When you practice your music in smaller sections, it is easier to focus your attention in a concentrated way to learn the section. It may take you several times through the section of music to finally play it correctly. Many people stop at this point thinking they have learned it, only to play it later and still have trouble. This is because they have played it many times incorrectly and only ONCE correctly.
You want to do better than this when you practice. Always remember: Once you finally play your music correctly, you must play it over and over again CORRECTLY until you have played it right MORE times than you have played it wrong. This is what it takes to be able to play music (you've learned) right the first time, such as in a concert, at an audition, or in a competition. I call this "Intelligent Repetition". We are all creatures of habit. Whatever we do the most is what we will do automatically.
To do any kind of performance activity, such as playing a musical instrument, you must develop muscle memory to a reflex level. You have to play your instrument and music the way you want to play it more times than any other way, or correctly more than incorrectly. This is how you teach your body to automatically do what you want it to do when you play without having to THINK about it. Top athletes and sports teams do this really well.
Thinking is great, but it is too slow for performing. That is why you practice harder sections of music slowly at first, so you have time to think and still play in rhythm. As you go faster, your reactions have to be like a reflex. Reflexes happen instantly. Your goal is to simply want the instrument to do something with the music when you sing it in your mind and have it happen automatically at that instant. This takes a great deal of work, but the closer you get to this goal, the better you will play.
WARNING: Make sure your music is correct before you play it over and over again or you will get really good at playing it wrong!
Copyright Norlan Bewley 1999