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.
“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.
“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.
“Can’t Stand Losing You” from Outlandos D’Amour
“Can’t Stand Losing You” begins with a reggae fill and Copeland’s take on a reggae steppers groove that emphasizes the downbeats on the bass drum. He quickly changes it into an unusual groove of his own that begins in the second line. Here he plays his bass drum on & 2 and plays a unison snare and tom hit on count 4. In the fourth line, he chooses a straight-ahead pattern for the prechorus, and in the last two he fills in the bass drum between all the snare notes during the chorus.
“One World (Not Three)” from Ghost In The Machine
The feel of this up-tempo reggae tune lies in that musically fertile zone between straight and swing, but is notated here as triplets. Copeland plays a straight backbeat with a shuffle cymbal pattern and occasional hi-hat “barks” for the intro and verse sections. The ninth measure has a little fill that fits just perfectly. The chorus has a half-time feel, though he still accents the hi-hat on 2 and 4.
“Driven To Tears” from Zenyatta Mondatta
The intro to “Driven To Tears” features more of Copeland’s tasty cymbal work with hi-hat eighth-notes played over a stepper’s bass drum pattern. He breaks it up by adding sixteenth-notes, triplets, and the syncopated rhythm you find in measures six and seven. He moves the pattern to his ride cymbal after the tom fill, where he varies his dynamics and uses his ride bell for accents, occasionally omitting notes. In measures 21 and 22 he repeats the syncopated rhythm he played earlier, this time on his ride cymbal. The chorus breaks down to a reggae feel with cymbal crashes on 3, and Copeland uses hi-hat fills to set them up.
“Every Breath You Take” from Synchronicity
This song was The Police’s biggest hit and features one of Copeland’s simplest drum parts. The groove was built on top of a drum machine bass drum pattern with separate overdubs for every instrument. This helps explain how Copeland played the cymbal swells and why the intro is so sparse. On the “Every Breath You Take” video that MTV played to exhaustion, Copeland can be seen keeping time by playing eighth-notes on his floor tom accented with his kick drum at the beginning of the song. However, at the Police’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, he started the song with a snare flam and played time on his hi-hat. Whatever works, right?
“Message In A Bottle” from Regatta De Blanc
This is a great tune, and was a big hit for The Police. Its drum part was one of those created from several takes that were combined. Copeland attacks the intro with an alternating snare/kick pattern that leads into a cool reggae groove. He omits the bass drum on the downbeat, making the pattern feel a bit unusual. In the chorus, he plays the bass drum almost continuously, which gives the pattern much more forward momentum than the verse.
“Miss Gradenko” from Syncronicity
“Miss Gradenko” is a short little tune written by Copeland that displays his fondness for Tama Octabans and open hi-hat barks. The opening of the tune has a bass drum pattern emphasizing 2 and 4. We also see his hi-hat pattern vary from nearly constant sixteenths to a 1-and-ah 2-and-ah 3-and-ah 4-and-ah pattern. He goes to a backbeat over a four-on-the-floor kick pattern to contrast against the sparser intro. Copeland used Octaban accents to demarcate the sections and feel changes in the song. Frequent embellishments to the parts keep it interesting.
“King Of Pain” from Syncronicity
We begin this excerpt leading into a verse of “King Of Pain,” where we find Copeland playing a repeated offbeat bass drum pattern underneath a strong snare drum on 2 and 4. He spices up this section with the open hi-hat splashes. On the chorus, he drives with his ride cymbal, and plays a simple but effective groove underneath.
“Murder By Numbers” from Syncronicity
“Murder By Numbers” is a happy ditty about serial killing, and begins with just Sting’s vocal and Copeland’s polyrhythmic groove. Written in 12/8, it has a compound (triplet) feel, and Copeland plays every other count as a rim-click, establishing this 3:2 polyrhythm. We begin this transcription a bar before the vocal entrance where he plays a nice bass drum variation that functions as a fill. There is a brief vocal hold that occurs at the 3/8 measure and precedes the entrance of the other instruments. Since he continues to play the rim-click pattern through the 3/8 measure, it flips and goes from counts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 to 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12. His hi-hat openings complicate the part even more. In the chorus, he generally plays his kick on every other note continuing the 3:2 polyrhythmic feel. Later in the tune, Copeland experiments with dropping out the snare notes for interludes, and takes many other chances, approaching this song’s drum part much more like a jazz drummer comping than a rock drummer playing a groove.