ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maleny Morfen is a professional musician, guitarist, and composer. She’s currently working as a session musician and composer for international music projects, as well as teaching privately.
If you’re looking for a way to increase your fretboard speed and still sound good, economy picking is for you.
Have you ever noticed the fluidity that some famous guitarists have when playing crazy solos with arpeggios and scales? That peculiar sound seems to be continuous and smooth and at the same time effortless.
We’re talking about economy picking, which is a combined technique using traditional alternate picking and sweep picking.
In this article, I'll cover some functional economy picking exercises for guitar.
While they can apply to either electric or acoustic guitar, the primary context of this article is electric-focused.
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Impact of Pick Edge and Choice
In alternate picking you usually grab a pick between your thumb and index finger with a pointed end towards the strings. Most people use the pointed end to play the strings, while others use one of the other two ends, depending on the sound they’re looking for.
The pointed or "edgier" end will give you a sharper and more defined sound, while the other two smoother edges will give you a warmer sound.
Spend some time trying this out and listening to the difference, both in terms of how they sound and how easy they are for you to play, in order to find out what works better for you.
Guitar Pick Choice and Materials
The picks that are 1.14 mm (like the popular nylon-made Jazz III by Jim Dunlop) or more (like the 1.5 mm or 2 mm Prodigy picks by Ernie Ball) are a good balance of clarity and smoothness.
You can try various materials until you find what's most comfortable to you and what produces the sound you like most.
Now, let's get into some technique.
Basic Alternate Picking Technique
Something important to keep in mind about alternate picking is to keep the heel of your palm resting on the strings, usually near to the bridge, to prevent unwanted noise and string buzzing. Depending on the pressure added, your sound should range from completely open to palm-muted.
This will also allow you to implement some dynamic variance between individual notes, if necessary. You can make them sound loud, muted, or anything in between.
Defining the Technique: What is alternate picking?
The alternate picking technique consists of two moves: Upstroke and downstroke, alternating every other note.
It goes one upstroke, one downstroke, one upstroke, one downstroke and so on.
Understanding The Movement of alternate Picking
There are a few different ways to engage this movement.
One method is by moving at your wrist joint, while another concentrates the movement in your arm, specifically in the elbow joint. A third - less common - option is to move your fingers holding the pick (thumb and index finger) in circles.
They're all valid approaches that should achieve the same result. It's advisable to try all three and go with what feels most comfortable to you.
Example #1: Economy Picking in D Major
The following example is a good economy picking exercise for alternate picking. Start with your metronome at 70 or 80 beats per minute, gradually increasing speed, as long as the sound stays clean and you're able to hit the correct notes. It's also advisable to practice with a clean guitar tone at first.
This exercise consists of the D major scale played in groups of four notes per beat, moving through the natural order of the scale.
In this example we will start playing the notes A B C♯ D of the major D scale, in a group of four notes per beat, and then keep moving up starting from the next note of the scale in natural order, so it would go B C♯ D E and so on in that same pattern.
It's a three-notes-per-string scale pattern.
A good exercise is to take this same example and practice it starting with an upstroke movement instead of a downstroke. You can use alternate picking for playing scales, intervals, arpeggios, licks, solos, or just about anything melodic.
Basic Sweep Picking Technique
Many famous guitarists are known for sweep picking.
Frank Gambale, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, and John Petrucci are just a few that come to mind. This technique is also used in the neoclassical heavy metal scene by guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen.
Understanding the Movement of Sweep Picking
Sweep picking is commonly paired with arpeggios.
The resulting picking technique incorporates wider upstroke and downstroke movements on more than one string. The resulting sound of sweep picking is fluid and quick.
In this technique the pick is used to do upstroke and downstroke movements, but on a wider spectrum, playing many strings in one movement instead of a single string per movement, as in alternate picking.
The movement of the picking hand is meant to be soft and steady, consistent across each string so the sound comes out smooth. The tricky part is to synchronize both hands, so when your picking hand sweeps each string, your fingers pressing the frets do it at the same time, so the sound comes uninterrupted from one string to another, from one note to the next one.
Some Additional Sweep Picking Tips
As well as in alternate picking, in order to get a clean sound, never forget to mute the strings with your picking hand. Also, keep in mind to have only one finger at a time on the fretboard in order to avoid other notes ringing together.
Move the pick at a constant velocity so all the notes are evenly spaced.
Otherwise, you could go faster or slower between notes and it would sound messy and off tempo.
Practice the following exercise (example #2) with a metronome, starting slowly and increasing your speed gradually. You can start by doing sweep picking just on two strings and gradually increase the amount of strings. Remember, it should sound smooth and fluid.
Example #2: Sweep Picking in C Major
For this sweep picking exercise, we are going to play a C major seventh arpeggio, doing only down-strokes from the sixth to the first string and playing only up-strokes from the first string to the sixth. We’re going to use hammer-ons and pull-offs as needed.
The economy picking technique lets us play the most notes with the least effort.
It's a combination of both alternate picking and sweep picking.
One of the most famous features of economy picking is the three-notes-per-string patterns of scales shown by Frank Gambale. In an instructional video called Monster Licks and Speed Picking, Gambale shows how to play major scales in seven positions across the fretboard, playing three notes per string. This approach lets us play faster and the sound is more fluid.
What is economy picking?
The magic of economy picking consists mainly in using sweep picking whenever it's possible, (like when we play an arpeggio in which we play one note per string) and playing alternate picking in all the other situations.
For example, when practicing three-notes-per-string patterns of scales, we play alternate picking while playing the three notes of the scale on the same string, and when going down or up to the next string we play economy picking, doing downstroke or upstroke depending on the last movement of our picking hand and the direction we’re going to. Thus, when moving down vertically from string to string, if the last movement of our picking hand was a downstroke, then the movement to the following string below will be downstroke as well, saving time and effort.
If the last movement of our picking hand had been an upstroke, then the next movement to the following string below will be downstroke, like in alternate picking.
For the next tab in our list of economy picking exercises, we’re going to use the same D major scale pattern that we used for the alternate picking example. But this time, we're going to add economy picking as so we can see clearly the difference between both techniques.
The first part of this exercise consists of starting with the sixth string and going all the way down to the first string.
Our first picking move is going to start with a downstroke. Every time we move down to the string below and our last picking movement was down, the next one is going to be down as well.
In the same way, when moving up vertically from string to string, if the last movement of our picking hand was an upstroke, then the movement to the following string above will be an upstroke as well. For the second part of this exercise, we are going to play the same pattern but starting from the first note with a downstroke picking movement and going all the way up to the sixth string.
We have analyzed alternate picking and sweep picking separately.
Yet, as the prior examples have shown, they are mixed.
Even if we are moving down to the string below with a downstroke, if for some reason we move up to the string above (as in the prior examples) and the last picking movement was an upstroke, then we are going to keep the upstroke movement to play that string.
Thus, we've combined alternate and sweep picking for a more effective method of practicing economic fretboard movement.
Remember to practice all these exercises slowly and clearly and gradually increase speed.
Questions and Help
If you have questions about the economy picking exercises or other aspects of this guitar lesson, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.
I'll be happy to assist as much as possible.
See ya there.