A drum and bugle corps is a variety of marching band. These groups typically employ a mixture of percussion and brass instruments. Some members also use props, ranging from stylized rifles to flags and ornaments, to accompany the music and present striking visual images. This style of marching band has its roots in the military, but a majority of modern corps are not comprised of military personnel, although the major military academies still maintain drum and bugle corps units.
Military units have long made use of musical instruments to help troops keep pace while marching or to direct and inspire troops on the battlefield. Instruments used by the military needed to carry through the din of battle. They also needed to be portable and durable. Drums and simple brass instruments, such as bugles, meet both of these requirements and have been used to aid marching soldiers since the era of the Roman Empire.
The modern drum and bugle corps appeared early in the 20th century. The first corps used instruments common to the armed forces of the day — drums and bugles. These instruments were accompanied by soldiers performing elaborate versions of the standard marching drills of the day, complete with stylized displays of rifles and sabers.
After the First World War, drum and bugle corps became more common in the civilian sphere. Patriotic groups sponsored competitions and encouraged these bands to form and to take part in celebrations on national holidays or at sporting or civic events. Some modern drum and bugle corps organizations are still affiliated with patriotic or military organizations, but many are now largely independent and rely on sponsors or ticket sales to fund their activities.
Since the late 20th century, drum and bugle corps have generally moved away from a strict focus on military drill and appearance and have become more theatrical in nature. All varieties of marching band have placed more and more emphasis on showmanship, and this trend can be seen in drum and bugle corps movement as well. A great deal of choreography, planning, and practice is required for a successful modern drum and bugle corps routine.
These modern groups are typically made up of young people, often young men. The larger and more successful corps travel and compete extensively. The instruments used by modern groups are still brass and percussion, but simple cavalry bugles have been replaced by the full selection of marching band brass instruments.