Roland Gajate Garcia

6. Train Your Ears

Understanding the harmonic progression of a piece of music, and its harmonic rhythm, provides a musician with an aural roadmap of that composition. “You must be able to know where you are in a song, even when the melody isn't being played,” Gajate-Garcia says. Being able to recognize the IV or V chord, for example, and where each falls in a harmonic sequence, helps a player understand the song form. “Eventually,” he says, “your ear is going to recognize the sequence.” And hearing the tension and release of a harmonic progression makes it easier to play the appropriate feel. “When you can tell how the chords are flowing it’ll help you decide how you’re going to interpret the time.”

7. Take Every Opportunity

“You never know who you will meet or what you will learn at a gig,” Gajate-Garcia says, explaining that doing every imaginable gig — from theater to television, recording sessions, club dates, and church performances — made him the well-rounded musician he is today. “I’ve played so many different styles, and people now know that they can call me for pretty much any style of music. Eventually you can start choosing which gigs you want to do, but when you’re learning, it’s just important that you’re playing music, period.” And that’s all about developing connections with people. “A lot of the music industry is about relationships. And I feel like learning to deal with so many different types of people is another skill that you really need to have. It’s not likely to happen that you’re going to be in a band that gets signed and tour for your entire life.”

8. Know Music History

Context is important. “Knowing music history will help you add your own unique voice while drawing from the past,” Gajate-Garcia says. “You study drummers that you like and pick out little things that create their sound.” However, he also thinks it’s a mistake to restrict your study to only the history of percussion.

Citing trumpeter Miles Davis’ influence on jazz, for example, he says, “You really have to get into his music and understand what he did and why it changed the jazz community so much. Having a bigger picture of what music is and where it came from will help you decide what kind of music you want to play.”

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