Economy Picking

author: ZeGuitarist date: 09/22/2006 category: guitar techniques
rating: 9.5 / votes: 522 

Introduction

Problem. Most guitar players think the basis of real speed is a good fret hand (generally: left hand) technique. If your left hand is fast, you will be able to play fast. So, many players train mainly their left hand, and the right hand is kind of left behind. Players who then discover that they need to improve their pick hand (generally: right hand) technique, go to their favorite guitar webpage (U-G.com), only to discover very little information (or lots of information scattered all over the entire webpage) about a better and faster right hand technique. An example: the lesson "All The Aspects Of Picking," concludes that a picking technique called "economy picking" is the best and fastest picking style. I found this lesson very informative, because I already knew what economy picking actually is. After reading this lesson, I immediately started practising economy picking, and in a couple of days, I succeded in playing fragments of Yngwie Malmsteen's Blitzkrieg! A little slower than himself, but still... I noticed, however, that players who don't know what economy picking is, can't learn a damn thing from this otherwise very informative lesson! Solution. I've gathered a lot of information scattered all over various lessons on UG, added some of my own experiences from my last week of intensive "economy training", and out of all this information I've created this lesson, for all you players who want to play real fast but don't know how! Believe me, a week ago, I was one of you. This is a guide to the best and fastest right hand picking technique: economy picking, the key to real speed!

What Is Economy Picking

As I have already said, economy picking is the best picking technique there is. It's fast, it looks mighty fine, and it requires very little effort (once you have mastered it of course). But to experience the comfort of economy picking, you must first understand the concept of it. To keep a long story short: economy picking is a mixture of firstly, alternate picking, and secondly, sweep picking. Now the explanation of these two techniques: 1. Alternate Picking. A basic technique. Most of you players will be familiar with it (unless you're still a beginning player). Alternate picking means: constantly switching between down- and upstrokes with your pick (to make things easier: down-up-down-up-down-up-...) This technique doubles the speed you reach by only down- or upstroking. 2. Sweep Picking. This is a more advanced technique, used to play notes that are on strings next to each other (like arpeggios, see arpeggio lessons), rather than notes on the same string. You actually "sweep" your pick over the strings, as if you were strumming a chord, but you don't let the notes ring as if you were playing a chord. You play each note individually (if you still don't understand the concept of sweep picking, I refer to one of the sweep picking lessons on UG). Now that you know both techniques, you might ask the question: how is economy picking related to these techniques? To answer this question, I will use a small exercise as an example. Firstly, I will show you how this pattern would be played if you used alternate picking (like most guitar players). d = downstroke u = upstroke
   d u d u d u d u d u d u d u d u d u
E|-------------------------------0-0-0-|
B|-------------------------0-0-0-------|
G|-------------------0-0-0-------------|
D|-------------0-0-0-------------------|
A|-------0-0-0-------------------------|
E|-0-0-0-------------------------------|
You can see clearly, you constantly alternate between down- and upstrokes. Now I will show you the same pattern, played with economy picking:
   d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d
E|-------------------------------0-0-0-|
B|-------------------------0-0-0-------|
G|-------------------0-0-0-------------|
D|-------------0-0-0-------------------|
A|-------0-0-0-------------------------|
E|-0-0-0-------------------------------|
Like alternate picking, economy picking consists of alternating down- and upstrokes, except when changing strings. You use the "sweeping" motion for this: if you move a string down (e.g. from the 6th to the 5th string), you use downstrokes (for the sweeping motion, use your wrist movement) If moving up, you use all upstrokes, like this:
   u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u
E|-0-0-0-------------------------------|
B|-------0-0-0-------------------------|
G|-------------0-0-0-------------------|
D|-------------------0-0-0-------------|
A|-------------------------0-0-0-------|
E|-------------------------------0-0-0-|
Practise these patters as much as you can, and try to play the notes as even as possible. Many players who start practising economy picking complain that the notes sound uneven or that it doesn't go faster than alternate picking. Believe me, it does. You just have to master it properly to play even and fast (don't go and try to master it in one week like me! I don't want to brag but I usually get the hang of things very quickly, so take your time. Try to do it properly instead of trying to do it quickly).

Exercises

Now that you know what economy picking is, you can grab your guitar and start exercising. I don't like to do exercises myself, but I do them anyway. And that's what you should do, if you want to master economy picking and play real fast real easy! I will give a couple of exercises as examples, but you can of course invent your own exercises if you want! Or play existing songs as an exercise (like I usually do). Exercise Set #1
   d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d
E|-------------------------------0-0-0-|
B|-------------------------0-0-0-------|
G|-------------------0-0-0-------------|
D|-------------0-0-0-------------------|
A|-------0-0-0-------------------------|
E|-0-0-0-------------------------------|

   u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u
E|-0-0-0-------------------------------|
B|-------0-0-0-------------------------|
G|-------------0-0-0-------------------|
D|-------------------0-0-0-------------|
A|-------------------------0-0-0-------|
E|-------------------------------0-0-0-|
These are the patterns I used above. I repeat them because they are so important: before playing anything fast, use these exercises (and the exercises below) as a warmup! You should use Exercise Set 1 to train speed, and to play every note evenly and smoothly. Exercise Set #2
   d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d
E|-------------------------------5-6-5-|
B|-------------------------5-6-5-------|
G|-------------------5-6-5-------------|
D|-------------5-6-5-------------------|
A|-------5-6-5-------------------------|
E|-5-6-5-------------------------------|

   u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u
E|-5-6-5-------------------------------|
B|-------5-6-5-------------------------|
G|-------------5-6-5-------------------|
D|-------------------5-6-5-------------|
A|-------------------------5-6-5-------|
E|-------------------------------5-6-5-|

   d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d
E|-------------------------------5-7-5-|
B|-------------------------5-7-5-------|
G|-------------------5-7-5-------------|
D|-------------5-7-5-------------------|
A|-------5-7-5-------------------------|
E|-5-7-5-------------------------------|

   u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u
E|-5-7-5-------------------------------|
B|-------5-7-5-------------------------|
G|-------------5-7-5-------------------|
D|-------------------5-7-5-------------|
A|-------------------------5-7-5-------|
E|-------------------------------5-7-5-|

   d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d
E|-------------------------------5-8-5-|
B|-------------------------5-8-5-------|
G|-------------------5-8-5-------------|
D|-------------5-8-5-------------------|
A|-------5-8-5-------------------------|
E|-5-8-5-------------------------------|

   u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u
E|-5-8-5-------------------------------|
B|-------5-8-5-------------------------|
G|-------------5-8-5-------------------|
D|-------------------5-8-5-------------|
A|-------------------------5-8-5-------|
E|-------------------------------5-8-5-|
These exercises are based on the first exercise set, but I added left hand fingerings too. The exercises in Set 2 are therefore used to train the synchronous movement of fret and pick hand. This is very important if you want to play fast! Do these exercises every day! Note: you might have noticed that in every exercise, there are 3 notes per string. This is because economy picking is easier when playing an odd number of notes per string. When you have to play an even number of notes, use 1 (or 3, or 5, ...) hammer-ons or pull-offs, so that you have to do an odd number of picks. Example: H = hammer-on P = pull-off
   d u d H d u d H d u d H d u d H d u d H d u d H
E|-----------------------------------------5-6-5-6-|
B|---------------------------------5-6-5-6---------|
G|-------------------------5-6-5-6-----------------|
D|-----------------5-6-5-6-------------------------| 
A|---------5-6-5-6---------------------------------|
E|-5-6-5-6-----------------------------------------|

   d u d P d u d P d u d P d u d P d u d P d u d P
E|-----------------------------------------6-5-6-5-|
B|---------------------------------6-5-6-5---------|
G|-------------------------6-5-6-5-----------------|
D|-----------------6-5-6-5-------------------------|
A|---------6-5-6-5---------------------------------|
E|-6-5-6-5-----------------------------------------|
So, in these two exercises, there are 4 notes per string, but you do only 3 picks per string, and 1 hammer-on/pull-off.

Speed

Economy picking is the key factor of speed. But still, there are guitar players using economy who still aren't able to play fast. Why is that? Is it because of a slow left hand? Or is there still a problem with their picking technique? As I've already said, the left hand is usually more than fast enought. You can try this yourself: give your right arm a rest, and use only your left hand. Try to play a fast guitar riff (for example, a major scale, see scales lessons) with only your left hand. You don't have to hear the notes: just try to get the left hand fingerings right. It goes much faster than you would be able to play with both hands, doesn't it? This means, there's still a problem with the right hand picking technique. I Will explain these issues in the following sections.

What Part Of The Pick Is Used To Pick With

The pick is approximately 3 cm long and 2, 5 cm wide. You use the sharp pointed side to pick the strings with. I guess many people are rolling on the floor laughing their asses off while reading this. I know, it's the basic of all basics, but there's more. You know that you have to pick with the sharp edge of the pick, but do you know what part of the pick actually touches the string, in order to achieve maximum speed? The trick is to touch the strings with the tip of the pick. I mean, the very tip of the pick. Only the slightest touch of the string with the pick is enough to produce a clear sound. Most players really "pluck" the strings with their picks, mostly because their right arm muscles are overstrained. If you relax, you will find this subtle string touching much easier! Knowing this, and combining it with economy picking, allows you to play real fast! Economy is based on smooth right hand movement, but if you "pluck" your strings instead of just slightly touching them, this smooth movement is impossible. So, relax, touch your strings slightly instead of plucking them, and you will play fast in no time!

Pick Angle

When alternate picking, the pick stands straight up (seen from the surface of the guitar body). But when "sweeping" up or down, your pick should be held at a certain angle, so that you don't "pluck" the strings as I have described in the previous section. When moving down, the sharp edge of the pick should point slightly up. When moving up, the sharp edge of the pick should point slightly down. To hold your pick at an angle, use your wrist movement. Why is this? Well, if you hold your pick at the described angle while moving over the strings, you "stroke" them instead of plucking them, resulting in a much smoother movement. And like I've already said: economy picking is based on a smooth right hand movement. Note: when moving up, the sharp edge of your pick should point down. This may feel uncomfortable for your wrists at first, but after some exercising it shouldn't be a problem.

A Speed Riff

As a conclusion, I'm going to let you play the riff that I've played for so many times now, the riff that I have used to learn economy picking. It's a fragment out of Malmsteen's Blitzkrieg.
E|----------------------------------|----------------------------------|
B|----------------------------------|----------------------------------|
G|----------------------3-2---------|----------------------5-4---------|
D|----2-5-3-2---------2-----5-3-2---|----3-7-5-3---------4-----7-5-4---|
A|--3---------5-3-2-4-------------4-|--5---------7-5-4-6-------------6-|
E|----------------------------------|----------------------------------|

|----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
|----------------------7-6---------|-------------------------9-8-----------|
|----6-9-7-6---------6-----9-7-6---|----7-11-9-7-----------8-----11-9-8----|
|--7---------9-7-6-8-------------8-|--9----------11-9-8-10--------------10-|
|----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|

|--------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------11-10-------------|
|-----10-13-11-10-------------10-------13-11-10----|
|--11-------------13-11-10-12-------------------12-|
|--------------------------------------------------|

|--------------------------------------------------|------------|
|--------------------------------------------------|------------|
|--------------------------------13-12-------------|------------|
|-----11-15-13-11-------------12-------15-13-12----|------------|
|--13-------------15-13-12-14-------------------14-|-15~--------|
|--------------------------------------------------|------------|
Note: I'm not adding right hand fingerings, you should be able to find out for yourself by now!

Conclusion

I would like to thank the players who have made the lessons before me; they have taught me a lot and they made this lesson possible. To all players who have learned from this lesson: I hope my lesson was of some use to you all, and I hope many people will learn from it and maybe write their own lessons about it someday!
More ZeGuitarist lessons:
+ Harmonics Guitar Techniques 10/20/2008
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