A drum and bugle corps, also known as a drum corps, is a musical marching unit (similar to a marching band) consisting of brass instruments, percussion instruments, and color guard. Usually operating as independent non-profit organizations, drum corps perform in competitions, parades, festivals, and other community events. Participants of all ages are represented within the drum and bugle corps activity, but the majority are between the ages of 13 and 22. Competitive corps participate in summer touring competitions, like Drum Corps International (DCI) and Drum Corps Associates (DCA). Corps prepare a new show each year, about 8–12 minutes in length, and carefully refine it throughout the summer tour. Shows are performed on football fields and are judged in various musical and visual categories, or "captions".
Drum and bugle corps originate from a rich American military history, divided from other marching musical activities. Beginning after World War I through the 1970s, corps and competitions were often sponsored by the VFW and the American Legion. Owing to these groups' origins, corps were traditionally militaristic. By the late 1960s, many corps wanted more creative freedom and better financial compensation than was offered by the sponsors. At the peak of American drum corps participation, a few corps decided to band together and form their own organizations, which finally led to the formation of DCA in 1965 and DCI in 1972. Freed from the traditional and restrictive judging rules of the late 1960s, corps began developing innovative changes such as the use of multi-valve horns, wide-ranging tempos, intricate asymmetric drill formations, elaborate guard costumes and props, and the use of stationary orchestral percussion instruments.
For the junior corps, the season is a very intense process. Most corps begin having camps on or around Thanksgiving day weekend and continue having monthly weekend camps throughout the winter. Membership in the top corps is very competitive and is generally determined during the first couple of camps. By spring, the members have been picked and camps are held more often as the beginning of the summer touring season nears. Most junior corps require their non-local members to secure temporary housing around the corps' rehearsals sites around Memorial Day weekend.
While on tour, junior corps travel mainly at night after leaving the performance venue. Members sleep on the buses and in sleeping bags on gym floors when the next housing destination is reached. Housing for the entire tour is secured in advance through local schools.