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The bugle and animal horns which preceded can be considered not only a musical instrument but a critical form of communication in the days before cell phones, pagers and even watches, it allowed communities and armies to communicate and coordinate over large distances. It was rather simple, easily learned and reasonably light to carry. It could be used by a community to warn of dangers, call the laborers in from the field, and announce times for events. In the military it could be used in garrison (when not actually fighting an enemy) to announce time of the day events (wake up, time to eat, lights out) and in battle it can be used to coordinate attacks (or even retreats).
It's unclear how the first bugle was discovered. Here at Scoutbugle.com we have a theory that the first bugle was discovered by a prehistoric Boy Scout named Grog. This was not Grog's first invention. Grog was the first in his troop to discover the sounds made with a hand in an arm pit. He followed up on that musical feat by learning to blow into both palms of his hands. Needless to say, Grog was a favorite of the troop, but how was he to top himself? He proceeded to try to blow into objects to make sounds with little success until he came across a horn of an animal. He learned that he was able to make various tones which could be heard over long distances by using the animal horn as the first bugle. As a matter of fact the word bugle comes from the French word for "steer."
Animal horns are still used symbolically on Yom Kippur for the Jewish High Holidays. It's called a "shofar"
While the animal horn was effective, it has some problems. It comes in various sizes so each horn will have it's own pitch and sound which makes it hard to coordinate together. Since it's made of animal it tends to have a "smell." It also relatively large and heavy to carry. So as metal working developed, so were artificial horns. These instruments could be made to an exact length, many could be made of the same size and shape so they had the same tone and pitch. While originally made straight, the Romans discovered that you could get the same pitch even if you bent the tube! By bending the tubes, you now could make a compact bugle that can be transported easily by a traveling army.
The conversion of the bugle to a full musical instrument required a method to add the ability to play more notes which we discuss in our bugle and brass instrument basics section.
When you look at our bugle call section, you'll get an idea of the calls that the bugle would be used for the military. Interesting, even in World War II, when there was radio and public address systems, buglers remained critical to ship communication. One navy bugler (who was formerly a boy scout bugler) advised that on a destroyer there were four buglers. They would actually play into the ship board speaker system. ( He had to learn over 120 calls. The buglers were also critical if there was an electrical or other failure on board which would destroy communication.
While we're talking about World War II buglers there are two movies you might want to watch on DVD. The first is "In Harms way" Starring John Wayne. What you'll find in this movie is navy buglers playing into the PA system. A great example of the previous discussion. "From Here to Eternity", also set around Pearl Harbor, stars a bugler played by Montgomery Clift. A great scene has him playing a fantastic rendition of TAPS into a MEGAPHONE as a tribute to his murdered friend (Frank Sinatra).
The bugle now is showing a resurgence over an issue of the passing our world war II veterans. Every veteran is entitled by law to a bugler at their funeral. However there are less military buglers. To meet the need congress now allows for a recorded bugle to be used. Needless to say this didn't sit well with some people and thus a group was formed to promote others to answer the call to play taps at funerals.
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