Have you ever heard people referencing the nation’s 24 mournful notes? That’s the Taps! Unlike its cheery-sounding name, taps is largely associated with the deaths of military members and is played at military funerals. However, aside from this, taps is also played daily on military bases. Today’s article will brief you through what “Taps” is and answer the question, “What time is taps played on military bases?” We will also look quickly at its two counterparts: reveille and retreat.
Therefore, if you are interested in any of the three: taps, reveille, and retreat, continue reading!
Table of Contents
Taps in the Military
First, what is “taps?”
Taps is a short tune that serves as a military signal for certain events (both scheduled and non scheduled). It is played by a single trumpet or bugle. So, taps is sometimes also referred to as a bugle call.
Its melody is composed of the C major triad, which are the notes C, E, and G – the G used in the higher and lower octaves, and uses the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th partials.
Since taps is a signal and not a song, there are no lyrics associated (officially). Nonetheless, there have been lyrics written to accompany it, and adaptations have been created. This set of words by Horace Lorenzo Trim is the most famous accompaniment:
Taps is one of three tunes sounded throughout the day at a military base, installation, etc. If you live near (within earshot of) a station, you will likely hear three sounds every day: a reveille, retreat, and taps.
When is the reveille played? Usually, it will sound at 6 A.M or 7 A.M and followed by the bugle call “To the Colors.” On the first note, military members will face the flag and stand at a parade rest position. If the flag is not in view, members are expected to face the source of music. Then, a salute is rendered at the first note of “To the Colors,” and held until the last note.
If you do not live within earshot of a military base/installation and are curious as to what the “To the Colors” bugle call sounds like, listen to it here.
Civilian and military members who are not in uniform should do the same by placing their right hand over their hearts. Males should take off their headgear using the right hand and hold it at their left shoulder before putting their right hand over their heart. If you are in a vehicle that is moving, you should put it to the side and sit quietly until the last note.
What time is retreat played on military bases? It will sound at 5 P.M, which is typically the end of duty. Instead of “To the Colors,” it will be followed by the National Anthem. On the first note, all military members (in uniform) will face the flag and stand at parade rest. The same protocols as the reveille is applied, but to the National Anthem instead of “To the Colors.”
Taps will play at 10 P.M. You should stand still, face the flag or source of music, and keep quiet.
Next, what is the origin story of “taps?”
Taps is a variation of the “Scott Tattoo,” which was the bugle call used between 1835 and 1860. Its present form was arranged by Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield (Union Army) in 1862. It replaces the bugle used to call for “lights out” and was officially recognized in 1874 by the U.S Armed Forces.
In 1848, Captain John C. Tidball began playing taps at military funerals. In 1891, it was adopted as a standard at U.S military funerals.
- Taps come from the Dutch “taptoe” played as a signal to pubs and bars to close the beer taps and send troops back to their units/camps.
- Taps is soldiers’ slang for the sound that follows the “tattoo.” It is three single and slow drum beats, officially called the “Drum Taps.”
Finally, when is “taps” played?
At Military Funerals
Taps are played during military funerals. During the sounding of taps, military members should salute and civilians should take off their headgear, placing a hand over their heart. It is meant to commemorate the memory of military members.
Listen to an example of the playing of taps at Arlington National Cemetery here.
Note: It is acceptable for non-military funerals to play taps, as well. It is better to have a live bugler rather than a recording.
Last year, taps was played at 3 P.M on CBS News “On The Road” to honor the country’s fallen heroes. It invited buglers and trumpet players all across the U.S to sound taps together. Tens of thousands of people participated. Here, taps goes beyond a military call, but also a call to unite everyone and provide reassurance amidst the pandemic.
At Military Wreath Ceremonies
Taps is played every year during each of the military wreath ceremonies conducted at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These ceremonies are also conducted annually on Memorial Day.
Taps is also sounded at night, around 10 P.M (post meridiem) in non-deployed installations as a “lights out” call. When a “taps” is called out in this way, there are no associating formal protocols.
At Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Girl Guides’ Camps
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Girl Guides also sound taps to indicate the end of an evening event, like a campfire. This also sends a message: silence is now expected in the camp.
At Military Schools
Taps is played as a tradition at a few U.S military schools, including:
- Texas A&M University
- Norwich University
- The Citadel
- Virginia Tech
- New Mexico Military Institute
It is played when a former member or current member of the school’s Corps of Cadets is killed in service. Taps, on these occasions, is called the Echo Taps or Silver Taps.
- Texas A&M: The Echo Taps is sounded at 10:30 P.M on the Corps of Cadets Quad. There is a bugler by the megaphone on the North end and another on the South end. Following Cadets’ salutes, the South-end bugler plays the first three notes, and the North-end side echoes. Then, the South-end bugler sounds the next three notes, and the North-end side echoes the remaining of the song.
- Norwich University: The Echo Taps is sounded at 10:00 P.M, following the tattoo at 9:45 P.M at the Upper Parade Ground ceremony. The bugle call will be echoed by buglers on the steps of Dewey hall (facing the Parade Ground).
As you have read, the answer to “What time is taps played on military bases?” is 10 P.M. But, the bugle sound can also be played at other times, on other occasions, like military funerals, military wreath ceremonies, Memorial Day, military school remembrance ceremonies, etc.
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I am Everett Bledsoe, taking on the responsibility of content producer for The Soldiers Project. My purpose in this project is to give honest reviews on the gear utilized and tested over time. Of course, you cannot go wrong when checking out our package of information and guide, too, as they come from reliable sources and years of experience.