The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter III: 5 Technique - Economy Picking

In this last technique chapter of the Intermediate section, we study an alternative for the alternate picking technique, also known as "economy picking". Not only do we discuss how this technique works using examples and exercises, but we also look into the advantages and disadvantages compared to alternate picking!

Ultimate Guitar

Part III - Chapter 5

"Technique - Economy Picking"

Hey all! This is the last chapter of the Intermediate section of the ultimate Guide To Guitar. As you know, we'll be moving on to the Advanced section after that, with more exciting theory and technique articles to entertain you one last time! But let's focus on this last Intermediate technique article first.

You may have noticed that today's article changes the original lineup of articles, if you checked out the overview in Chapter I-1 to see what was coming up next. I decided not to publish the article "Strength And Speed Exercises" due to lack of useful information, but instead I bring you this article, which is a more in-depth sequel to Chapter II-5. In that article, I gave a brief overview of the most important picking styles for the right hand... but because it was an overview, I couldn't give you all the information I needed to give on otherwise very important picking techniques, such as economy picking and sweep picking. Well, today we will cover economy picking more in-depth! You'll still have to wait for the Advanced section, until we get to sweep picking, though...

So, today's topic is economy picking... This article is going to be divided into 2 very important sections. The first section is focused completely on the techique of economy picking, providing proper exercises and examples for you to study and understand the technique properly... Then, the second and equally important section of this article will compare economy picking with alternate picking, the other important picking technique with which you're already familiar...

So now you know what we're going to assess in this article, but because I always do this, here's this chapter's outline:
1. Economy picking: a complete assessment of the technique!
2. Alternate or economy: a comparison between two major picking techniques!

The theory assessed in this chapter is a hot topic among guitarists, so this article is sure to interest you! Let's begin...

Economy picking

In this first section of this article, we will discuss the technique of economy picking... You're already familiar with alternate picking, but we need to make sure you have an equally profound understanding of economy picking before we can make a proper comparison! So, in this chapter we will look into the technique of economy picking in a more detailed and in-depth way...

You're probably used to the way I discuss new techniques by now... but I'll remind you once again how we're going to assess this. First of all, I'll explain how the technique is done, in a couple of easy steps. Then, we'll look into some examples of situations in which the technique is most commonly used... And finally, I'll give you some exercises that you can use in order to practice the technique!

A. How it's done

You may remember from Chapter II-5 that economy picking is a term that not a lot of guitarists are familiar with... but when they are explained what the technique consists of, they often realise they have been using that technique all along! You may also remember from that chapter, that I described economy picking as a hybrid of two other right hand picking techniques:
  • Alternate picking: the all-important picking technique you're all familiar with by now... This technique consists of a simple arternation between down- and upstrokes, allowing you to pick twice as fast as with unidirectional picking.
  • Sweep picking: we discussed this technique in the overview of picking techniques (Chapter II-5), but it will be covered more in-depth as an Advanced technique article... for now, all you need to know about it is that this technique is used to play consecutive notes on adjacent strings, by a sequence of picking attacks in one direction. This results in a fluent "sweeping" motion across the strings, like strumming a chord, but each note stands out individually...
Now, economy picking is a technique that combines the best of both techniques mentioned above, in order to minimize the workload for the right hand... The technique "economises" on your picking movements, in 2 fashions:
  • When playing consecutive notes on one string, economy picking is just like alternate picking: a constant alternation of down- and upstrokes. This is of course the most efficient way of picking in this situation, as alternating between down- and upstrokes goes twice as fast as doing only downstrokes, and then moving the pick back up and over the string for another downstroke!
  • When changing strings, economy picking resembles sweep picking, in the sense that the picking attack goes in the direction of the string you are moving towards... here's an example: if you're going from the 6th string to the 5th string, you would pick the 6th string with a downstroke; and as your pick needs to move downwards to go to the 5th string, you'd pick the 5th string with a downstroke as well instead of moving over and under it, to keep to the down-up-pattern! You'd be wasting effort...
To make it easier for you to visualize this, I will provide you with a tabbed example of the difference in picking pattern between alternate picking and economy picking... I will show you a simple note sequence, and add the picking pattern for alternate picking in the first example, and the picking pattern for economy picking in the second one!

Alternate picking

   d u d u d u d u d u d u d u d u d u
B|-------------------------0-0-0-------| d=downstroke
G|-------------------0-0-0-------------| u=upstroke

As you can see, the picking pattern consists of a constant alternation of down- and upstrokes, when playing notes on one string as well as when changing strings...

Economy picking

   d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d
B|-------------------------0-0-0-------| d=downstroke
G|-------------------0-0-0-------------| u=upstroke

In this example, you see clearly that the picking pattern deviates from the strict alternating pattern, whenever you change strings. You can see that, in order to move from one string to the next, 2 consecutive downpicking attacks are used - as the hand has to move down to get to the next string anyway! This saves you the effort of going over and under the string for an uppick, and therefore economises your right hand movement...

Try to play this pattern with alternate picking first, and then with economy picking... try and feel the difference when changing strings, which is where both techniques are different! Getting the timing between notes right is a bit more difficult with economy picking, but you'll soon get the hang of it... if you practice enough!

B. Economy picking in lead guitar
Now that you know what economy picking is, we're going to look at a common situation in which economy picking is typically used. I'm going to show you the riff that I first used to learn economy picking... It's from the song "Blitzkrieg" by Yngwie Malmsteen! Below is the tab for the passage I'm talking about, with the picking pattern for economy picking... Check it out!

    d d u d u u d u d d d u u d u u    d d u d u u d u d d d u u d u u

   d d u d u u d u d d d u u d u u    d d u  d u u  d u d  d d u u  d u u

   d  d  u  d  u  u  d  u  d  d  d  u  u  d  u  u

   d  d  u  d  u  u  d  u  d  d  d  u  u  d  u  u    d

Not only does this riff sound extremely cool, it's as if it's designed to train economy picking with! Every string change is in a convenient location, where you can use consecutive picking attacks in the same direction to go from one string to another... If you would stick to a strict alternation of down- and upstrokes in this sequence, your right hand would have to make a lot of unnecessary movements! Try out both techniques, you'll notice how this pattern can be picked with economy picking with a lot less effort!

Like I said, it's almost as if this pattern is designed to be economy picked... Not every riff is like that, though! So, economy picking certainly isn't the way to go in every situation... We'll discuss that in the second section of this article. First, I'll provide you with some exercises so you can practice on the technique!

C. Exercises

I will give you a few sets of exercises in this paragraph, each set serving to train a different aspect of the technique of economy picking... Here goes!

Exercise set 1

   d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d

   u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u

Easy as can be, this exercise set requires no effort from the left hand at all... so you can focus exclusively on the right hand, and practice to feel the difference between "regular" alternate picking and economy. Switching strings will feel a bit unnatural at first, but practice and you'll get used to it quickly! So, this set of exercises is designed for training your fluency and timing...

Exercise set 2

   d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d

   u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u

   d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d d u d

   u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u u d u

This set of exercises uses a 3-notes-per-string picking pattern similar to the one in the first exercise set, but this time the left hand is also involved! This set of 4 exercises will help you develop synchronized movement between both hands... an absolute must!

Of course, these exercises are not the only ones you can use to practice economy picking with. The patterns I show above are very common patterns, and you can use them to try and come up with your own exercises! Just keep practicing, you will get the hang of it eventually!

Alternate Or Economy?

Now, from the Blitzkrieg riff and from the above exercises, you can see a couple of situations in which economy picking can be advantageous to your playing style... in an "odd number of notes per string" pattern, economy picking is perfect, as it allows you to switch strings with consecutive picking attacks in the same direction...

But what if the situation is different? What if the pattern of notes isn't all that perfectly adapted to switching strings with consecutive picking attacks in the same direction? An example:

E|-------5-----------------------|     d=downstroke
B|---------8-5-------------------| u=upstroke

You may remember that I used this fragment from the Stairway To Heaven solo (by Led Zeppelin) as an example of alternate picking in Chapter II-5. Now, what if you want to play this sequence with economy picking? Would that not give you an advantage over alternate picking, as usual?

The answer: in this situation, no. Why don't you try it out? A pattern of 2 notes per string dominates this short solo sequence, meaning that you can't possibly switch strings with 2 consecutive attacks in the same direction... so if you try to economy pick this riff, you'll just end up alternate picking! Economy picking is of no particular advantage at all in this sequence...

So, here's the point where most of you are probably wondering: "which one is better then, alternate picking or economy picking?"... The answer to that is both, and neither, because it all depends on the situation. One riff can be played very easily with economy picking, while in another riff economy picking is of no advantage at all... learning both techniques, in order to adapt to every situation by using the most appropriate technique, is the best answer! I like to call this "situational picking": choosing the picking style according to the situation!

BUT! Even though "situational picking" is the most rational way of picking, because it uses your right hand in the most efficient way, there is one more very important factor that not even rationality can argue with: personal preference. Some people just like to strictly alternate pick everything, while other people try to incorporate economy picking in their playing as much as they can... And while one technique might be slightly better in a certain situation, that doesn't mean the other technique is worthless! An example:


This is an excerpt (the first 2 bars) of John Petrucci's "Glasgow Kiss", which you can listen to here... Anybody with a little common sense and a good understanding of "situational picking", would immediately play this sequence with economy picking, as it is dominated with 1-note-per-string sweeps! However, John Petrucci, composer of this riff and as most of you will know a virtuoso guitarist, strictly alternate picks this pattern! So, against all logic, he chooses to use a technique he prefers, just because it feels more natural to him...

The bottom line: keep both techniques in the back of your head, be prepared to use either one of them when the situation favours one of the two - but always remember, that personal preference is all that matters at the end of the day! Just do whatever is more comfortable to you, no matter what other people have to say about it... it's you who's playing, anyway!


Congratulations! After studying this picking technique, you now have all the theory knowledge and technical skills needed to move on to the next part of the Ultimate Guide to Guitar - for Advanced players! Exciting, isn't it? Until then, be sure to practice a lot! Practice makes perfect...


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22 comments sorted by best / new / date

    1st. Good lesson. Although I'm mainly a fingerstyle player. I use economy picking most of the time when I'm using a pick.
    When I first started learning 3 note per string patterns for scales (when I learned the modes) I didn't even know what alternate picking was, or economy picking, but once I learned how to use sweep picking, I kind of developed my own idea of what it was. Obviously I was economy picking without even knowing it! And because of that, it's the alternate picking that I dislike. Most people learn alternate picking first with teachers, I found, and those same teachers don't even mention economy picking, or circle picking, or even sweep picking. Not being able to effectively use sweep picking and economy picking in metal is silly in the new "era" of rock, more specifically metal. Thank you so much for the breakdown on what each technique is, Ze, I appreciate it
    well done! ive read heaps of articles and stuff about economoy pickng but none of it made any sense until i read your article, cheers
    good article. I haven't really learned anything new from any of your lessons, I've just been kinda following your lessons out of curiosity. But I'm hoping I'll learn something new in the upcoming chapters. but if I don't I'll still enjoy reading em. my personal picking style is kinda like the situational picking you mentioned, except that I don't even think about what kind of picking I'm doing anymore, I just automatically do it lol. I figured out economy and alternate picking before I'd ever heard of it, but then when I came across the terms on the forums I immediately knew what they were talking about.
    gillbert wrote: loads better than the one in the "lessons" section 5*
    That one is mine as well... only, I agree, this one is a big improvement over that one
    Very Good Lesson! I've been doing this for a while, since I thought it was... well efficient! hehehe... I had no idea it had a name. I am improving it though from this lesson.
    Very helpful. This is a technique I've neglected too long. But this lesson is very clear. I've got to hand it to you, you're a great teacher. Checked.
    i switch between various types of picking when i need to or when it is easiest, it seems however that i started out economy picking
    definitely another good picking style technique article. Thanks for all the hard work. Ze, any plans on including a Harmonizing Chord Progressions type of article? I'd like to know the theory behind this. So many guitarists like Frusciante fatten up their guitar parts with inversions, harmonizations, etc. I'd love to learn this stuff. Thanks again.
    the right hand information on the first row of Blitzkrieg is moved by 1 space to the left.
    Well, if you read the whole article, you'll find that I talk about personal preference being the most important thing of all when considering picking techniques...
    I did not read the full article, but I've tried out economy picking, and it didn't really work for me. I eco picked for a month, but started to get trouble staying in time, and some things are just impossible to eco pick. I just use strict alternate picking now, so now i don't have to worry about how to pick things when playing. This is my point of view, find out what's best for you.
    the "DUDUD" thing at the first row of "Blitzkrieg" tab is messed up I believe
    the "DUDUD" thing at the first row of "Blitzkrieg" tab is messed up I believe Thanks for the article, though I knew most of it already
    Awesome, I've actually been useing Economy Picking all this time, without knowing what it really was.