For a long while, I've been only using economy picking because for some unexplained reason it felt like the most natural approach.

However, I've recently realized and accepted the limits and sloppiness of my technique and decided to learn proper alternate picking. In doing so, I've also noticed that I can't seem to set my mind on a consistent pick grip and orientation ; everything just feels awkward, especially when combined with alternate and string skipping.

I've been trying to play Oblivion's verse riff, by Mastodon : I can manage economy picking but I can't get that clockwork consistency that alternate allows (or at least my technique is not good enough for it to be comparable).

Here's the deal, starting slow and building your way up is good advice, but it's only half of the story ; whenever I hit that tempo block everything just gets out of hand, cramps, large picking motions, sloppiness, you name it. That basically means that whatever I'm doing when playing slow is not consistent enough.

So here's the question, are there some goldilocks conditions - pick incline, pick grip, pick thickness, solicited muscles, picking motion -  that allow you to be efficient when practicing alternate and string skipping,

I appreciate any input.
One guitarist's slop is another guitarist's swing.

In the jazz world, swing is regarded as essential. A lot of jazz guitarists first learned strict alternate picking, which always comes with a undercurrent of constant consideration of picking direction - every phrase and line is "checked" mentally for whether to begin with an up or down stroke to select the better one for that situation. This becomes a low level habit, and eventually invisible, but it is always there.

So, when the jazz player is trying to swing, he's actually working somewhat against the precision that comprises alternate picking. A lot of them decide to switch to efficiency picking and have a terrible time with it. The fundamental nature of efficiency picking is that one never has to worry about whether a phrase or line should start on an up or down stroke; either is fine and it never matters because the hands figure it out transparently, naturally, and effortlessly... there is no "checking program" and swing is a natural result. What's going on is that alternate pickers switching to efficiency picking are still running their low level program inside left over from alternate picking that checks picking direction, trying to reconcile that program's operation with a technique that does not use it.

Do you see where I'm going? When an efficiency picker tries to learn alternate picking, they are initially trying to use a technique that requires the adoption of this little habit program of checking picking direction, but they have already learned how to pick without it, so that checking program is missing. The only thing harder than learning a new thing is unlearning an old thing, especially an old thing you may not even know about.

Picking is so fundamental, and efficiency and alternate picking are so different both mechanically and mentally, switching from having learned one to learning the other is really close to a total deconstruction and rebuilding of how you play the guitar.

Also, take a look at this... picking
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Last edited by PlusPaul at Mar 16, 2017,

Thank you for the loaded answer, you point out some interesting ideas.

I'd argue that starting up with alternate picking is in fact crucial for the later development and mental understanding of swing : it lays the foundation for one's internal rhythmic clock.

Once your alternate picking is solid, you can move on to economy picking and be confident enough with your precision. It is only then that you can shift things around the beat without sounding completely inconsistent.

I am of course not talking in absolutes, everyone feels rhythm differently, some better than others. 
I'd second that alt picking is, ideally, a habit of rhythm.

Economy picking solves the problem of quick movement between strings by always picking into direction you're moving next. Alt picking solves the problem of rhythmic consistency.

It takes practice to make alt picking second nature. Nothing tricky, just consistent practice. It sounds dull, but running scales and arpeggios is probably the best way to get the skill ingrained in your playing. Once you get that clockwork feel to your down/up, it's a lot easier to take it into real music without having to sit and count out the rhythms. You just know that you're always going to downpick on the downbeat. And when you get used to that, you notice the moment you're picking against the rhythm.

Alt picking becomes very natural with practice. It gets to the point that you just feel rhythm in terms of up and down stroke. Even if you're playing just a single hit in an empty measure, you'll instinctively upstroke if it's on the 8th between the beats.
OP, I was the same as you.

After 12 years, getting into more advanced material, I realized I couldn't make the licks of the greatest sound like they played them, or worse I couldn't figure out what they were doing at all, even with a tab.
So I started learning alternate picking.
For me I can play some pretty fast and technical music with economy picking. Switching to alternate picking really felt like I was set back 5 years almost from scratch. Rebuilding the licks I already knew and trying to play them differently was a whole new challenge.
So I feel your pain.
But on the plus side I feel I play music in a kind of unique way, and I my upstrokes are definitely stronger than a lot of my local peers so yeah!
"Hey kid. You wanna cigarette?"

"No thanks! I/m already hooked on Fonicks!"