The Classifications of Bugle Calls

The bugle relies on the overtone series to create pitch.

Bugle calls in the military historically were used to unite troops, issue commands and notify soldiers that military services were offered. The bugle is an instrument without parts that require lubrication and maintenance. Bugles rely on the natural overtone series of notes played in partials by an experienced bugle player. Playing these partials in various rhythms and melodic configurations creates a variety of bugle calls. Military units banged on drums before the bugle existed, but bugle calls became more prominent as combat methods changed and troops spread out over greater areas.

Formation Calls

When a soldier hears a formation call, he or she knows to line up in a specific formation. The formation is dependent upon the type of call. Three primary bugle calls are “Assembly,” the “Adjutant's Call” and “First Sergeant’s Call.” These calls are rhythmic, short and repetitive. Soldiers would learn the calls and associate them with a particular formation to make drills and combat more efficient and organized.

Warning Calls

Soldiers receive warning calls to inform them that a command was advancing. Imagine trying to get the attention of an entire army without the use of a bugle. Warning calls made it possible to alert troops so that they did not miss an upcoming call. "First Call," "Drill Call," "Guard Mounting," and "Attention" are bugle warning calls. These calls often sound dramatic and are performed in quick rhythms to make them readily identifiable.

Alarm Calls

Alarm calls require a high-priority response from soldiers. Alarm calls indicate that there is a fire, for example, or that soldiers must prepare to fight. Calls in this category are the “Fire Call” and the “Call-to-Arms.” Soldiers who hear these calls must report immediately to their posts and prepare for fighting a natural disaster or war.

Service Calls

Service calls aren’t as pressing as alarm calls. They indicate that a military service is about to be offered. These calls, for example, alert soldiers that a meal is being served, that lights should be extinguished for the night or a religious service is starting. The number of service calls is numerous, but this classification makes up a significant portion of a bugler's repertoire.


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