What Were War Drums Used For?

When I was watching Game of Thrones on Sunday night (Spoiler Alert: It was awesome) I wondered if the drums were kind of like Black Sabbath of the Middle Ages, used to pump up the troops before battle. Before there was distortion, 2Pac, and wicked-ass guitar solos there were drums and bugles.

Dating back to God knows when, opposing army’s would try to kill each other’s commanding officer. For Americans, the best known example of this might be during the Civil War when, without a general or major, the grunts in the field would lose their overall direction and have no eye for the strategy of battle. Behind an officer on an army’s to-kill list would be the soldiers that held a regiments flag (for the sake of morale), then the soldiers who were playing the bugle or pounding away on the drum.

Bugles were used because of their pitch, which was so high it could be heard over the noise of battle. Commands like “Fall-in” during down time “Charge!” in the heat of conflict could be heard no matter what was going on. Drums, on the other hand, were used to regulate the pace of a march. If the pace of the tapping was slow, so was the march. As it slowly sped up, most soldiers probably started to get nervous.

In one sense, the drum probably was like heavy metal or gangsta rap in that soldiers knew their company was still marching on. Just knowing, “Alright, the drummer is still alive to let us know what’s going on” could’ve been enough to keep raw, terrified soldiers fighting. Now, soldiers in Afghanistan have walkie-talkies in their helmets and Biggie Smalls bumping out of the speakers in tanks. There was a time, tough, when drums couldn’t have been more badass.

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