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, since the bugle has no other mechanism for controlling pitch. Consequently, the bugle is limited to notes within the harmonic series.
The bugle was originally, as its name denotes, a bull's horn, of which it has preserved the characteristic conical bore of rapidly increasing diameter.
The earliest American-made keyed bugle appears to be an instrument made by Nathan Adams of Lowell Massachusetts around 1825. The instrument is in B-flat and has seven keys in box mounts; all features that are typical of the English style instruments that were being imported at the time. The instrument is in the collection of the "U.S.S Constitution," Boston Naval Shipyard and occasionally is displayed.
Taps is probably the most famous of all bugle calls used in the U.S. military. It was composed by General Daniel Butterfield in the summer on 1862, at a place in Virginia known as Harrison's Landing. From that point on it was gradually adopted throughout the Federal camps in place of the call used to extinguish lights. It is also known to have been sounded by buglers in Confederate camps.
The basic difference between bugles and trumpets is found in the shape of the bell. The musical definition of a trumpet (natural trumpet) is that of a horn which has two thirds of its length in the form of a cylindrical tube – usually it is five sixths of the total length. A bugle has a conical shape through-out. We can therefore make the general assumption that a trumpet is cylindrically shaped with a cup-shaped mouthpiece, while a bugle is conical in nature with a funnel-shaped mouthpiece.
By the end of the Civil War the artillery, cavalry, and infantry were sounding bugle calls. In 1867, General Emory Upton directed Major Truman Seymour, 5th U.S. Artillery, to prepare a definitive system of calls with the object of eliminating the confusion evident during the Civil War. Major Seymour reviewed all the calls then in use in the Army. He discarded some, revised others, and finally fashioned the set of calls which have remained in use up to the present time. In 1867, bugle calls were standardized for all branches of the Army. The enlisted soldiers life was regulated by bugle calls: the daily routine included breakfast, dinner, and supper calls; fatigue call, drill call, stable and water calls, sick call, and taps. On Sundays, the church call was added to the daily schedule.
The role of the bugler has always been to act as a supplement to the urgent shouted commands of their officers. In the Napoleonic wars these signals, or calls, were composed and written down in the regulation infantry manuals of the time. Many of these bugle calls survived in one form or another and were both written down and taught by rote. Napoleon is known to have had a school solely for the instruction of his trumpeters. Many of the bugle signals, as well as the infantry tactics of the French Military, were adopted by the United States Army before the Civil War.
The bugle was first used as a signal instrument in the American Army during the Revolutionary War. The bugle calls evolved from Continental Army contacts with the French and English armies during the Revolutionary War. These two nations have had the most effect on our present system of calls. In the early years of our nation's independence, each arm and branch of the Army developed its own set of "sound signals" - drum beats in the Infantry; bugle calls in the Cavalry and Artillery.
The bugle is used mainly in the military 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 also used to play Taps in military rites at funerals.
Early bugles and trumpets bear little resemblance to those of today. Trumpets can be traced to pre-Biblical times when they were used by Egyptians and Israelites. The earliest trumpets were straight instruments with no mouthpiece and no flaring bell. These trumpets were actually megaphones into which one spoke, sang, or roared. The effect was to distort the natural voice and produce a harsh sound in order to frighten evil spirits.
The bugle developed from early musical or communication instruments made of animal horns, with the word "bugle" itself coming from "buculus", Latin for bullock (castrated bull). The earliest bugles were shaped in a coil – typically a double coil, but also a single or triple coil – similar to the modern French horn, and were used to communicate during hunts and as announcing instruments for coaches (somewhat akin to today's automobile horn).