Definition and background:
An octave. Abbreviated as 8va bassa, 8a b. or more commonly today, 8vb. When written below a passage it indicates the passage should be performed an octave lower than written. See also ottava. Notes below the dashed line are played one octave lower than notated.
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Wikipedia - Glossary of Musical Terminology
Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary
ORB -- Medieval Music Glossary