What is a Bugle?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2019
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The word bugle may call to mind the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” performed by the Andrews Sisters from 1941, but the bugle’s history goes much further back than that, back to the days when it was used for hunting calls. Although they are brass instruments—like trumpets, trombones, and tubas—older bugles had no valves. Today there are valved bugles, and this newer design increases the pitches to which the bugler has access. Both the mellophone and the flugelhorn can be looked at as descendants of the bugle.

The bugle is strongly associated with the military because bugle calls came to be used as signals to announce events to the troops. “Taps” is an official bugle call used in the United States military for solemn occasions such as funerals and memorials. It is also the signal played every evening to convey the message that the work of the day is done and the lights should be turned out. The current music was adapted from an earlier piece of music in July, 1862 by a Union General who was named Daniel Butterfield, assisted by a bugler in his brigade named Oliver Willcox Norton.


“Reveille,” a much brighter piece with lots of energy, is the Army signal for the roll call at the beginning of the day. Other bugle field calls include the announcement of ordinary, everyday events: “Assembly,” “Breakfast,” “Mail Call,” “Drill Call,” and “Mess Call,” for example. But other calls were field signals for important military operations, like “The Rally” – used to regroup the troops; “Retreat” – the command to fall back during a military action; and “The March” to let soldiers know that it was time to be on the move.

Besides its military use, the bugle is an essential component of the American drum and bugle corps, which developed from the marching band. The drum and bugle corps is composed of a colorguard; the percussion section, which includes pit percussion as well as a marching battery drumline, and the marching battery hornline. Three different sizes of bugle — soprano, baritone, and contrabass — as well as mellophones and euphoniums, are typically found in the hornline.


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