The Bugle

In this weeks’ blog we would like to highlight the bugle – an instrument commonly used by military bands across the world. We are going to discuss the history of the bugle, introduce some calls and highlight the importance of the bugle today.

A Bugler from the Royal Marines Band at Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace [Photo by William Warby on Unsplash]
A Bugler from the Royal Marines Band at Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace [Photo by William Warby on Unsplash]

A Simple Brass Instrument?

Bugles are made of a 4ft 6″ long tube with a conical bore. It’s this type of bore that gives the instrument its mellow, flugel-like sound. It is pitched in Bb, although music for it is notated in C. It is often regarded as the simplest of the brass instruments, usually having no valves or slides, leaving pitch control down to the player adjusting their embouchure. As a result of this, the bugle is limited to notes within the harmonic series. Having said this, it isn’t actually very simple to play…it can take months to get the embouchure just right!

Bugles come in a variety of pitches today, and are often used in groups:

  • Soprano (high pitch)
  • Alto (medium pitch)
  • Baritone (tenor pitch)
  • Contrabass (bass pitch)

The Historical Use of the Bugle

The bugle was a development of early communication instruments made from animal horns. The instruments were used to communicate during hunts. Armies have been using bugles for centuries, even the ancient Romans used an instrument called a “buccina”. The first known example of a brass bugle used as a military device was a half-moon shaped instrument used in Hanover in 1758. It spread to England in 1764 and was commonly used in foot regiments. These instruments were used to indicate daily routines of the camp, or to relay instructions from officers to soldiers during battle. Originally drums had been used for this task, but were replaced by this louder, more versatile, brass instrument.

The Westminster Bb Bugle
The Westminster Bb Bugle

Bugle Calls

A bugle call is a short tune, consisting only of notes from a single overtone series. This is a requirement for calls that are to be played on a bugle, or a trumpet without moving the valves. Click here to listen to a selection of British Army calls, and here to listen to some Royal Navy and Royal Marines calls.

Here is a by no means extensive list of bugle calls and what they are used for.

  • “Assembly” – Signals troops to assemble at a designated place
  • “Attention” – Sounded as a warning that troops are about to be called to attention
  • “Boots and Saddles” – Sounded for mounted troops to mount and take their place in line
  • “Charge” – Signals troops to execute a charge, or gallop forward into harm’s way with deadly intent
  • “Last Post” – The Last Post was previously used to signify the end of the day. It is commonly used at commemorative services such as Remembrance Day, and at military funerals
  • “Dinner Call” – Signals mealtime
  • Sunset” – used to signal the end of the official military day
  • “Reveille” – Used by the Marines to signal troops to awaken for morning roll call
  • “The Rouse” – Used by the Army to signal soldiers to wake up
Bugler; LCpl Sebastian Yaseen of the Band and Bugles of the Rifles performing The Last Post

Buglers in the British Forces

The British Army and Royal Marines

Both the British Army and the Royal Marines have buglers. Royal Marine Drummers were first mentioned in the 1664 Convening Order, at the formation of Corps. They pride themselves as being the oldest Branch in the Corps. During the mid 1800’s, the bugle became the main means of signalling, replacing the artillery trumpet. However, Buglers continued to wear the crossed trumpets badge on their sleeve. Buglers are also responsible for playing the military side drum and herald trumpet. Although they do not do this simultaneously, they may switch between bugle and side drum during a parade or performance.

Royal Air Force

The RAF don’t actually have buglers, with the rouse being played on cavalry trumpets. Interestingly, the Air Cadets do have buglers who emulate the Royal Marines with drums, bugles and bellettes.

The Importance of the Bugle Today

The bugle was used for communications until its displacement by electronics. Nowadays, bugles are reserved for ceremonial and symbolic purposes. In some military units, the instruments are even fitted with a small banner displaying the arms of the unit.

There have been discussions in recent times whether to get rid of bugle. They are not particularly well liked by musicians, and are difficult to get in tune. However, they have great historical significance, and mean a lot to commando. For example, 365 musicians in the marines band who aren’t that keen on bugles (of which there are 71 players), compared with 6500 marines who greatly value the instruments role at ceremonial, commemorative and remembrance events. With turnout for such events increasing year on year, it looks like the bugle is here to stay.

The Westminster Bugle

This Westminster Bugle is a traditional Bb bugle. This reliable instrument produces a clear sound. Constructed from brass, this instrument comes in a silver-plated finish. Accurate tuning is guaranteed due to its tune-able lead pipe.

  • Constructed from brass
  • Available in silver plate, plain brass, lacquer and copper
  • Tuning slide ensuring accurate tuning
  • Chained, medium depth, cushioned rimmed mouthpiece 
  • Supplied in a hard, canvas material covered case

To inquire about Westminster bugles, please contact us here.

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