The Most Important 24 Notes You May Ever Play

As most of you know, Branson is possibly the most dedicated city in the nation to honor of our service men and women. This week has been designated as Veterans Week and every store, show and business has welcomed thousands of our veterans to Branson to give recognition for their dedication to the protection of our country.

This evening I have the privilege of performing Taps at the formal Marine Corps. dinner and in their honor and for that reason, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this post to the preparation going into this performance.

The history-

The Story of Taps (reprinted from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs The Story of Taps).)

The 24-note melancholy bugle call known as “taps” is thought to be a revision of a
French bugle signal, called “tattoo,” that notified soldiers to cease an evening’s drinking
and return to their garrisons. It was sounded an hour before the final bugle call to end
the day by extinguishing fires and lights. The last five measures of the tattoo resemble

The word “taps” is an alteration of the obsolete word “taptoo,” derived from the Dutch
“taptoe.” Taptoe was the command — “Tap toe!” — to shut (“toe to”) the “tap” of a keg.
The revision that gave us present-day taps was made during America’s Civil War by
Union Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield, heading a brigade camped at Harrison Landing,
Va., near Richmond. Up to that time, the U.S. Army’s infantry call to end the day was
the French final call, “L’Extinction des feux.” Gen. Butterfield decided the “lights out”
music was too formal to signal the day’s end. One day in July 1862 he recalled the
tattoo music and hummed a version of it to an aide, who wrote it down in music.
Butterfield then asked the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton, to play the notes and, after
listening, lengthened and shortened them while keeping his original melody.
He ordered Norton to play this new call at the end of each day thereafter, instead of the
regulation call. The music was heard and appreciated by other brigades, who asked for
copies and adopted this bugle call. It was even adopted by Confederate buglers.
This music was made the official Army bugle call after the war, but not given the name
“taps” until 1874.

The first time taps was played at a military funeral may also have been in Virginia soon
after Butterfield composed it. Union Capt. John Tidball, head of an artillery battery,
ordered it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action. Not wanting to reveal the
battery’s position in the woods to the enemy nearby, Tidball substituted taps for the
traditional three rifle volleys fired over the grave. Taps was played at the funeral of
Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson 10 months after it was composed. Army infantry
regulations by 1891 required taps to be played at military funeral ceremonies.
Taps now is played by the military at burial and memorial services, to accompany the
lowering of the flag and to signal the “lights out” command at day’s end.

Preparing for the performance-

Mental mind set-

Performing Taps should be considered an honorable occasion for there is much more involved than just its 24 notes. Taps represents sacrifices and heart break as well as pride and honor among a few chosen, or have volunteered to serve our country. Some are able to hear its performance while many will only be there in the memories of their comrades. Because of this honor, your performance should reflect the seriousness of the occasion.

The performance-

One should not be casual about preparing for this presentation, which means having a copy of the original and most accepted version of the number. I have heard many versions and only a few were performed as the original music requested. One misconception is the misuse of the dotted eighth followed by a sixteenth. As you can see from the example offered below, the use of dotted rhythms and even rhythms alternate throughout the melody.

The tempo which you choose must be dignified yet not too somber for this is not your solo; it is a ceremony in which you are participating. Just as the tempo is important for the effect so are the dynamics and tone color of your playing. When I play Taps, I most often use the largest mouthpiece I have on my shelf which happens to be a Schilke 20. I choose this for tone and richness of the sound. No matter how loud I have to play, I will never have an edgy, cutting tone quality which tends to distract from the performance. The larger mouthpiece also tends to mask any nervousness in my sound as sometimes smaller mouthpieces can.

We have the choice of many different keys to play this melody but I have found that the conventional Bb concert still works best for intonation and timbre although the use of the first valve (Eb concert) comes very close.

The use of lyrics-

When performing a number which has lyrics, it is helpful to think of the words as you play for it tends to make your performance more musical. Individual notes have no emotions but words generate feeling and images helpful for a better performance. As you play the melody, mentally think the words and your notes will take on more expression. As an example- play the melody to the Lord’s Prayer. Then play the same melody as you mentally sing the words. When you get to “for Thine is the kindom, and the power and the glory forever. On the word forever, not only have you placed more impact on that word, but you have also forgotten any technical problems you may have had playing the top note. It is as if the words pull the notes out of the bell of your instrument.

In closing, I would like to share with you another person’s appreciation for the performance of Taps.

One of my good friends has been very active in the honoring of our Veterans and I have asked him to share with us his feelings while listening to the playing of Taps. His name is Mike Radford.

Mike Radford

“Whenever I hear Taps being played my heart goes to the vision of a mother standing on
the front porch of her home, watching as two uniformed men approach the house as she
falls to her knees realizing her child has been killed in action. My mind thinks of my Grandpa
Mitch who fought in WWI … hearing his cries in the night as he screamed in terror remembering
the horrors of fighting in 1916. As a little boy, his screams carved deep memories in my heart.
But my most vivid emotions, still raw… are of laying to rest my adopted brother Tim Rogers
who epitomized the term “Patriot.” His war injuries demonstrated the sacrifice of young
men and women from 1776 to 2012. We owe them everything as they gave up all their tomorrows
so we could remain free men and women in these wonderful United States of America.”

I have included a very small listing of his achievements and as you read, I think you will agree that we, as trumpet players, need to reevaluate the honor placed upon us as we perform this powerful and meaningful 24 note melody.

“Bob Hope Award”
for Excellence in Entertainment
Other recipients include:
President Ronald Reagan
The late Jimmy Stewart, Actor
Stephen Ambrose, Literature
Roger Staubach, NFL Hall of Fame

In 1999 Senator Bob Dole’s office asked Mike to spearhead Branson’s fundraising efforts to build The WWII Memorial in Washington, DC– Mike’s efforts helped Branson rank as the #1 city in the country. In 2000 he was named Ambassador of Patriotism by the Missouri House of Representatives and the Pentagon in Arlington, VA.

Download Taps here

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Fading light, dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

Thanks and praise, for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

Sun has set, shadows come,
Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds
Always true to the promise that they made.

While the light fades from sight,
And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

2 thoughts on “The Most Important 24 Notes You May Ever Play

  1. David Rydelnik

    I found this post from the Trumpet Herald forum. I really appreciate this article as I know it will help many, many trumpet players in the future who will be up against the challenge of playing taps. Thanks for your research and hard work!

    • Bruce Chidester

      Many have been very supportive of that post and I thank you all.

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