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Deconstructing The Genius Of Stewart Copeland

By March 7, 2019October 2nd, 20193 Comments

If you would ask me which drummer I have listened to the most throughout my entire life, without a doubt I would reply: Stewart Copeland. When I was growing up my dad was such a fan of The Police that we would listen for hours and hours to their cassette tapes until they worn out completely. My dad was obsessed with Copeland’s playing! He would repeat over and over how no other drummer sounded like him (true fact).

Stewart Copeland is a living legend and there is nothing else to add to that. Everything has been written about him. Therefore, in this article I only want to focus on what makes Stewart Copeland such a special and unique drummer.

The fact that he grew up listening to loads of jazz music, but loving drummers such as Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker, gave Copeland that freedom to always explore new musical territories. When coming out with drum parts you can hear that he doesn’t sound anything like a regular session player. He was full-on part of the composition. Especially if you notice his drum parts, there is nothing regular about them. There is always that special fill on the hi-hat, or the backbeat in a weird place, or an odd fill around the Octobans.

What Copeland did with the Police was putting the drums right at the front, as if he was saying: “I’m as important as the singer or the guitar player here and surely you’ll notice my playing!” Therefore, although his unique style of playing can seem quite eccentric, he always managed to give the right amount of space to the rest of the band. He never overpowered Sting or Andy Summers just for the sake of it. You can definitely hear that his drums are very prominent on most Police’s tracks, but everything he plays is orchestrated accordingly to what the rest of the band is doing.

COPELAND’S ORIGINALITY (I’ve created a Stewart Copeland playlist in case you want to follow the references down below):

-Signature Hi-Hat Intro Fills- If you listen to “Shadows In The Rain”, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and “One World (Not Three)” the exact same hi-hat fill is played on each song. When something works, use it!

-Use of Delay- I don’t know any other drummer who, before Stewart Copeland, had the brilliant idea of using delay effects on their drums with such deceptive results. Check out the infamous “Walking on the Moon” (especially after 3.14..he goes absolutely nuts!) and the intro of “Regatta de Blanc”. Also, on “The Other Way Of Stopping” if you like delay on toms.

-Displacement- If there is one thing that makes Copeland stand out from any other drummer, it’s his way of displacing the beat. The way he creates “illusionary” drum patterns is out of this world. In “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” listen how he leaves beat one empty. He plays on beat 2 and 4 the rim click and then he accentuates beat 3 with the kick, creating a different kind of movement to the whole song.

-Ride Cymbal and The Use of Accents- You definitely know Stewart Copeland is in the house when you hear him playing accents on the bell of the ride cymbal. He rarely plays straight 8th of 16th notes both on the hi-hat or the ride. He always uses accents to spice up the groove underneath of what’s going on around him. For this, check out “Contact” or the outro of “Message in a Bottle” (from 3.43 onwards)

-FLAMtastic- If you want to learn how to play anything by Stewart Copeland, then learn how to play flams. Yes, because that’s the “fill” he plays the most on his songs. You can find them usually on downbeats. Very often on beat 4, or if not on each beat, like in the intro for “Driven to Tears” or “Next To You” or in “Roxanne” just before Sting starts singing the first verse.

-Crazy Fills!- Stewart Copeland main characteristic is probably to be able to surprise his listeners with some crazy drum fills. Check out these ones:

No Time This Time” intro and outro are insane! At around 2.35 on “Voices Inside My Head” Copeland plays a series of crazy snare rolls and crossed rhythms on top of the main groove. In “Man In A Suitcase” 0.16 sounds like a simple drum fill, but the fact that he ends it on a small little splash cymbal, makes everything even cooler! In the first 25 seconds of “Demolition Man” I wished the first verse never started, because Copeland was on fire! Check out also the drum solo in “One World (Not Three)” towards the end, starting at 3.40.

These are just some of the things that I love about this incredible drummer. Even if I tried to emulate his playing I don’t think I could ever get anywhere near, since his energy and unique attitude came out directly through his playing.

‘till next time!

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Chris Castellitto

Author Chris Castellitto

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Wayne says:

    Simply right!! The drummer I still admire most. His uniqueness and shear energy just makes you listen as he compliments music so naturally well!

  • saso says:

    The man is about as annoying and off-putting as Sting used to be (god bless poor Andy Summers), and has as intolerable a personality as Dave Grohl. However, the main difference between Stewart and Dave Grohl is that the former is a certified genius, while the latter is a mildly talented buffoon. Stewart Copeland, for some strange reason, is convinced he is far more intelligent, interesting and funny than he actually is. He is neither intelligent, nor interesting, nor funny as a person. As a drummer he is brilliant, fascinating, unique. There is an overabundance of highly technically proficient, tasteful, intelligent, creative jazz oriented studio drummers. We all know who they are and have seen their clinics and instructional materials. But none of these is as distinctly original as Stewart Copeland. He is, like John Bonham, a poet, not just a virtuoso or a master instrumentalist. This is far more rare. They speak, literally, with the drums, and offer up an always surprising, innovative grammar that makes you realize just how profoundly mediocre the rest of us are in our deep inability to combine simple elements in new ways, to conceive of approaches that bring forth structures unknown. This is amazing, especially from a guy who is so clearly a jerk, so difficult to stomach in his self-assurance that his mind is superior in any way other than that expressed in his playing. The man is insufferable; you can see right through him in the manner a fool finds himself so interesting because he lacks even the critical insight to recognize what is intelligent and what is not, least of all if it comes from him. No wonder Sting could not stand him. No wonder he could not suffer him any longer than he did, and thank God for the music they were able to create together before their personalities naturally destroyed it all.

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