Secrets of Shred: An Introduction to Economy Picking

In this edition of Secrets of Shred, I’m going to show you how to get started using the technique of economy picking.

This is an extremely useful approach for combining scales and arpeggios at high speeds and opens up a unique pathway for odd note groupings.

The basis of economy picking is the combination of sweep picking and alternate picking. Let’s begin with our first example in the key of E minor.

EXAMPLE 1 is a two-string pattern and is an example of economy picking in its most basic form. The trick to playing this fast is using a down-stroke sweep when transitioning from the B string to the E string. (See TAB) This lick is a five-note pattern and would be virtually impossible to play fast using strict alternate picking.

For EXAMPLE 2 we take the picking pattern from our previous example and move it down through the Em pentatonic scale. The picking pattern simply repeats itself as you descend down the string sets. All you need to change is your left hand fingering.

EXAMPLE 3 is an example of how to use economy picking to play arpeggios in odd note groupings. Once again we use the same picking pattern as the previous examples with five notes total. This example is an Em7 arpeggio and an Emaj7 arpeggio.

For our final example, EXAMPLE 4 combines E minor scale patterns and arpeggios all the way down the neck. To add color, I combine diatonic and non-diatonic arpeggios. The riff ends with an E5 power chord.

TIP: If you want to add non-diatonic arpeggios to your riffs and solos, Maj7 arpeggios are a great place to start. The final example is just an introduction to all the possibilities that open up when you learn to use economy picking effectively. Once you get the five-note pattern mastered, try coming up with different combinations of economy picking patterns. Three-, four-, six- and seven-note patterns are very effective as well.

Another great practice technique is to take scales that you’ve learned using strict alternate picking and try playing them with economy picking. You’ll find that economy picking not only takes less effort to play fast but results in a different sound as well. Cheers!

Sammy Boller is the guitarist for the Detroit rock band Citizen Zero. They’re touring and recording their first full-length album with Al Sutton and Marlon Young (Kid Rock, Bob Seger, Uncle Kracker). In 2012, Boller was selected by Joe Satriani as a winner of Guitar Center’s Master Satriani competition. He studied music at the University of Michigan. For more about Boller, or to ask him a question, write to him at or follow him on Twitter.

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