A drummer was responsible for the drums in the army for use on the battlefield. During the 18th century, drummers were not only musicians but also acted as diplomats, approaching enemy positions and asking for negotiations through a special drum signal. Drummers were required to be able to speak several languages, and have knowledge of the drum signals of different countries. When the diplomatic role of the drummers slowly disappeared, younger men and boys could be recruited.

Although there were usually official age limits, these were often ignored; the youngest boys were sometimes treated as mascots by the adult soldiers. The life of a drummer boy appeared rather glamorous and as a result, boys would sometimes run away from home to enlist. Other boys may have been the sons or orphans of soldiers serving in the same unit.