In karate-do, or the way of the open hand, you start with kihon, or basics. These basic techniques are combined into short two or three-move combinations called wazas. Kata is a ritualized form that combines basics and or wazas into longer routines.
The style of karate-do that I learned has 12 basics, things like front-snap kick or reverse punch. There are a nearly infinite number of wazas possible from the combinations and permutations of these kihon. A kick followed by a punch and then a block, for example. Kata were formal in that the moves were prescribed and variation was not allowed. However, interpreting the meaning of a move or combination of moves, or kata bunkai, provided the practitioner with an encyclopedia of self defense techniques.
I see a strong parallel in learning to play the cello. I am learning the basics now, things like fingering, bowing, hooked bowing and slurs. The introductory pieces in the first Suzuki book gradually introduce combinations of these techniques - musical wazas if you will. The pieces themselves could be considered musical katas, not open to technique interpretation (at least as a beginning student), but filled with opportunity to grasp and understand the underlying motivation and thought necessary to perform the piece correctly with the given techniques.
In my recent struggles with rhythm and tempo I have been trying to perform the finished piece (kata) without first understanding and mastering the techniques (kihon) and the combinations of those techniques (wazas). Realizing the similarity between the layered approach I learned in karate-do and the layered approach necessary to learn cello has helped me realize that I need to constantly step back from difficulties and break things down to the basics first, and only attempt the completed piece after I’ve mastered the combinations it contains.