You know that making your technique very efficient will help you play better (and faster), but most guitarists have no idea how to actually practice to develop this skill. As a result, most players either don't put any time into training to make their motions more efficient, or they practice this skill incorrectly - leading to more harm than good to their playing.
Here is what you really need to know about economy of motion for playing guitar:
1. Your 2 hands don't play everything in the same way - each hand needs different movements than the other. When you begin practicing something new, your first step is to decide how much each hand needs to move to play notes with the least amount of effort WITHOUT sacrificing expression and power (more below).
2. There is a huge distinction between using tiny motions in your guitar playing and optimizing your technique to play what you want to play. When you intentionally restrict yourself to playing guitar with the smallest motions possible, your 2 hand synchronization will become sloppy (at faster speeds), and your notes will lack power and conviction. Instead of doing this, focus on what sound you want to achieve in your playing FIRST, and only make your motions as small as you can get away with, while still playing the music sound the way you want.
Yes, the above point is very obvious (after you read it just now), but I see all the time that guitar players think too much into the idea of economy of motion and begin (incorrectly) training themselves to play everything with the smallest motions possible. This is wrong and inefficient (as described above) and actually makes your playing worse in multiple ways.
3. Economy of motion and tension control are NOT the same things. This distinction is important to understand, because you need to practice differently to master each of these 2 elements of your technique (I'll address tension control in another article). If you use these two terms interchangeably (as most players do), it means that you also likely lump them together in your practicing - achieving bad results in trying master either of them. Fact is, you can have efficient motions in your hands while playing with lots of tension (or vice versa). Your goal is to master both: playing with highly efficient motions and without excessive tension.
Now that you understand more about the concept of economy of motion, watch the video below to see a common problems guitarists have with inefficiency in their picking hand technique and how to easily solve it:
In addition to the things I specifically point out in the video above, also notice the following:
1. My pick doesn't just brush the strings with the very tip - it sticks quite far into the strings to play each note. This helps me to play with very strong pick attack without using massive amounts of force (and big movements) to hit the strings for each note. So this is an additional way in which you can refine the technical motions without sacrificing the sound and articulation of the notes.
2. Although I do not use excessive amounts of force to play each note and my picking motions are very efficient, I still pick the notes with plenty of power in general (to produce the maximum articulation I can from the notes).
3. I pick through the scale using directional picking - which, as I explain in the video, allows for maximum efficiency in your picking technique, further improving your economy of motion.
How to Implement the Concepts of This Article Into Your Practicing:
Step 1: Start rotating your attention between each hand when you practice, refining the motions in one hand at a time. This will help you to optimize your motions to the highest degree possible.
Step 2: Use common sense and laws of physics to make your guitar technique as efficient as possible, WITHOUT "letting the tail wag the dog." This means: don't make the mistake of thinking that your objective is to minimize your guitar playing motions as much as possible - that is NOT the goal. The goal is to focus on the sound you want to achieve in your playing and using the most economical motions that allow you to produce THAT sound. These two mindsets are not the same at all.
Step 3: Don't rush to master this skill in your technique immediately. True control of your guitar playing motions develops gradually over time and isn't something you can rush. The good news is that you definitely can and will achieve this result if you remain patient and consistently practice applying the ideas described in this article.
About the Author: Mike Philippov is a guitar teacher, guitar instructional author and composer in progressive rock styles. Follow him on YouTube to see his videos about practicing guitar, improving your guitar technique and becoming a better guitar player faster.