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Revolutionary Drummers

DrummerThe October 9, 2003 Electronic Field Trip, Soldier of Liberty, will give your students a taste of what is was like to be a new recruit in the revolutionary army. You can even give them a taste of it right in your own classroom!

Two hundred years ago, the military used fifers and drummers to communicate signals to the army. The musicians played reveille in the morning to wake the men up. They played "The Roast Beef of Old England" to signal dinnertime. "Pioneers March" called out the work details. Just about every part of the day and every important drill movement was signaled by fife and drum.

Here are a few simple signals to use with your students. If you have a student who is studying drum in band, perhaps you can collaborate with the band teacher. See if the student can learn the drum beatings pictured below. If you don't have a drummer in your class, use your computer. Just turn up the speakers, click on the music notes for each signal, and your computer becomes a military drummer.

You can start out simply. The following three drum signals tell soldiers to turn to the right, turn to the left, or to turn about (that is turn 180 degrees).

Turn Right
Turn Left
Turn About

Have students stand beside their desks. Play each drum signal individually two or three times, having students turn in the appropriate direction each time. This will enable them to hear the drum pattern and associate it with the accompanying movement. Once students have learned all of the drum signals, play a game of "Drummer Says." Play one of the drum signals. Each student who turns in the wrong direction sits down. Each student who turns in the correct direction remains in the game. The last student standing at the end of the game wins.

You can make the game more challenging by adding more drum signals, such as the following:

Long Roll

The Long Roll, or assembly, was also used to call soldiers to arms. When you play this drum signal, have students stand at attention beside their desks.

Water Call

Water Call was the signal for work details to fetch water. You can place several boxes in one corner of the room and pretend they are water buckets. Assign five or six students to be the water detail. Whenever they hear Water Call, their job is to move the water buckets from one corner of the room to the other.

Wood Call

Firewood was essential to a military encampment. Fires were used for heat and cooking. Place a stack of books in one corner of the room to represent firewood. Assign five or six students to be the wood detail. Whenever they hear Wood Call, their job is to move the firewood from one corner of the room to the other. [A NOTE FOR THE DRUMMER: You see a "poing" stroke listed in the music for Wood Call. In the eighteenth century, a "poing" stroke was made by laying your left stick on the drum hoop with the ball of the stick touching the drumhead. While the stick rests on the hoop and head, strike the left stick with the right stick.]

First Sergeant's Call

Drummers played signals to call specific individuals to regimental headquarters. Establish your desk as regimental headquarters. Assign three or four students to be first sergeants. Whenever First Sergeant's Call is played, the first sergeants should report to your desk. When they report to your desk you, as the regimental commander, can give them a task to do. Perhaps the task is tidying up a shelf, collecting materials together in the room, or moving an object in the room.

All Non-Commissioned Officers Call

This call was used to assemble all non-commissioned officers (that's corporals and sergeants) at regimental headquarters (your desk). In addition to the three or four first sergeants you appointed, appoint another eight to ten students to be corporals and sergeants. Whenever they hear All Non-Commissioned Officers call, all of the sergeants, and corporals should report to your desk. Again, when they report to your desk, act the part of the regimental commander and give them a task to perform.

So, here are all the drum commands at your fingertips (or perhaps that's mouse tip!). Let the drum direct the movements of your students and give them a sample of what it was like to communicate with hundreds of soldiers in the days before computers, telephones, and walkie-talkies. Have Fun!

 

NOTE: To play, simply click on the music notes for the desired drum command

Turn Right

Wood Call

Turn Left
Water Call
Turn About
First Sergeant's Call
Long Roll
All Non-Commissioned Officer's Call


This article was written by Dr. William E. White, Director, Educational Program Development, Department of Education Outreach, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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