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The bugle call of Taps was originally created to replace the regulation call for lights out and remained in the Army manuals for 30 years as just that-the signal to extinguish lights and go to sleep. Taps went on to be associated with funerals by the end of the Civil War and used as a funeral honor at military funerals. It became an officially recognized funeral honors in 1891. The call was, and remains, a signal to mark the end of the day notifying one to go to sleep. It is the only call in the military with a dual purpose-to signal lights out and as an honor at military funerals. It should be noted Taps is never to be used as call to lower or burn the US flag.

Over the decades Taps has been used as a call to memorialize or remember those in uniform. In 2013 Congress recognized Taps our  National Song of Remembrance.  This movement was done to codify the music and protocols associated with Taps.

The call has transcended its original use. It has been used to mark the end of the day at many events. Many Americans can recall hearing it at summer camps, even at the Interlochen Center for the Arts music camp. Many fraternal and quasi-military organizations adopted Taps as part of their rituals.

The call was even incorporated into Scouting. As a Boy Scout I sounded the call at the end of weekly meetings. Girl Scouts have sung the words “Day is Done…” Over the years people have used the call to remember a loved one even if they have not served in uniform

After national tragedies such as a mass shooting or natural disaster someone has sounded Taps. The 24 notes bring a certain amount of comfort and a time for complementation and reflection. It takes about a minute and many use that moment to pray or remember. 

There have been news stories over the past decade of those sounding the call each evening at their home, on a street corner, on a beach. Many of these involved people using the digital bugle, an instrument that plays a recording of Taps. Some have used sound systems. However some did feature a live performer who sounded the call.

As a military funeral honors, Taps is reserved as a special musical tribute for those who served in uniform. That is sacrosanct. It’s as important as the flag being presented to the next-of-kin. I do not advocate anything more than a solo rendition of the call at a military funeral.

However, as a call of remembrance in the evening it is a call for all Americans. In this time of the current health crisis it is appropriate to sound Taps. I don’t believe it’s a breach of any type of military protocol. It’s a piece of music for all of us. I have always observed there are two pieces of music that stir the hearts of all Americans-The Star-Spangled Banner and Taps. Taps has gone beyond the military use in it has become a melody of peace, rest and strength.

Chaplain (Colonel) Edward Brogan (USAF, Ret.) wrote in May 1999,
“Lord of our lives, our hope in death, we cannot listen to Taps without our souls stirring. Its plaintive notes are a prayer in music–of hope, of peace, of grief, of rest… Prepare us too, Lord, for our final bugle call when you summon us home! When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and death will be no more.”

Can Taps be performed on any instrument?

There is a wonderful moment in the 1945 John Wayne movie entitled They Were Expendable when a young Sailor plays Taps on a harmonica. A moving tribute to a fallen shipmate.

I’ve been asked if Taps would be OK on any instrument. I’ve always stated it is appropriate to have the call sounded on a bugle, trumpet or cornet. But as I’ve been watching the registrations come in for the TAPS ACROSS AMERICA I see there are a number of participants who will perform our National Song of Remembrance on instruments ranging from Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, French Horn, Trombone, Tuba, to Bells, Organs, and piano

Images from last year

Is it wrong?

How can anyone deny these Americans from paying tribute to our fallen Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen? As we gather for Memorial Day ceremony I think it’s appropriate as these Americans want to express their heartfelt gratitude to those who, as President Abraham Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure of devotion.” And for Memorial Day, if a bugle, trumpet, or cornet is not available, it much better to have some render a heartfelt version on another instrument rather than the digital bugle.

President George W. Bush stated “This is a challenging and solemn time in our nation’s history.” The 24 notes of Taps exemplifies the gratitude of our nation for those who sacrificed so much in order for us to enjoy our freedoms. And what better way to honor our nation’s veterans than with Taps, our National Song of Remembrance.


  1. Kris Rollins Kris Rollins May 26, 2020

    That’s so very interesting. Working at Scout camp, I have been part of the Honor Guard during retirement ceremonies. I’ve also been the “bugler” as a trombone player. We have always played Taps at the ceremony. Even the flag ceremonies I have watched by ROTC groups have used Taps. I’m always thanked by veterans after the end of the ceremonies, and no one has ever informed us that it was inappropriate. We’ve also had those in the know as members of our staff, and conducting these ceremonies.

    We always encourage the Scouts to play trumpet or bugle. We even offer free ice cream at the Trading Post as incentive. 😉 I hope that the bugling tradition will never die. I’m thankful for the opportunity of dusting off my trombone to play today!

  2. Jennifer Gallegos Jennifer Gallegos May 25, 2020

    Do you want us to transpose so it will be on pitch with the buglers and brass? Happy to do so!
    Jennifer Gallegos

  3. Debbie Setliff Debbie Setliff May 25, 2020

    Thank you. I’ll be playing piccolo in my driveway as we members of the Patriots Band and Honor Guard of America, LLC play all across our city Corpus Christi, TX.

  4. Craig Morris Craig Morris May 25, 2020

    I will be playing Taps on an autoharp. My trumpet skills passed awau decades ago. However, my oldest son will be playing on trumpet. We won’t be together for this due to our current situation, however, while he was in High School and College he played Taps at the post Memorial Day Parade Ceremony in our small Vermont town for many years.

  5. David Coates David Coates May 24, 2020

    Thanks for the research and heartfelt answer! My daughter will be playing Taps on flute, I will be beside her on trumpet. We occasionally perform echo Taps for non funeral events. And we will play a duet SSB at 1000 for a Memorial Day outdoor service.
    Every kid who plays an instrument… it might get them involved in community patriotism

  6. Rick Pasciuto Rick Pasciuto May 24, 2020

    I concur with Bob, nothing more needs to be said.


  7. Joy Oakes Joy Oakes May 24, 2020

    Thank you for that thoughtful message and even more thoughtful reply.
    This is a very trying time for us all.
    Let’s all be thoughtful and kind.
    Joy Oakes

  8. Murray Gordon Murray Gordon May 24, 2020


    I struggled to find an appropriate means of recognition for the first responders, health care providers, and the essential workers who routinely take enormous risks in serving us during this pandemic. I couldn’t find an American traditional call, but I came across a UK call, “Retreat,” or as it’s commonly known, “Sunset.” It marks the end of the military day, but its ceremonial use is to recognize an event of heroism, courage, and sacrifice. I hope that when the last shift is completed and the last patient recovers, a bugler will remember to honor these people.

  9. Bob Stewart Bob Stewart May 24, 2020

    What an elegant and thoughtful answer to a question that in some minds had only one answer.
    Thank you for taking the time to reflect before answering.


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