Guitar students often ask about the difference between “sweep” picking and “economy” picking and it seems these terms can cause a little confusion. Sweep picking is actually just a result of applying the principles of Economy Picking to an arpeggio where the notes lie across the strings (hence the term “sweep picking” because if the notes lie on consecutive adjacent strings, then effect is for the pick to “sweep” across the whole group of notes in a single motion).
Economy picking is really very simple. There are only two basic principles to remember:
- Always pick into the direction of the next string.
- Whenever two or more notes lie on the same string, you alternate picking direction until the next move to a new string
Really! That’s about all there is to it. So when going from the 5th string to the 4th string for instance, the first note on the 4th string will be played with a down-stroke, but if going from the 4th to the 5th string, the first note on the 5th string will be played with an upstroke. This works for arpeggios, scales, licks, bebop heads, and really just about anything you’d want to apply it to.
You should also note that picking every single note can start to sound a bit tiresome, so it’s okay to include some slurs (in the form of hammer-ons, pull-offs or finger-slides) as they can help to smooth out the sound.
You’ll probably find it useful to write out any line or exercise you’re working on, indicating all the left-hand fingerings, down and up strokes, slurs, etc. Then practice it very slowly for awhile until all the motions flow naturally, then increase the speed. At first you may want to just practice short fragments of the lick (3 or 4 notes) until the pick glides over them and each note sounds with clear articulation.
When starting out, some of this might feel a bit strange, so remember to go slow at first. If you take you time it becomes quite natural and after a while, you won’t even think about it.
Here are some examples (with picking indicated):
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please like and share it on Facebook, Twitter (or your favorite social media site). I also encourage you to join our email list to get updates when new content is added here and news of special offers and discounts.