Lesson Plan

Material Culture: the Fife and Drum

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Grade Level:
Third Grade-Eighth Grade
Language Arts, Music, Science and Technology, Social Studies, Visual Arts
Group Size:
Up to 24
in the park
National/State Standards:
SC: ELA – 3rd IV-A, B, E; V-A, B, C; 4th IV-A, B, G, J; V-A, B; 5th IV-A, D, E; V-A, B, C; 6th IV-A, C, F, K; V-A; 7th  IV-A, B, C, G, H, L; V-A, B; 8th IV-A, B, D, Vis Arts - Comp1-4 Sci 4th I-A; II-A; 5th I-A; II-A; 7th I-A; II-A Soc Stud - 3.2.6, 8.1.2


GOAL: To introduce to students material culture and music related to the Battle of Cowpens.


The student will able to list the musical functions of fife and drum in relationship to Revolutionary armies and battles.
The student will explain why certain materials were used for construction of fife and drum.
The student will recount orally or in writing the relationships between the historic origins of fife and drum and use in the Revolutionary War era.
The student will compare and contrast such instruments to later use of bugles and other instruments.
The student will describe elements of music and sound. The student will design artwork for drums.


Music played an important part in the Revolutionary army. Each company was led by a fife and drum. Each company, in turn, was expected to have at least one drummer and one fifer. A regiment might include as many as 20 of each, and include a fife major and drum major. The music boosted camp morale, assisted in marching cadence and contributed to the pomp of ceremonies. Faster music produced a faster marching cadence. Such music was based on British models and techniques. British cadence of the era called for 60 beats for the ordinary step and 120 for the quickstep.

The drum was especially important since it served as a means of signaling and conveying orders more effectively, being heard better than the human voice above the din of battle. Drums could signal an army to take such actions as to strike tents and prepare to march, troop to the regimental colors (flags or banners), march (move out), arise at daybreak, return to tents at night until reveille the next morning, take up weapons, and have a conference with the enemy. Many drummers were young boys, often as young as 16.

Drums and fifes were made from various natural and available materials. Drums were often made of wood, with animal skins stretched by ropes to provide a drum head. Sticks were wooden. Most fifes were crude wooden instruments, often made of boxwood. Some iron fifes were found.

Trumpets were often used by cavalry and bugle horns by light infantry. Riflemen often used their own innovations. At the Battle of Saratoga, Daniel Morgan used a turkey call to rally his troops.

The band movement in America most likely has its origins in the military music of early colonial America. High school and other bands in uniform remind us of this military tradition.


Additional Resources

Camus, Raoul, F. Military Music of the American Revolution. Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1975

Marolf Stacey and Laurie Pessano. Founding Fathers and Mothers: A Field Trip to 18th Century America. Fresno, California: Good Company Players, 1999.

White, William E., comp. and armg. The Tin Whistle Tune Book: Thirty-Eight Tunes Appropriate for Tin Whistle, Fife, Flute, or Violin. Williamsburg, Virginia: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1980.


1. parley – an informal conference between enemies under a truce
2. reveille – a signal to awake military troops and alert them to assignments
3. strike tents – to take down tents
4. colors – regimental flag
5. camp morale – emotional or physical conditions of troops in the face of hardships
6. cadence – the rhythmic flow of a sequence of sound
7. company – a relatively small group of soldiers
8. regiment – a unit of ground forces consisting of two or more battalions

Last updated: April 14, 2015