Serpent & Ophicleide Fingering Charts

A common request from readers of the Serpent Website is for fingering charts. With most modern instruments, this would be an easy request to satisfy. However, with such instruments as the serpent, the fingerings are so different from instance to instance that producing a single workable guide is impossible. Accordingly, a sample chart for a typical serpent is offered; it shows fingerings that worked under a given, possibly irreproducible, playing situation. Refer to the section of this site that covers playing characteristics of the serpent: How Is It Played? The interested reader will still be able to get an idea of how a six hole pattern of improperly placed and inadequately sized holes can be used to help the player get the best sound on the notes. Note that the pattern provided in the link is for a keyless instrument of the French church style, and does not attempt to depict the slightly more 'modern' fingerings used with the instruments featuring one or more keys. Also, the pattern is for a serpent in C; simply shift the pattern one full step up (two notes to the right on the chart) for serpents in D.

Click here to for the full-sized Serpent fingering chart (better for saving to print later)


Happily, the ophicleide is much more predictable than the serpent, and it is possible to show a fairly typical fingering pattern that will work with most examples of the instrument. The only real complication is that ophicleides had between 9 and 11 keys during their heyday. The pattern provided is for an ophicleide with 9 keys, with some suggestion of how the additional key(s) might be used. The primary nine holes are numbered starting with the hole nearest to the bell, and progressing towards the mouthpiece, and the extra holes are numbered apart from that sequence. Note that the position of the keys and/or levers that open and close the holes are not necessarily in the same positional order as the holes; use the hole numbers to read the chart! The reader will see that almost all of the fingerings use only the top five holes & keys, with the remainder of the holes coming into play in the lower register and usually for only one specific note per hole (not at all like typical woodwind OR serpent fingerings!) It has been observed that the majority of notes on the ophicleide are fingered in a pattern similar to that of a valved instrument. The pattern is for an ophicleide in B-flat; simply shift the pattern up one full step (two notes to the right on the chart) for ophicleides in C, or see the special chart further below..

P.S.    Ophicleides use keys that open the associated holes when pressed by the fingers, with the exception of the large hole near the bell; for this hole, the key closes the hole when pressed. This is due in part to the lowest note on the ophicleide being a half step lower than the fundamental pitch of the instrument, e.g; on a B-flat ophicleide the instrument will default to a B-flat if no keys are pressed, but with the first key pressed the top hole becomes covered and the pitch drops to an A. The use of the top key is almost identical to that of the 2nd valve on a valved brass instrument!

Click here to for the full-sized B-flat Ophicleide fingering chart (better for saving to print later)



By popular demand, here is a special version of the ophicleide fingering chart, with adjustments made for C instruments. As with the above charts, to get a high resolution chart for printing, click on the link to get the large 300x300 DPI version; it will seem huge in your browser window, but don't worry. Just right click on whatever part of the image is visible (this works in Windows at least) and select the option to 'Save Image As'. After saving the image, load it into any paint or graphics program that can read GIF files, then print it to your printer. If all is right, you should get a copy at the original scanned size, suitable for framing!

Click here to for the full-sized C Ophicleide fingering chart (better for saving to print later)


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Copyright Paul Schmidt 2000
added June 2006