Improve your economy picking in 20 minutes

Many guitarists think of economy of picking as one of those shred techniques associated with virtuoso players such as Frank Gambale and Jason Becker, but ultimately it’s just designed to get your pick hand moving more efficiently. It’s all in the name - your aim is to make your picking movements more ‘economical’.

We recommend leaving any preconceptions at the door. This is just a technique and, whatever kind of music you’re into, it can help you take your solos to new levels.

The idea is simple. Instead of using down-up style ‘alternate’ picking, you’ll be picking from one string to another in the same direction. This can feel a bit like controlled ‘falling’ through each set of strings rather than individual pick movements.

It can be tough to master at first as your brain and hands may need some reprogramming. Still, practise slowly and you’ll gradually build speed and fluency into your solos, and these exercises should provide plenty of inspiration.

Easy arpeggio shapes

The picking directions reveal all here! Traditional alternate picking would mean tricky changes of direction and you might have to use hammer-ons and pull-offs. The more economical way of picking ensures your pick hand is always travelling in the direction of the next note. Try applying these shapes next time you’re improvising a solo.

Picking and pull-offs

This classic 80s style lick uses a double downstroke to maximise the shredability! That means you can build your picking speed without so much physical effort. The challenging part is the slight pause after the upstroke. Try to move your pick hand into position for the next note while you play the pull-off, aiming for steady timing as you do so.

Simple pentatonic lick

This Zakk Wylde style pentatonic lick would often be played with alternate picking, meaning that your pick hand has to really ‘go for it’! Try a pure ‘down-up’ approach first then switch to ‘down up up down’ to notice the difference - you’ll get a smoother sound simply because you’ll be playing half as many pick strokes. Make sure not to rush though!

Pentatonic arpeggio

This inventive way of looking at the A minor pentatonic scale uses big ‘sweeps’ across three strings. As with the previous examples, this is designed to increase speed and smoothness, as alternate picking can sound short and abrupt. It’s a really creative way to approach pentatonic licks, so make sure to try the shape in your own solos.

Practice Plan

  1. One minutes: Play through one exercise slowly
  2. Two minutes: Slow down even further and analyse the picking movements
  3. One minute: Gradually build speed
  4. Try out the other examples

Once you’ve tried out all the tab exercises, it’s worth thinking about how you can use some of these ideas in your own solos. Even if it takes you some time to develop your picking technique, these are all creative ideas that you can use in any solo. Come back to the exercises to practise economy picking and look for opportunities to use the method in your own licks and solos.