Economy Picking

In the lessons that are currently available on UG.com, I find very little information about the most important technique in fast guitar play: economy picking, the key to real speed!

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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!

465 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    ch715dallat
    good article, i already know this stuff but it will definitely be very useful for ppl wanting to increase speed but dont realise that its your picking hand that determines the speed
    rickeytrevino
    I still don't understand how to play Blitzkrieg, I have no idea what to do with my right hand. It doesn't even look like you can use economy picking to play it. WHAT THE FUCK somebody help me out
    f1f2
    Nice lesson man. great job!! This lesson will be useful to other noobs there for sure.
    mister sir
    HighPitchSolov2 wrote: mister sir wrote: this is the stupidest shit iv ever read. u use a hammeron if its not even? u can **** urself for wasting my time. Lol... you just suck ass hahaha, go quit guitar, noob
    You're calling me a noob? Anyone who reas this and actually tries applying this to their playng is a noob. This gives away the whole point of PICKING EVERYTHING, otherwise no matter what you do it won't sound like your picking everything. So someone here is clearly a noob I actually do not understand how people call this shit good. 9.6*? This takes away the whole point of picking everything! And the author took the slowest part of the song to demonstrate. I play the whole song from start to end with alternate picking ('cept for the sweeping parts, obviously). Alternate picking just makes SO much more sense cuz if you do economy picking, you'll NEVER get the punch of alternate picking and it will sound more legato than all notes being picked. Imagine if someone like John Petrucci did this! You can hear every note he picks, cuz he PICKS every note. Wow, some people are dumb.
    tennisace
    great lesson! i have been doing this for a while now, but i didn't know it had a name, but this definitly helped me become better.
    HighPitchSolov2
    mister sir wrote: this is the stupidest shit iv ever read. u use a hammeron if its not even? u can **** urself for wasting my time.
    Lol... you just suck ass hahaha, go quit guitar, noob
    ZeGuitarist
    mister sir wrote: HighPitchSolov2 wrote: You're calling me a noob? Anyone who reas this and actually tries applying this to their playng is a noob. This gives away the whole point of PICKING EVERYTHING, otherwise no matter what you do it won't sound like your picking everything. So someone here is clearly a noob I actually do not understand how people call this shit good. 9.6*? This takes away the whole point of picking everything! And the author took the slowest part of the song to demonstrate. I play the whole song from start to end with alternate picking ('cept for the sweeping parts, obviously). Alternate picking just makes SO much more sense cuz if you do economy picking, you'll NEVER get the punch of alternate picking and it will sound more legato than all notes being picked. Imagine if someone like John Petrucci did this! You can hear every note he picks, cuz he PICKS every note. Wow, some people are dumb.
    Dude, you obviously havent even read my lesson. You keep saying its stupid not to pick everything, but WHERE THE FUCK does it say in my lesson that you don't have to pick every note? OF COURSE you should pick every note, economy picking is just a technique for a smoother wrist movement! Try and use ur ****ing EYES the next time you read something, before you trash my lesson. Secondly, you say that it sounds more legato that alternate picking. If (and only if) FULLY mastered, economy picking DOESNT sound legato at all. Maybe you should try and throw your prejudices away and study things before you drag them through a pile of shit. And finally, check out the top 100 guitar lessons on UG. Mine's 3d.. Has to mean something, right? Guess you can't always be right. Wow, some people really have big heads. ZeG (author)
    metalhead_65
    I have been playing guitar for 3 years now and i havent even heard of economy picking until now. This was a great lesson and iot really taught me alot.
    Necromaggot
    Thank you for making this lesson, it is EXCELLENT! Before I read this, I was trying to master alt picking, but I was having a VERY rough time due to trying to keep track of "up-down-up-down" while trying to concentrate on my fretting, and I would get so frustrated that I would either resume one-way picking or put my guitar down in defeat. It was not that I didnt "get" alt picking, I am just naturally left handed so my right hand had a hard time going the correct way when I was picking. This made total sense to me, and as soon as I finished reading I picked up my guitar and tryed your examples, it clicked perfectly! Thank you for making such a helpful lesson! btw: am I ****ing myself over by using a corner of the pick to play? If I try to use the tip, it does nothing but slide around in my hand and mess me up, but when I use the upper left-hand corner of the pick to play with my thumb covering the tip and the other corner, I can do pretty well. Will I give myself speed or accuracy problems if I continue like that, or will I be fine to use it that way?
    ru8up
    Thanks for the lesson ZeG. I bet you can dust any critic on the board. mister sir can't pick his nose without his tongue getting in the way. All mouth and no show. Maybe he'd like to put his malmsteen up and try my brent mason / arlen roth style? I quite playing malmsteen years ago when there was little interest except viewing from fellow guitarist. It got old.
    Shredda
    Thank you for a tremendous lesson. The exercises are great. Still feels a bit awkward to do those triplets like in the second part of exercise 1, but I guess I just need more practice.
    mister sir
    this is the stupidest shit iv ever read. u use a hammeron if its not even? u can **** urself for wasting my time.
    sum41rules
    every1 seem a bit divided between alternate n economy pickin but i think a bit of both worlds is the best idea. tnx 4 helpin people
    LilGil
    awesome man. i knew my right hand was weak. im gonna practice this for awhile and hopefully i wont completely forget about it.
    HarmonicMinor
    If you master alternate picking, you gain greater speed than economy (sweep) says the wizard from 'The Guitar Grimoire' series.
    HarmonicMinor
    I wrote a riff before, using the same method but, using arpeggios from each different mode. Modes are real good in solos or, a pre-chorus building up to a chorus.
    jimbo.z
    Great absolutely great, if praticed this for like 15 minutes and i'm already a lot faster this is great. thanks man thanks.
    ortrigger
    this is really good for guitarist styles similar to avenged sevenfold. they have really fast riffs and solos. but it is a good thing to kind of combine economy and alternate because then you can be fast on triplets and quintets and be fast on duplets and quadruplets. its the best of both worlds.
    cdnhland
    great lesson, very informative, extremely helpful in understanding the importance of the picking hand.
    Llamai
    ZeGuitarist wrote: mister sir wrote: HighPitchSolov2 wrote: You're calling me a noob? Anyone who reas this and actually tries applying this to their playng is a noob. This gives away the whole point of PICKING EVERYTHING, otherwise no matter what you do it won't sound like your picking everything. So someone here is clearly a noob I actually do not understand how people call this shit good. 9.6*? This takes away the whole point of picking everything! And the author took the slowest part of the song to demonstrate. I play the whole song from start to end with alternate picking ('cept for the sweeping parts, obviously). Alternate picking just makes SO much more sense cuz if you do economy picking, you'll NEVER get the punch of alternate picking and it will sound more legato than all notes being picked. Imagine if someone like John Petrucci did this! You can hear every note he picks, cuz he PICKS every note. Wow, some people are dumb. Dude, you obviously havent even read my lesson. You keep saying its stupid not to pick everything, but WHERE THE FUCK does it say in my lesson that you don't have to pick every note? OF COURSE you should pick every note, economy picking is just a technique for a smoother wrist movement! Try and use ur ****ing EYES the next time you read something, before you trash my lesson. Secondly, you say that it sounds more legato that alternate picking. If (and only if) FULLY mastered, economy picking DOESNT sound legato at all. Maybe you should try and throw your prejudices away and study things before you drag them through a pile of shit. And finally, check out the top 100 guitar lessons on UG. Mine's 3d.. Has to mean something, right? Guess you can't always be right. Wow, some people really have big heads. ZeG (author)
    I'm just gonna go ahead and point out the part in your lesson where it says to use a hammer-on instead of picking the note if there's an even number of notes per string. So, just so you know, you did write it...
    itchy guitar
    holy crap. right before i was about to learn far beyond the sun by malmsteen too. this is really gonna help
    niqolaise
    This lesson helped me alot. I'm a left-handed guitarist who plays right-handed. So my right hand is weak. This lesson was exactly what I need, thanks.
    njj246
    like i started to change this style a little while ago after i heard "whishful thinking" by petrucci and some of the arts that are "shred" i just alt pick an i think this is what im doin i just didnt non there was a name for it
    njj246
    i a little confused... if ur alt pickin this kind of just comes naturally, no?
    makeshiftdream
    Thanks for the great lesson! I've been playing for a while, and though I'm pretty decent, I've skipped over a lot of the fundamentals and my progress has suffered because of it! Guess that's what you get when you go for more speed than accuracy. This lesson really helped me in my back tracking!
    Guitar 0 God
    This is a really great guide. I finally learned a new technique that i can practice. I gave it a 10.
    Freshnoise
    Hmm, i would argue that alternate picking is a better way to pick. Almost everyone naturally uses economy picking when trying to alternate pick unless they were taught otherwise. Your brain sees it as the least path of resistance. I don't think theres much of a need for a whole lesson on economy picking. Its actually harder when you think about it anyways.
    Irontallica09
    good article, only one thing I spotted you say that you only pick 3 notes in a four note per string pattern with economy picking and use hammers and pulls but in fact it turns out almost like alternate picking with a 4 note per sting pattern if you pick every note. I tried my best to learn alternate and ecomomy
    cholo11
    Nice one man, already discovered this some time ago, the right hand stuff. The economy picking thing is the one I didn't know. In fact haven't even hear of it. Nice lesson but it seemed the same for me, economy or sweep picking. I feel both techniques to be very natural in making them so i get same speed in both, both are easy so its just the same for me, nice lesson anyway, keep the good work.
    philipp122
    I just went from playing the major scale to shredding the major scale in 2 days. Thanks so much for making one of the most helpful lessons on UG. 10/10 .
    WishfulShredder
    Isnt it easiest to just learn all picking techniques? I mean economy picking may be good for getting a certain sweepish sound, but to get a more even sound shouldnt you use alternate? And sweep picking owns so everyone should learn it
    ZeGuitarist
    krung wrote: SUCKS!!!!!
    Um.. Very constructive.. Maybe tell me WHY? ZeG (author)
    madguyposerhomi
    woot!i hard wired this into my playing just now.didnt take very long at all.but then again.ive only been playin for a month so i probably dont have any bad habits that would prevent me from learning this
    madguyposerhomi
    oh ps thnx and anyway u can help me out with economy picking and hitting the frets the same time im picking? ?i kno, thats lame
    ZeGuitarist
    Llamai wrote: I'm just gonna go ahead and point out the part in your lesson where it says to use a hammer-on instead of picking the note if there's an even number of notes per string. So, just so you know, you did write it...
    I know I wrote that STRICT economy picking uses hammer ons, but I never said anybody should strictly stick to this. I know I only realised this afterwards so I repeatedly said this in the comments on the lesson, so if you havent read them all you might have missed that so yea sry, maybe you're right.. But that doesn't make my lesson crap. ZeG