The position of drum major originated in the British Army with the Corps of Drums in 1650. Military groups performed mostly duty calls and battle signals during that period, and a fife and drum corps, directed by the drum major, would use short pieces to communicate to field units. With the arrival of military concert bands and pipe bands around the 18th century, the position of the drum major was adapted to those ensembles.
Traditionally, a military drum major was responsible for:
- Defending the drummers and bandsmen (The drums and bugles were communication devices)
- Military discipline of all Corps of Drums members
- The Corps of Drums' overall standards of dress and deportment
- Corps of Drums administrative work
- Maintain the Corps of Drums' standard of military drill and choreograph marching movements
The drum major was also given duties in the battalion at several points in history, which included the administering of military justice (flogging), to any member of the battalion and collecting the battalion's post.
In addition to the duties above, the British Army also included a royal appointment of Drum Major General, whose duties included inspecting all other Field Music as well as (per The Drummer's Handbook) granting drummers licenses without which, one would not be recognized as a drummer. This position faded in the 18th century.