You’ve probably heard of economy picking, which is where you use one continuous pick motion to cross strings—instead of using alternate picking.
For example, if you started on a downstroke and played three notes on the A string, your pick will end on a downstroke for the third note. If you fret the next note on the D string, you can use that same downward motion of the pick and pick the A string. The key is to make this one sweeping movement.
If you’re already familiar with the idea of using a rest stroke, you’ll know that as you pick through the A string, the pick comes to rest against the D string. As you fret the note on the D string of our hypothetical lick, you just push that pick right on through the D string as well, catching that note.
If you play more than one note on the same string, you revert to alternate picking—but you’ll always use a sweep for the string changes. However, using economy picking doesn’t mean you have to be picking all the notes in a lick.
Taking economy picking at its most minimalist form, you can just sweep the string crossing and let the fingers do the rest with hammers and pulls, as you’ll see in LICK 1. This is a repeating sextuplet that is nearly always used as a picking exercise. To add a slightly more aggressive feel, you can add a few more picked notes.
LICK 2 shows how I pick the first four notes only, leaving the remaining notes as hammer-ons. Note how the picking automatically reverts to alternate picking as soon as extra notes are picked on the B string. LICK 3 is a cheeky devil that requires you to barre the high E and B strings with your index finger. Using an upstroke sweep again, only the first two notes are picked. If that’s too legato for you, LICK 4 sees us adding another pick stroke into the action so that we’re picking the first three notes.
Again, notice that we sweep for the string change and then revert to alternate picking as we would normally. So you see that you don’t have to be Frank Gambale to use this technique. If you’ve been put off the idea of economy picking because you thought it was too fiddly or that it might mess with your alternate picking, know that it’s actually very easy to implement into everyday licks. And you don’t have to make any bold commitments to the economy picking cause. You can just use it now and again for certain licks to help things flow easier.
Ben Higgins started playing guitar at age 10. He’s released five solo albums and continues to teach guitarists from around the world. In 2012, he released the YouTube video “30 Shredders in One Solo,” in which he emulated the style of 30 of the world’s greatest guitarists. He followed it up with “30 Misplaced Shredders” and “Another 30 Shredders." In 2016, Ben developed his “Badass…” online courses, which are aimed at improving people’s technique in picking, sweeping and hand synchronization. To find out more about Ben and his courses, visit benhigginsofficial.com.