrument of the bass register, rather like a baritone saxophone with a trombone mouthpiece.

    I actually saw one of these for sale in a Boston music store last year. It came with a fingering chart.

    September 2, 2008

  • "It is essentially a development of the old wooden serpent, and has sometimes been made partly of wood; it is the bass representative of the keyed-bugle family." --CD

    April 14, 2011

  • chromatic bullock, indeed.

    December 9, 2011

  • They've tried since Jimmy Hoffa died

    To honor him with proper pride,

    To answer the urge

    To play him a dirge

    With glockenspiel and ophicleide.

    December 18, 2016