How can we use practice time in the best possible way? Do we, as performers, have a keen enough awareness of the workings of our mind and body to be sure we are learning in the optimum way for secure performance? If not, how can we readily convey to others good habits for learning and memorisation? By demonstrating aspects of how experienced solo instrumentalists prepare for performance, this paper makes some progress towards answering these questions. In order to extend existing piano based research and to establish possible instrumental differences in working patterns, this study is based on data from interviews with a guitarist and a 'cellist. Thematic analysis of the interview data reveals that despite some variation due to the respective nature of the instruments, most practice strategies are common to both and these strategies are always generated by interpretative goals. Firstly, the clear links between interpretative goals and the formation of playing techniques are demonstrated by the subjects' intuitive mental constructs involving imagery, giving considerable insight into their thought processes and working patterns. Among the forms of imagery identified, motor imagery was found to be unexpectedly significant. Next, there is some discussion of how imagery associated with simultaneous technical and emotional input can help to embed information securely in the memory. The value of creating idiosyncratic structures relating to learning and performance is then shown. Finally, advantages of introducing a more imaginative approach into practice at all levels are proposed, together with potential benefits for both motivation and memory retention.