I have several students preparing for upcoming auditions and recitals right now. Students often get nervous during this time. A comment I often hear is "I'm practicing, but it's getting worse instead of better!" I've heard this countless times in my years of teaching. It's true - it CAN get worse instead of better. Here's why and how to fix it:
Preparing for a recital or audition can be tricky in regards to how much to practice, and how to pace the practicing before the performance.
When we are preparing for a performance, we often begin to work on the piece several months before the actual recital or audition, and then (hopefully) we have it learned well in advance of the performance date. So then, we have to pace the practicing to maintain or perfect what we have already learned. This is where things can get tricky.
When we have the piece learned (especially a fast piece), we have a tendency to continue to play it fast, over and over again, and it actually gets worse instead of better. Once it's learned, you are not approaching it the same way that you did when you were in the process of learning it. Often, the repetitions during practice are done too quickly (because you can already play it) and not thoughtfully - in "automatic pilot". This is the way we practice in mistakes and stumbles, and the result is that it gets worse instead of better.
The solution: Practice sections SLOWLY (REALLY slowly) and THOUGHTFULLY to iron out any stumbles or mistakes. Do this many times until you "have it". You will know when you have it. You may think you have it on day 1, and then find that you do NOT have it on day 2. This is normal and means you need more practice.
After you have done the slow and thoughtful practice, Play a run through of the piece - only once. Evaluate your performance and note what you still need to work on.
Continue to practice in the manner outlined above.
Note the difference between Practice and Play in your preparation. When you practice - do each repetition slowly and thoughtfully. Work in sections. When you Play your piece, go for it, but also do so thoughtfully. Never go into automatic pilot!