Roland Gajate Garcia

3. Make It Feel Good

“Making the music feel good is the most important role a drummer possesses,” Gajate-Garcia says. “Timekeeping comes from your innate ability to escape from your physical body and really hear what you are producing along with an internal subdivision.” As much as percussionists need to listen to others in the ensemble, Gajate-Garcia believes it’s important to listen to your own performance to keep good time. “It’s very easy to focus on the physicality of it, rather than using your ears.”

To make music feel good for dancers and singers alike, you also need to internalize the correct tempo of every song you play. “I think this just comes from experience and knowing the song — really knowing, before you play the song, where it should sit,” he says. On Dancing With The Stars, song tempos relate directly to the choreography. “A lot of times they’ll ask us to do it at different tempos, and we’ll be changing the tempo right up until showtime.

“We all have our own interpretation of time,” he continues, “so just try to play as evenly as possible, with even spacing. Everyone’s going to do that differently, but it’ll kind of give you your own identity as a timekeeper.”

4. Strike A Balance

“Whatever you’re feeling at the time is going to show in the music you play,” Gajate-Garcia says, and that’s not always a good thing. He’s known musicians who burned out because they practiced too much, and their mood was reflected in their music. “When I was in college, I knew guys that would lock themselves in the practice room eight to ten hours a day, and they’d come out looking stressed out. And it’s like, ‘Why are you doing that to yourself? You’re supposed to enjoy this.’” Taking breaks — to watch movies, hang out with family and friends, or go on vacations — is vital to striking a healthy life/work balance, especially in a field that can easily become an obsession. “When I come back to music after a vacation, it’s so much more rewarding,” and it reminds him how lucky he is to make music for a living.

5. Learn Other Instruments

Learning to play instruments that aren’t in the percussion family can help develop and enhance overall musicianship. Gajate-Garcia took a sight-singing course in college, which taught him how to recognize pitch intervals, and helped him become familiar with the instruments that surround him most regularly — bass, guitar, piano, and voice. “It's really opened up my ears and my ability to pick up things quickly,” he says. “I took piano lessons during college, and I feel like that’s when I started to really grow as a musician. Now, after doing it, I have a better understanding of how music works.”

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