Naturally I'm going to just recommend you start reading, as none can answer truthfully how common something is without a frequency chart and even that is of limited usage depending on corpora. I think for epic its amongst the 24th most common verbal forms but not very high.
It also depends exactly on what you want to say! There are other ways of saying such things, genitive absolutes, breaking up the clauses etc. Moreover a huge element of participle usage is aspectual rather than temporal and is always relative to the main verb. Think of it roughly aS:
Present: Contempory to verb so like..grafousa tov paida eida (while writing I saw the child)
Aorist: This is prior to the verb so...to paida idousa kolazw (I punish the child having seen him)
Perfect: Slightly tricky, it is contemporary with the verb as a result of an earlier, perfected, action. This distinction works better in Greek than it does in English. E.g se egkwmiazomen, w kale tan, pepaideukota ton kakon ton paida (we praise you good fellow for having taught the bad child).
Future: Again, relative to the main verb, this time in the future and often with an expectant or purposive sense... me epempsan oi gerontes ton polemon pausonta (the elders sent me to stop the war, in order to to stop the war, with the purpose of stopping the war...what were you expecting tis pais?
Participles can get complex but mastery of them is absolutely essential in order to read Greek. You might find certain elements of their usage similar to infinitives, it is worth revising them together. Often participle clauses, infinitives and recognising imperatives seriously impede the learner's joy.
I could type more but it would probably go better if you can get hold of a decent learner's grammar. Memorise especially the little conjunctions that tend to be paired with them (kaiper, ate and ws being the most common).
Trial and error is the key here I suppose.