What is Economy Picking?

When using a guitar pick, there are basically three main ways you can do it: alternate picking, sweep picking and economy picking. Whereas alternate picking uses a strict succession of up and down strokes to play single-note lines and sweep picking is raking the pick across the strings to produce a quick succession of notes, economy picking takes a different approach where the choice of whether to pick up or down is directed by which string is being picked. This technique is intended to maximize picking efficiency by minimizing movement, thus achieving higher speed.

Here is what it comes down to: when playing notes on a single string, alternate picking is used; when changing to a neighbor string, the pick always goes the shortest way:

  • Downwards if the target string is located downwards
  • Upwards if the target string is located upwards.

For example, when tackling an ascending three-notes-per-string scale, the pick strokes will follow the pattern of down-up-down on each string, meaning that the third note on each string is played with a downstroke while the plectrum continues the same downward motion to strike the first note on the next string. When descending a three-notes-per-string scale, the picking pattern would be up-down-up on each string. 

Economy picking is used across a range of guitar styles and is often dictated by genre. Many rock, jazz and fusion players employ economy picking. If you would like to see some examples, you can check out some notable guitarists using economy picking like Frank Gambale (the author of the first book on this technique), Eric Johnson, Jimmy Bruno, Yngwie Malmsteen and Les Paul. 

If you haven’t experimented with economy picking before and are a devout alternate picker it can be tricky to adjust to this new method. However, it’s a technique worth investing time in. The main advantage is that it reduces the work of the picking hand with it not having to play constant streams of up and down strokes. It can also aid fluidity, especially when playing arpeggios due to the close link between economy picking and sweep picking thus making fast licks sound smoother.

If you want some further reading materials on the topic, check out this article here. For more guides and FREE WEEKLY study materials, we invite you to join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! If you are ready to dive into the world of guitar (or ukulele) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!

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