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Stewart Copeland: Here’s Why The Police Drummer Is A Genius

Brandon Toews  /  UPDATED Aug 14, 2023

Stewart Copeland, longtime drummer of The Police, is one of the most unique drummers to come out of popular music in the last several decades.

His sound is often instantly recognizable between his diverse rhythmic influences, the way he creatively orchestrates patterns, and how he incorporates modern technology into his drum parts.

Let’s talk about Stewart Copeland, and why he’s one of the greatest drummers of all time.


Who is Stewart Copeland?

  • Stewart Copeland is best known as the drummer for The Police, which he co-founded with vocalist/bassist Sting in 1977. 
  • He’s a left-handed drummer who plays a right-handed drum kit.
  • He was born in the U.S., but he grew up in Egypt, Lebanon and England.
  • Copeland has composed soundtracks for movies, TV shows and video games like Dead Like Me and Spyro The Dragon.
  • He has won a total of 7 Grammys.

Why is Stewart Copeland a good drummer?

The Police drummer has a distinct style because of his motley influences (Middle Eastern music, punk rock and jazz keep things interesting). Fans know him when they hear him. His high-tuned drums were also one of multiple components that gave The Police their reggae-rock sound.

Why do people love Stewart Copeland? Let’s break it down with some of his best drum parts:

1. His signature style combines unexpected influences

Born in the U.S. to a classical-loving mother and a jazz-loving father combined with a childhood spent in Egypt, Lebanon and England, Copeland grew up with many different influences.

His style combines reggae, jazz, Arabic music, Latin, and punk rock, which gives him a unique rhythmic sound. For example, unlike most pop or rock drummers, he won’t wait until the end of 8 or 16 bars to add in a fill or chop.

Check out how he adds the kick only on the ‘and’ of beats 1 and 2 in “Roxanne” by The Police:

qt the genius of stewart copeland 01
“Roxanne” by The Police

You’ll also hear some cool syncopation in the chorus of “Next To You”:

qt the genius of stewart copeland 02
“Next To You” by The Police – Chorus

And the bridge of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”:

qt the genius of stewart copeland 03
“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police – Bridge

Copeland is also known for his hi-hat work, sometimes even grooving on a hi-hat part without a backbeat in songs like “Bring On The Night” and “Darkness”.

Did you know Copeland is a left-handed drummer who plays on a right-handed setup? This could explain why he often opts for busier patterns on the left side of the kit (like in “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”).

“Driven To Tears” also features some cool ride and hi-hat parts:

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“Driven To Tears” by The Police – Verse 2 to Chorus 2

He incorporates toms in a unique way during the intro and first verse of “Next To You”:

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“Next To You” by The Police – Intro to Verse 1

He’s also taken influence from Arabic Baladi rhythms and reggae, where the bass drum emphasizes beat 3. Listen to the one drop feel in “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” and “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”:

qt the genius of stewart copeland 11
“Don’t Stand So Close To Me” by The Police – Verse 1

Copeland often omits the bass drum on the downbeat, which you can hear in songs like “Behind My Camel”, “King Of Pain”, and “Spirits In A Material World”.

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“Behind My Camel” by The Police – Intro
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“King Of Pain” by The Police – Verse 2
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“Spirits In A Material World” by The Police – Intro

Listen to how the heavy punk groove changes to a reggae groove in the chorus of “Message In A Bottle”:

qt the genius of stewart copeland 10 3
“Message In A Bottle” by The Police – Pre-Chorus 2 to Chorus 2

And check out the cool syncopation in “There’s A Spy In The House Of Love” by Animal Logic, one of Copeland’s other projects.

2. His gear choices make his sound recognizable

His unique sound comes in part from his regular use of ice bells and Octobans. Copeland has been a consistent TAMA player with the exception of his high-tuned Pearl snare drum.

During a time where other drummers were going for a deep, heavy sound, the Police drummer typically tuned his snare and toms up high (one exception is his work with the band Oysterhead, where he opted for a deeper tom sound).

His cross-stick work in the intro of “Reggatta De Blanc” and the verse of “Wrapped Around Your Finger” adds nice percussive elements to each respective song:

Listen to how he’d add delay and other effects to the drums, like in “Walking On The Moon” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”.

3. He thinks like a composer

…because he is one. His compositions are layered and each part is carefully orchestrated. Copeland has worked on soundtracks for movies like Wall Street and We Are Your Friends, shows like The Equalizer and The Amanda Show, games like the Spyro series and Alone In The Dark, and composed music for huge orchestras.

This composer’s mindset has resulted in cool overdubs, like the tom dubs in the verse of “Message In A Bottle”.

If you listen to Copeland’s solo album The Rhythmatist, you’ll hear a unique blend of acoustic and electronic sounds from the studio with raw recordings from his time in Africa.

For more sheet music and a deep dive into the entire Police discography, you can find note-for-note transcriptions, drumless play-along tracks and helpful practice tools (among thousands of other resources) in the Drumeo members area. Click here to get a free 7-day trial to Drumeo!

“Drummers shouldn’t just think of themselves as drummers. If you’re going to be a musician, you should expand your horizons, compose things, and work with other instruments.” -Stewart Copeland

Stewart Copeland, an iconic figure in the world of drumming, has left an indelible mark on the music industry with his unparalleled talent and innovative approach to percussion. As the former drummer of the legendary rock band, The Police, Copeland’s rhythmic prowess has captivated audiences worldwide and continues to inspire generations of drum enthusiasts. 

If you’re into drumming and want to take your skills to the next level, diving into the techniques and influences of drummers like Stewart Copeland can be a game-changer. This article’s got you covered, giving you all the inside info on Copeland’s epic career, his awesome collaborations, and the drumming tricks he’s mastered. We’re here to inspire and educate, so you can totally add a bit of Copeland’s genius to your own musical journey.

Whether you’re a mega-fan of The Police or just a beginner drummer eager to sharpen your skills, come join us on a rhythmic adventure as we explore the epic legacy of Stewart Copeland, the drumming virtuoso. 

Stewart Copeland’s influences

Copeland got his first drum kit at the age of twelve. Self-taught and driven by a natural talent for rhythm, he spent countless hours practicing and experimenting with different techniques.

Growing up in an artistic and musical family, Copeland was exposed to a rich tapestry of musical genres and cultural influences, which left a lasting impression on his approach to percussion.

Copeland’s father, Miles Copeland Jr., was a prominent jazz musician and composer, while his mother, Lorraine Adie, was a talented artist and founder of the International Folk Dance Federation. This upbringing immersed the future Police drummer in a world of diverse musical traditions, including Middle Eastern, African, and Latin rhythms. These intricate beats greatly influenced his drumming, leading him to incorporate unique patterns and polyrhythms in his playing.

As a teen, Copeland discovered rock and jazz music. Legends like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, and rock drummers like Keith Moon and Ginger Baker ignited his passion and laid the foundation for the dynamic and energetic drumming style he’d later become known for.

Stewart Copeland co-founded The Police in 1977

As the band’s drummer and primary songwriter, Copeland’s contributions were integral to The Police’s sound. The band’s fusion of rock, reggae and punk elements – along with Copeland’s inventive drumming – catapulted them to international fame.

Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, The Police achieved worldwide success with a string of hit albums and singles. Their album Reggatta de Blanc (1979) won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, a major milestone in Copeland’s early career.

The band’s chart-topping hits, like “Roxanne”, “Message In A Bottle”, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” and “Every Breath You Take” showcased Copeland’s versatility as a drummer, transitioning seamlessly between musical genres.

the police rolling stone cover 1

Copeland’s exposure to non-Western rhythms played a crucial role in The Police’s experimentation with reggae and other global musical influences. This fusion of styles became a defining characteristic of the band’s sound, setting them apart from other rock acts of their time – and the drumming solidified Copeland’s reputation as an innovative and groundbreaking drummer.

Who else has Stewart Copeland drummed with?

Copeland’s drumming career spans decades and a wide array of projects and collaborations. Known for his versatile style and innovative rhythms, his contributions to various bands have left a lasting impact on the world of music.

His contributions have earned him several awards and accolades, including multiple Grammy Awards and recognition for his prowess as a drummer and composer.

Curved Air

Before founding The Police, Copeland drummed with English prog band Curved Air. His brother Miles was managing the band and brought in Copeland to complete the lineup during the band’s reunion in 1975.

Animal Logic

After The Police disbanded, Copeland went on to form the band Animal Logic with bassist Stanley Clarke and vocalist Deborah Holland. The trio blended elements of rock, jazz, and funk, creating a unique and eclectic sound. Their self-titled debut album, Animal Logic (1989) showcased Copeland’s rhythmic experimentation became a platform for even more musical exploration.


In 2000, Copeland teamed up with bassist Les Claypool of Primus and guitarist Trey Anastasio of Phish to form the supergroup Oysterhead. Their fusion of rock, funk, and improvisational elements resulted in the critically acclaimed album, The Grand Pecking Order (2001).

Film scoring and other projects

Beyond his work with bands – he’s also lent his talents to Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits and other legends – Copeland ventured into scoring, contributing to soundtracks for movies, TV shows, and the Spyro the Dragon video game franchise. His compositions showcase how he well can adapt his drumming to different genres and visual narratives.

In recent years, Copeland continues to push the boundaries of drumming. His YouTube channel chronicles the jam sessions that take place at his own studio, Sacred Grove, including a collaboration with Snoop Dogg

What drums does Stewart Copeland play?

Copeland’s drumming style is shaped not just by his unique approach to rhythm, but also by his choice of gear.

Stewart Copeland’s drum kit specifications and setup have evolved over the years (check out this wiki on gear he’s used throughout this career), reflecting his continuous exploration of new sounds and techniques. Through his distinctive choice of drums, cymbals, and effects, as well as the incorporation of unique elements like octobans, Copeland has created a recognizable drumming sound.

Here’s an overview of his drum kit specs, including sizes, brands, cymbals, and any unique or custom elements that contribute to his iconic sound.

Stewart Copeland’s drum set

Stewart Copeland’s kit is a reflection of his innovative and versatile drumming style. Throughout his career, Copeland has used a variety of drums and cymbals to achieve his signature sound.

Here’s his general setup – a Starclassic Maple in “Police blue sparkle” – according to his TAMA profile:

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One of the most unique elements of Copeland’s drum kit is his use of octobans: small, tuned cylindrical drums that produce high-pitched tones. He positions four of them above his main drum kit, allowing him to add melodic layers to his playing. He’s also a fan of the almighty cowbell.

Here’s Stewart Copeland’s cymbal setup as listed on his Paiste profile:

  • 14″ 2002 Flanger Splash (discontinued)
  • 12″ Signature Combo Crisp Hi-Hat “Rhythmatist”
  • 6″ 2002 Cup Chime
  • 18″ Signature Fast Crash
  • 8″ Signature Splash
  • 10″ Signature Splash
  • 16″ Signature Full Crash
  • 22″ Signature Blue Bell Ride “Rhythmatist”
  • 17″ Signature Fast Crash
  • 18″ Signature Traditionals Light Flat Ride
  • 18″ Signature Fast Crash

How to play drums like Stewart Copeland

Versatility, rhythmic complexity, and diverse influences: these have made Copeland’s drumming unique, and you can channel his approach to develop your own musical voice.

Here are some insights into Copeland’s drumming techniques, as well as a few practice tips to improve your own skills:

1. Embrace polyrhythms and syncopation

Copeland’s drumming often features polyrhythms, where multiple rhythms are played simultaneously to create intricate patterns. Practice incorporating different rhythms between your hands and feet to develop coordination and add depth to your playing.

Experiment with syncopation, accenting off-beats to create tension and interest in your grooves. Start with simple patterns and gradually increase the complexity to challenge yourself.

2. Fuse musical styles

Copeland’s ability to blend various musical genres into his drumming style sets him apart. Explore different genres such as reggae, punk, funk, and jazz, and incorporate elements from each into your drumming. Fusing styles in an unconventional way and you’ll start to develop a unique sound.

3. Master your dynamics

Copeland’s drumming is known for its dynamic range, from soft and delicate to powerful and explosive. Focus on developing your dynamic control by practicing crescendos and decrescendos on various surfaces around the kit. This skill will help you express emotion and add depth to your performances.

4. Experiment with gear and sounds

Like Copeland, experiment with effects cymbals and percussion instruments to add texture and color to your drumming. You can use cowbells, splash cymbals, and even tambourines to create cool accents.

You could even try adding octobans or extra toms in your setup to add melodic layers to your drumming.

Practice tips and exercises

To drum like Copeland, you need to practice like Copeland. Here are some exercises you can try:

Polyrhythmic warm-up: Start with a simple polyrhythmic exercise, like playing quarter notes with your right hand and eighth-note triplets with your left hand on the snare drum. Gradually increase the tempo while maintaining control and precision.

Genre fusion grooves: Experiment with combining different genres in a single groove. For example, blend reggae-style hi-hat patterns with punk rock snare accents. This exercise will expand your vocabulary and help you discover new combinations.

Dynamic control drill: Set a metronome to a slow tempo and practice playing consistent single strokes on the snare drum, starting very soft and gradually building up to full volume and effort. Focus on maintaining steady control and smooth transitions between dynamic levels.

Syncopation workout: Play a basic rock beat on the drum kit and introduce syncopated accents on the snare drum or toms. Explore different syncopated patterns and incorporate them into fills to add excitement and unpredictability to your drumming.

Octoban exploration: If you have octobans or additional toms, experiment with playing melodic patterns using different tom sizes. Create short melodic phrases and incorporate them into your drumming, enhancing your playing with musical motifs.

This drum solo by Styx’s drummer, Todd Sucherman, is a great example to follow:

Embrace experimentation and explore different musical influences to unlock your creativity and become a versatile and innovative drummer, just like Mr. Copeland himself.

Legacy and influence

Stewart Copeland is a trailblazer who has had a major impact on the world of music. His time with The Police, Oysterhead, and other collaborations have inspired countless musicians and bands to experiment with rhythms and genre fusion.

Copeland’s influence goes beyond the drumming community, as his innovative drum parts have become an integral part of the iconic songs produced by The Police and other projects, and his film scores have touched audiences worldwide.

His rhythmic innovation, versatility, and emphasis on musicality have inspired drummers to embrace creativity and push the boundaries of their craft.

If you want to up your game and find your unique voice, look no further than Stewart Copeland. Explore different genres, dive into those tricky rhythms, and don’t be afraid to think outside the drum kit.

Brandon Toews is an author, educator, and performer based out of Vancouver, Canada. Brandon is the author of The Drummer's Toolbox, co-author of The Best Beginner Drum Book, and the Content Director at Musora, home to the award-winning online music education platforms Drumeo, Pianote, Guitareo and Singeo.

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