Balancing Your Picking For Efficient Fast Playing

Most people when they think of alternate picking they think "up-down-up-down, etc" but there is more to it. In this lesson I will cover different variations of picking that need to be trained such as inside picking, outside picking, straight alternate, and economy. No sweeps.

Ultimate Guitar
Many people, such as myself, have alternate picking down pretty good, however do you actually ever THINK about what your doing when you alternate pick? There are many ways to alternate pick (when string skipping). Alternate picking can be split into two categories: Inside and Outside picking. But often times our inside picking or outside picking is imbalanced. As with alternate/economy picking, its good to have both down, or at least be equally familiar. Sometimes you will be in a situation where you COULD alternate pick your way through it, but going from alternate to economy WHEN YOU CAN (because economy isn't always better). SO its good to have all 4 equally balanced out. Diagnostic Try this and see what one is more difficult...
Try this starting with a downstroke on the first open on the B string, then continue with a uostroke on the high E string. Then downstroke on the B again, and continue. This is outside picking. For most this type comes more naturally, but some people are different. Now, do the same thing, starting with an UPstroke on the B string, and a downstroke on the high E, and repeat. This is inside picking. Usually, like I said, this is the area where it becomes imbalanced. Rarely are beginners/Intermediate players inside AND outside picking both equal. However, its good to be good at both, and not lack with one or the other. Whatever one is more challenging for you, it can be trained to be as good as the other. For example, if you have a lick that starts with a downstroke and it has all outside picking, and its easy for you but inside picking is a challenge for you, do this. Start the exact same exercise with an UPSTROKE and all the outside picking will become inside. Anyways, here are some helpful "unisex" licks if you will, that will train both. Whatever style you want to practice is up to you.
EX.1 (I)
-If you notice, if you start with a downstroke on the B note (2nd string 12th fret) then your E note (12th fret, high E string) will be an up stroke. (outside picking). You can change it by starting with an upstroke and you will get inside picking. The next lick is the same idea but emphasizes the string skip.
EX.1 (II)
When picking, you can over emphasize the up and down strokes when skipping to the E string, to get it in your brain.. but you want small, accurate movement when playing fast. Playing with clean is a good way to play these because were focusing on the picking its self, so dealing with distortion noise will just be another thing to try to tackle at the same time. obviously a metronome is a good idea too, but only when you have the motions correct. Another thing to remember about these licks that is pretty obvious, but a lot of people don't notice, is to FOCUS on your picking and make sure you always alternate between up, and down strokes. Never make two downs or two ups in a row, that's economy picking, and we'll get to that.
EX.1 (III)
B|--12-13-15----------------15-13-12-13-15----------------15-13-12 repeat----
Again this will use either all downs or ups when switching string. Combine exercises I,II, and III together in ANY order, and the picking will be the same =). SO with these work on whatever you're weakest in, and don't play faster than you can play constantly, clean and perfect. Any faster will train your brain to play sloppy, and we don't want that. Next is a situation where we use BOTH inside and outside in the same lick. (Any 3 note per string scale/run uses this.
Play it starting with either, doesn't really mater and MAKE SURE you ALWAYS alternate between up and down, you don't want that to happen at all. Like I said any 3 note per string lick or scale will have both in it. But its good to practice what your not as good at more (the first 3 licks, or your own variations) ...Okay, so we've covered Inside and Outside picking, we know what one we need to work one and we are practicing them to balance our picking. That's alternate picking. Next is ECONOMY picking. Economy picking is when you use two of the same executive strokes when skipping strings. Kind of like alternate picking meets sweep picking. Here's an Example: Play this (similar to EX.2) with the strokes labeled.
EX.3 (I)
    u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u
Notice that when you cross strings, you are doing two up strokes instead of alternating between up and down. The same can be done with two consecutive down strokes.
    d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d
These scales shapes may seem simple and boring, and they are. Its just so you can focus more on your picking hand do get familiar with the motions. Economy picking is something that only works sometimes. For example if you played something where you ended on an downstroke and u need to cross over to the string above (above meaning going from thinner to thicker string) you cant do two down strokes, that's just crazy. So you're forced to do an upstroke on the next string. (alternate and inside picking), but THEN you can begin economy picking, that's why its god to be good at both, because you're going to be incorporating them together. I'm not going to type out a million copies of different licks, just take the idea of each, and you can make your own (chromatically or diatonically, the choice is yours, go wild. Keep in mind what is required for each though, (Economy requires an odd number of notes of a string, and inside and outside depends on what you start on) Here is the simple 8-7-5 lick again, but this time, look at the picking noted below. It will incorporate ALL 3 (Inside, outside, AND economy picking) Check it out:
      u d u u d u u d u d u d u d u d u d u u d u u d u d u d u d u d u
Now that's cool. Summary So, as you can see there are plenty of ways to pick though various runs depending on the situation. The key is to get all the kinda of picking equal and balance them out, that way you have options and flexibility as to how you want to tackle a certain phrase. This lesson was geared more towards people who are just starting to alternate pick, or for anyone who has never heard of these before. However even for people who are above those people, its still a good idea to realize that your picking may be imbalanced, and its something to work on. There is no loss in getting good at all of them, only gain. Even if it seems pointless now, it will definitely come in handy down the road when your playing really last licks. I hope you at least learned SOMETHING in this article, I tried to cover it for as many people as I can, and remember, practice hard... and don't practice too fast and make sure you have constancy in between notes with little motion. All of this should lead you in the right direction to playing fast and efficient. Anyways, this was my first article here on UG, and I hope you liked it, and I'm hoping to see some good feedback. I might continue righting on various topics. Good luck.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Sorry about this being in "Chords" that was an acciden, it should be in Technique. Anyone know how to edit that?
    wow i was surprised how hard inside picking was to outside(never done inside before)however economy picking naturally
    Josh Geohagan
    You can economy pick and string skip just as cleanly. Look at Chris Broderick. So that is really something that should be dispelled. Other than that, it's an okay lesson. You never really discussed the tonal benefits of using alternate or economy, so people new to technique won't exactly have the concept down completely.
    Should I be worried that I can alternate pick with no issues. However efficiency picking is kicking my arse. I want to alternate pick everything, its hard to stop myself from doing it.
    There's really no need to struggle with economy picking if you can alternate pick efficiently. I mean, it's nice to have the option for some passages, but as long as you can manage little sweeps for the occasional arpeggio then you're good.
    Good article, the problematics of inside and outside alternate picking are rarely emphasized, your article explained the concepts and exercises soundly. I came across the need to spend time on both kinds of picking when trying to play Race with the Devil on Spanish Highway years ago (being a natural outside picker myself).