Alternate vs. Economy Picking Guitar – Which One Should You Start With


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When learning to play the guitar, there`s so much information to learn and so many different techniques that it`s easy to get confused. You should start to learn alternate picking to build a technical base as a fundament to your guitar playing. Then evolve into more technical techniques as the economy picking and even sweep picking. These techniques are actually easier to play, but much harder to learn, especially sweep picking.

Below are the picking patterns of both alternate and economy picking.

(U = Up and D = Down).

If you learn them and take the time to “master” them, you will benefit greatly and will be able to play seemingly impossible licks and songs. In order to play economy picking you should be able to master the alternate picking technique down – up- down – up picking pattern to build muscle memory and control. If you don`t have control of your pick then this will sound very messy. If you want to learn how to play guitar fast and increase the speed of your picking then start slow with alternate picking.

What is alternate picking in guitar?

Alternate picking is to pick the exact same pattern over and over. For example, if you start with a down pick on a string the next is an up pick, then down – up – down- up, etc. This pattern is the same even if you change strings. It doesn`t matter if you start on an up or down stroke as long as the next move is the opposite of what you just did.

For example if you start with an up pick, then the next would do pick down, then up – down – up – down – up, etc.. If you start on the thickest E string and pick down – up – down, then if you change to the next A string, you have to lift your pick over the A string and do a up pick to keep the alternate flow going. Then down – up.

Then if you want to go to the next string the D you have to lift your pick over the A string and do a down pick on the D string. You should start very slow as this takes a lot of concentration in the beginning.

You have to build muscle memory which takes time. Over time it will become second nature. The best way to learn how to alternate pick is to use a metronome. If you master alternate picking it will become much easier to switch between techniques later on.

Economy picking is to break the alternate picking pattern when you change strings. For example, if you start on the thickest E string and pick down – up – down, instead of going over the A string to pick it using an up motion, you use two down picks in a row, or one sweeping motion. So if you picture starting on the E string again, pick down – up – down, then down on the A string. When you do the last down you pick both the E and the A string in one motion. Then continue on the A string up-down, then down on the D string and repeat on all strings. When you want to descend or go back from the thinnest E string it would be wise to start with an up pick to make the same smooth transitions with less motion. Up – down – up (thinnest E string), then up – down – up (B string), then up – down – up (G string) etc.

This is the same as with the economy where we want to distribute the available resources as efficiently as possible. When we are talking about the economy picking on guitar we want to make it as easy as possible and with as little motion and effort as possible.

How can I improve my accuracy picking?

Try to keep your pick as close to the strings as possible when you are changing strings to make you’re playing more efficient. Especially if you want to learn how to play with speed.

Try to loosen up and focus on starting slow and master the motions. Don`t force it and take it slow. Of course, you want to push it, but small steps at a time. If you practise consistently you will be amazed at how you will be able to play songs and techniques you didn`t believe was possible in the beginning.

Should I always use alternate picking?

When you are starting out you should strive to always use alternate picking to learn to get control of your picking and develop a seamless technique which will make it much easier for you to combine techniques and increase speed in the long run, if that is your goal. If you want to know someone who is truly a master of alternate picking you should check out Paul Gilbert.


Is alternate picking necessary?

If you use alternate picking and learn the automatic motion of down – up – down- up aka. same pattern over and over, it will be much easier for your brain to cope with this same logic over and over. Of course, you have to take the time to learn this and start slow as it will be difficult in the beginning especially when you are changing or skipping strings. If you get into the habit of learning this it will be much easier for you in the long run. After a while, you will develop your own technique and do what feels more natural and easy for you. But if you don`t have the basics nailed down you will probably mess up and sound like shit if you try to play better than your own skills.


What Is Sweep Picking On Guitar? – What Is A Sweep And How Does It Work?

Sweep picking on a guitar is to play the notes in a chord or a scale one after another but in one sweeping motion with the picking hand while at the same time you fret out the notes. It is common to play the notes ascending then descending the same notes or in the opposite order. So if you play the notes in a chord one note after another, this is called an arpeggio. Below is a C Major sweep.

You start at the 15th fret on the A string and push the string down so that the note rings. Then you continue the motion down with the picking hand to the next string and the 14th fret. Continue down to the next string the 12th fret etc. So you play down – down – down – down – down – down in one motion with the picking hand, which is ascending. When you reach the thinnest e string you do a hammer-on and pull-off on 12 – 15 – 12th fret.

Then you do a descending sweep the opposite way playing the exact same notes, but instead of playing down sweep pick you play upon the 13th fret on the B string. Then up – up – up – up in one motion until you reach the 15th fret on the A string again. This example is a 5 string sweep. You can do 2 string sweep, 3 string sweep, 4 string sweep, 5 string sweep and 6 string sweeps on a regular guitar. If you have more than 6 strings you could play sweep picking over more than 6 strings but this gets more challenging as most people have five fingers on their fretting hand.


Is sweep picking hard?

Sweep picking is very hard in the beginning when you don`t know how to do it. If you take the time and practice sweep picking over time, it will become easier, and if you stay consistent it is actually pretty easy to do. The hard part is to synchronize your fretting hand with your picking hand and at the same time learn to mute the strings so it doesn`t sound messy.

You should start with two strings and fret one note on each string. With your picking hand, you want to hold your pick lightly between your fingers at a slight angle. Then you do a down-down “pick” over the strings with a sweeping motion. It is almost like when you strum a chord, the difference being that instead of holding a chord with your fretting hand, you play each note one after another.

After you have played a note on one string, try to mute the string by placing the palm of your picking hand slightly on top of the string you just played. Then continue the sweeping motion down to the next string. Try to make the notes sound clean and separated.

If you have mastered sweeping on two strings, try to do three string sweeps, then 4 string sweeps, etc.


Who invented sweep picking?

There`s a lot of opinions about who invented sweep picking. Wayne and Tal Farlow did sweep picking in the 40s, which looks to be the first ones to do it. Frank Gambale perfected it in the 80s. Also, a Belgian jazzer named Rene Thomas did sweep picking 20 to 25 years before we heard of Frank Gambale, Yngwie Malmsteen, or Jason Becker. These are all amazing guitar players who have taken guitar playing to a whole new level.