Martial music

Martial music
Bagpiper leads an advance during Operation 'Epsom', 26 June 1944.

Martial music is a specific genre of music intended for use in military settings. Music has been employed in battle for centuries, sometimes to intimidate the enemy and other times to encourage combatants.


Evolutionary origins

Joseph Jordania suggested that the initial function of human music (in the form of loud rhythmic singing, coupled with stomping and drumming on external objects) was to induce a specific altered state of consciousness, battle trance, where early hominids and humans were losing individuality and were acquiring collective identity. In this state they did not feel fear and pain, and were religiously dedicated to the interests of group to the point of sacrificing themselves[1]. Apart from special military bands and orchestras, military personnel also often uses listenign to loud rhythmic music in order to prepare themselves for the combat situations[2].


March music

The notion of march music began to be borrowed from the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. The Ottomans were believed to have introduced the first military bands in the thirteenth century, called mehter or Janissary bands. The music is characterized by an often shrill sound combining bass drums, horns (boru), bells, the triangle and cymbals (zil) and several other traditional instruments. The sound associated with the mehterân exercised an influence on European classical music, with such composers as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven all writing compositions inspired by or designed to imitate the Ottoman music. See also: American march music.

Marching songs

Marching songs, typically with patriotic and sometimes nostalgic lyrics, are often sung by soldiers as they march. The songs invariably feature a rhythm timed to the cadence of the march. There are many examples from the American Civil War, such as "Marching Song of the First Arkansas"and "John Brown's Body". "P'tit quinquin was popular during the Franco Prussian War of 1870. The Boer War generated numerous marching songs among which "Marching to Pretoria" is well known. "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" was a marching song of World War I that became a popular hit. One of the most enduring marching songs from that war is probably the "Colonel Bogey March", which was popular in World War II as "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball"; the tune found later fame as part of the soundtrack for Bridge on the River Kwai. The "Dadao March" was a patriotic song sung in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. "White Army, Black Baron" was written as a combat hymn for the Red Army of Russia in 1920, while "Erika" was sung by the German army during World War II. See also Songs of the Spanish Civil War.

Bugle calls

The bugle call is a short tune announcing scheduled and certain non-scheduled events on a military installation, battlefield, or ship. Well-known bugle calls include "Taps", "The Last Post", and "Reveille". See also: El Degüello.

Ruffles and flourishes

Ruffles and flourishes are fanfares for ceremonial music for distinguished people. Ruffles are typically played on drums and flourishes are played on bugles. They are commonly played in the United States.

Recorded music

The Vietnam war produced one hit song in 1966, "Ballad of the Green Berets" which has a martial rhythm. Curtis Mayfield's 1963 hit "Amen" also features a marching rhythm. In Vietnam and in particular in the Second Gulf War and in Afghanistan, recorded music (often featuring rap music) has been used by some soldiers as they travel, prepare for and engage in battle.[3] Performers such as Eminem have written songs with specific reference to the current wars including "Bagpipes From Baghdad". See also "Soundtrack to War".


Leading an attack, 1904

Historically, trumpets, drums, cymbals, bagpipes, and other loud musical instruments were used for clear communication in the noise and confusion of a battlefield. They are easily carried while the instrumentalist is in motion, i.e., marching. Modern additions include the upright glockenspiel and several brass instruments including trombone and sousaphone, which are often used by military bands.


Chinese troops used tàigǔ drums to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. For example, during a war between Qi and Lu in 684 BC, the effect of drum on soldier's morale is employed to change the result of a major battle. Fife-and-drum corps of Swiss mercenary foot soldiers also used drums. They used an early version of the snare drum carried over the player's right shoulder, suspended by a strap (typically played with one hand using traditional grip). It is to this instrument that the English word "drum" was first applied. Similarly, during the English Civil War rope-tension drums would be carried by junior officers as a means to relay commands from senior officers over the noise of battle. These were also hung over the shoulder of the drummer and typically played with two drum sticks. Different regiments and companies would have distinctive and unique drum beats which only they would recognize. See also Drum and bugle corps.


Peruvian trumpet, 300 CE.

The earliest trumpets were signaling instruments used for military or religious purposes and the modern bugle continues this signaling tradition. See also: Fanfare.

French naval bagpipe band.


Textual evidence for the use of Scottish bagpipes in battle dates from in 1396, when records of the Battle of the North Inch of Perth reference "warpipes" being carried into battle, though it is believed that bagpipes were originally intended for peaceful music.[4] The Irish were also inspired by bagpipes, as witness in this 1586 account: "This sort of instrument is held among the Irish to be a whetstone for martial courage: for just as other soldiers are stirred by the sound of trumpets, so they are hotly stimulated to battle by the noise of this affair[5]. See also: Great Irish Warpipes.

See also

Further reading

  • Mark A. Snell and Bruce C. Kelley, editors, Bugle Resounding: Music and Musicians of the Civil War era, National Conference on Music of the Civil War Era, 2004.
  • Lee Andresen, Battle Notes: Music of the Vietnam War, Savage Press, 2003.


  1. ^ Joseph Jordania, 2011. Why do People Sing? Music in Human Evolution,pg 98-102
  2. ^ Jonathan Pieslak. 2009. Sound Targets: American Soldiers and Music in the Iraq War. Indiana University Press
  3. ^ Jonathan Pieslak, Sound Targets: American Soldiers and Music in the Iraq War, published by Indiana University Press, 2009.
  4. ^ Francis Collinson, The Bagpipe, London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975, pp. 126, 135
  5. ^ De Rebus Hibernicis by Richard Stanihurst, quoted in Sean Donnelly, "The Warpipes in Ireland: iii", Ceol: A Journal of Irish Music, April 19 1983, pp. 19 - 23

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • martial music — noun brisk marching music suitable for troops marching in a military parade • Syn: ↑military march, ↑military music • Hypernyms: ↑marching music, ↑march • Hyponyms: ↑quickstep, ↑pibroch …   Useful english dictionary

  • Music of Iran — A historical painting from Hasht Behesht palace, Isfahan, Iran, from 1669. General topics Dastgah • Radif • …   Wikipedia

  • Martial — Mar tial, a. [F., fr. L. martialis of or belonging to Mars, the god of war. Cf. {March} the month.] [1913 Webster] 1. Of, pertaining to, or suited for, war; military; as, martial music; a martial appearance. Martial equipage. Milton. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Martial flowers — Martial Mar tial, a. [F., fr. L. martialis of or belonging to Mars, the god of war. Cf. {March} the month.] [1913 Webster] 1. Of, pertaining to, or suited for, war; military; as, martial music; a martial appearance. Martial equipage. Milton.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Martial law — Martial Mar tial, a. [F., fr. L. martialis of or belonging to Mars, the god of war. Cf. {March} the month.] [1913 Webster] 1. Of, pertaining to, or suited for, war; military; as, martial music; a martial appearance. Martial equipage. Milton.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • martial — [mär′shəl] adj. [ME martialle < L martialis, of Mars] 1. of or suitable for war [martial songs] 2. showing a readiness or eagerness to fight; warlike 3. of the army, the navy, or military life; military martialism n. martialist n. martially… …   English World dictionary

  • Martial industrial — This article is about the industrial related genre. For the music used primarily in military settings, see Martial music. Martial industrial/military pop Stylistic origins Neoclassical Neofolk Marches Industrial Post industrial Dark ambient… …   Wikipedia

  • martial — martialism, n. martialist, n. martially, adv. martialness, n. /mahr sheuhl/, adj. 1. inclined or disposed to war; warlike: The ancient Romans were a martial people. 2. of, suitable for, or associated with war or the armed forces: martial music. 3 …   Universalium

  • Music — (Roget s Thesaurus) < N PARAG:Music >N GRP: N 1 Sgm: N 1 music music Sgm: N 1 concert concert Sgm: N 1 strain strain tune air Sgm: N 1 melody melody &c. 413 Sgm: N 1 aria aria …   English dictionary for students

  • martial — mar|tial [ˈma:ʃəl US ˈma:r ] adj [only before noun] [Date: 1300 1400; : Latin; Origin: martialis of Mars , from Mars Mars, god of war] connected with war and fighting ▪ martial music →court martial …   Dictionary of contemporary English

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.