Military Wiki

American naval bugler in 1917

Military bugle in B-flat

Military bugle in Japan

File:War of Northern Aggression bugle.JPG

Bugle used by American militaries in the mid-19th century

The bugle is one of the simplest brass instruments, having no valves or other pitch-altering devices. All pitch control is done by varying the player's embouchure. Consequently, the bugle is limited to notes within the harmonic series. See bugle call for scores to standard bugle calls, all consisting of only five notes. These notes are known as the bugle scale.

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Roman Bugle, 4th century. Added to the British Museum in 1904, this late Roman bugle is bent completely round upon itself to form a coil between the mouthpiece and the bell-end (the latter has been broken off). This relic was found at Mont Ventoux in France.

The bugle developed from early musical or communication instruments made of animal horns,[1] with the word "bugle" itself coming from "buculus", Latin for bullock (castrated bull).[2] The earliest bugles were shaped in a coil – typically a double coil, but also a single or triple coil – similar to the modern horn, and were used to communicate during hunts and as announcing instruments for coaches (somewhat akin to today's automobile horn). Predecessors and relatives of the bugle included the post horn, the Pless horn (sometimes called the "Prince Pless horn"), and the bugle horn.

The first verifiable formal use of a brass bugle as a military signal device was the Halbmondbläser, or half-moon bugle, used in Hanover in 1758. It was U-shaped (hence its name) and comfortably carried by a shoulder strap attached at the mouthpiece and bell. It first spread to England in 1764 where it was gradually accepted widely in foot regiments. 18th-century cavalry did not normally use a standard bugle, but rather an early trumpet that might be mistaken for a bugle today, as it lacked keys or valves, but had a more gradual taper and a smaller bell, producing a sound more easily audible at close range but with less carrying power over distance.


The bugle is used mainly in the military and Boy Scouts, where the bugle call is used to indicate the daily routines of camp. Historically the bugle was used in the cavalry to relay instructions from officers to soldiers during battle. Biblically, bugles are found in the time of Moses, when God commanded Moses to "make two bugles of hammered silver" in Numbers 10:1-3. They were used to assemble the leaders and to give marching orders to the camps.

The bugle is used to play Taps or the Last Post in military rites at funerals.

In drum and bugle corps, the bugle has moved away from its military origins, including the use of valves. In American drum and bugle corps, G was the traditional key for bugles to be pitched in through the year 2000. However, current rules in both Drum Corps International and Drum Corps Associates define a bugle as a brass instrument in any key, with 0 to 4 valves, and bell front. Typically, drum corps brass is in G or B-flat, with mellophones in B-flat brass lines being in the key of F.

Civilian drum corps were founded using equipment sold off by the military in the early 1900s, and the last official change made to the military bugle (before its role as a signaling device was rendered obsolete by the radio) was to standardize them in the key of G. Bugles in other parts of the world typically were pitched in B-flat or E-flat.

A challenge for those attempting to define bugles with such a general classification is to explain how bugles are different from any other kind of brass band instrument. The standardized American G military bugle has been replaced with B-flat instruments by the majority of drum and bugle corps.

The bugle is also used in Boy Scout troops and in the Boys' Brigade.


The cornet is sometimes erroneously considered to be the "valved version" of the bugle, although it was derived from the French cornet de poste (post horn).

19th century variants based on the standard bugle included both keyed and valved bugles. Keyed bugles were invented in England in the early 19th century, with a patent for one design, the Royal Kent bugle, taken out by Joseph Halliday in 1811. This bugle was highly popular and widely in use until c. 1850 – for example, in works by Richard Willis, later bandmaster of the United States Military Academy Band at West Point. This variant of the bugle fell out of use with the invention of the valved cornet.

Modern instruments classified as bugles are often valved.

Pitches of bugles

  • Soprano bugle (high pitch)
  • Alto bugle (medium pitch)
  • Baritone bugle (tenor pitch)
  • Contrabass bugle (bass pitch)
Reveille as played on the bugle by the United States Army Band

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