Hot Licks! Stewart Copeland’s Police Tracks

Stewart Copeland's Police Tracks

Let the record note — it was Stewart Copeland, not Sting, who founded The Police, a band that stood out from its new wave and punk peers with a reggae-influenced sound, unusual lyrical subjects, and Sting’s remarkable voice. Police hits like “Roxanne” and “Message In A Bottle” quickly helped them become one of the biggest acts of the ’80s, and made Copeland’s unique and often unpredictable style a huge influence on a generation of drummers. His trademark use of splash cymbals, high-pitched toms, and a tightly cranked snare made his drumming instantly recognizable. But so did his busy, edgy style that is irrepressible and explorative, and always surprising. With the band’s ongoing world tour, a new generation will become familiar with Copeland’s many contributions to the drumming vocabulary.

The biggest difficulty in transcribing Stewart’s drum parts is that much of their early work was created by recording several drum takes, and then mixing and splicing them together afterward. He was also fond of overdubbing additional drum and cymbal parts to add impact or texture to sections. As a result, it’s not unusual to hear overdubbed parts that would present a single drummer with coordinative impossibilities. We transcribed what we heard, but also what a good drummer could play with just four limbs.

Let’s take a look at some of his great drumming during the Police years.

Outlandos D'Amour

“Roxanne” from Outlandos D’Amour
“Roxanne” put The Police on the map. This unusual pop song about a prostitute has an even stranger drum pattern. Copeland plays & 2 on his bass drum under a typical rock hi-hat pattern that accents all the quarter-notes. It’s very cool and completes the reggae feel of the tune. The pre-chorus features a reggae-meets-mambo groove that somehow works perfectly.

Outlandos D'Amour

“Peanuts” from Outlandos D’Amour
In the band’s early years, The Police were something of an oddity. While most of their contemporaries were playing first-generation punk, The Police wrote more structured songs with complex chord progressions; often with a reggae or world beat influence. But The Police weren’t immune to the infectious energy that punk offered, and often mixed the two elements together. For the song “Peanuts,” Copeland displayed the kind of reckless energy, quick feet, and fast hands that every punk drummer needs.

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