Economy picking is a picking technique many guitarists use that often feels much easier than alternate picking.
The basic idea behind economy picking is that you change your picking direction to match the direction your hand moves across the strings.
Some guitarists prefer economy picking while others prefer alternate picking. The only way you can figure out which picking style suits you best is to learn both styles to a high level.
This lesson will give you a set of effective exercises you can use to take your economy picking skill from beginner to expert.
Take your time with each exercise and don’t skip the easy ones.
Once you master both alternate picking and economy picking, you can decide which one suits you best. Or you can jump back and forth between the two styles as you like.
Learn more about different picking styles in this guide.
How to Develop Good Economy Picking Skills
There are three steps to learning economy picking. First, you need to develop good picking accuracy. Second, you need to work on syncing both hands with good coordination. Finally, you should work on building up your speed.
Learning alternate picking first will also make it easier for you to develop good economy picking skills.
Practice these alternate picking exercises before you work on the economy picking exercises in this guide.
Here are the three steps to learn economy picking:
Step 1: Picking Accuracy
Picking accuracy is all about being able to accurately pick the correct string in the correct direction.
The best way to work on picking accuracy is to focus 100% on your picking hand and completely ignore your fretting hand.
An easy way to do this is to just play open strings. By playing open strings, you can focus completely on your picking hand. You won’t need to worry about playing the right frets or even thinking about what note to play next. You can place 100% of your attention on the way your pick hits the strings.
All of the economy picking exercises in this lesson include an open string version to help you focus on your picking hand.
Tip: don’t skip the open string versions. You will develop your picking accuracy faster if you practice the open string versions first.
Focus completely on your picking hand at the start when you practice every new exercise. Make sure you’re picking the string in the right direction and watch out for any mistakes.
If you have spent a lot of time using alternate picking, you may find that some of the exercises trip up your picking. What feels natural when using alternate picking may suddenly feel awkward if you use economy picking.
Spend extra time working on exercises that feel awkward from a picking point of view. Work on them until the picking direction feels natural.
Your picking accuracy will improve significantly once you get through all of the exercises in this lesson.
Step 2: Hand Coordination
Hand coordination is how well you’re able to place your fretting hand fingers down on the string in time for you to pick the note correctly.
A common sign of bad hand coordination is when you hear any fret buzzing or muted notes.
You need to perfectly sync both of your hands together so you pick the string at just the right time.
Economy picking can throw off your hand coordination if you’re still focused on picking accuracy.
That’s why you should practice the open string versions of each exercise first. Developing picking accuracy will make it easier for you to develop hand coordination.
To develop your hand coordination, you need to focus on the timing of both hands. As you play through the exercises, focus on how each note sounds and watch out for any time you notice a muted note or buzzing.
Step 3: Speed
Speed should be the last thing you think about when working through these exercises.
Even if you don’t want to play fast parts in your music, it’s a good idea to work on speed to build your skills up to a high level.
How to properly build up speed is explained in this lesson on how to play guitar fast. Work through those exercises to learn more.
Don’t try to play any of these exercises at a high tempo until you have developed your picking accuracy and hand coordination to a high level.
When you’re ready to work on building up your speed, use a metronome and gradually raise the tempo.
Only raise the tempo if you can play the exercise perfectly. If you start noticing mistakes creep into your playing, it’s a sign that you’re trying to push yourself too fast. Back the tempo off slightly and try again.
Focus on accuracy and the speed will follow. If you try to push the speed too soon, you’ll end up with a sloppy picking technique. Remember: accuracy is the main goal.
Economy Picking Exercise 1: Moving Strings
This basic exercise will get you comfortable with the idea that the pick needs to move in the same direction you move up and down the strings.
Just remember: if you need to move to a higher string, you use a down-pick. If you need to move to a lower string, use an up-pick.
The above example should make the basic idea of economy picking clear. The pick moves in the same direction as your hand as you move through the strings.
If you are familiar with sweep picking, this will look very familiar. But unlike sweep picking, each note here is played as a separate picking motion.
Learn how to use sweep picking in this lesson.
Sweep picking will smoothly move the pick across all six strings in one motion. Economy picking still picks the strings as separate picking motions (in most cases).
Practice the above exercise as six separate down-picks, followed by six separate up-picks. It might feel strange to play, but it will eventually feel completely natural to you if you work on it.
Focus on the open string version first so you can focus completely on your picking hand. Don’t worry about the notes ringing out, just focus on picking the strings.
Once it feels easy to play the open string version, you can spend some time on the fretted version to work on your hand coordination.
Don’t move on to the next exercise until you can play both the open string version and the fretted version with ease.
Economy Picking Exercise 2: Three Strings Up
This is an important exercise to work on to better understand the picking direction in economy picking.
Read through the below exercise and notice how the picking direction changes whenever you change string direction.
It may feel more comfortable to use alternate picking on something like this at first, but once you master economy picking you may prefer the way your hand moves over the strings.
Start by focusing on the open string version and make sure you pick each note the correct way.
Build up your speed using a metronome (play three notes per click) until you can smoothly move across the strings without any mistakes.
Economy Picking Exercise 3: Three Strings Down
This exercise is the continuation of Exercise 2. It uses the same basic idea and moves the other way across the strings.
Once you master this exercise, try connecting Exercises 2 & 3 together and play them constantly in a loop. This will help you feel comfortable moving across the strings in both directions.
The fretted version of this exercise only uses two fingers (use your first and third fingers) so you can focus on your hand coordination.
If you hear any muted or buzzing notes, it’s a sign that your hand coordination is slightly off. Spend plenty of time on the open string version to make sure your picking accuracy is spot-on before you try the fretted version.
Economy Picking Exercise 4: 3NPS Ascending
Playing three notes per string (often abbreviated to 3NPS) is a very common pattern, so it’s worth learning how economy picking changes when you use 3NPS.
This exercise shows how economy picking is combined with alternate picking and how economy picking can often feel far more comfortable to play.
When playing notes on the same string, you use alternate picking. It’s only when you move to a different string that you see the difference with economy picking.
Because this exercise moves down (towards the ground) across the strings, you use a down-pick at the start of each string.
If you are used to alternate picking, this will feel strange at first. If it does feel odd to you, make sure you spend plenty of time working on it until it feels natural.
Only build up your speed after both the open string and fretted versions feel completely natural to you and you can play it without any mistakes.
Economy Picking Exercise 5: 3NPS Descending
This exercise is the same as Exercise 4, only the string direction has changed. It should be straightforward to play if you have spent enough time on Exercise 4.
Focus on your picking direction and make sure you don’t accidentally follow an alternate picking pattern as you move across the strings.
Mastering exercises like these is crucial to developing good pick control.
When you start playing more complex licks or scale runs, it’s the skills you build with exercises like these that make the difference in your playing.
Compare how fast you can play Exercises 4 & 5 and whether there’s a difference in the maximum tempo you can play perfectly. Your goal should be to build both exercises up to the point where you can play both exercises at the same tempo.
Economy Picking Exercise 6: 3NPS Changing Directions
This exercise will help you feel confident in changing string direction. After practicing this exercise, you should instinctively know which direction to pick any new string based on whether your hand is moving up or down through the strings.
When you go to repeat the exercise, notice that you’re moving to a lower-pitched string (from the D string to the A string). What does that mean for how you pick the first note on the A string?
You need to use an up-pick when going back to the A string, so the picking direction on the first three notes flips when you repeat the exercise.
If you’re wondering why the focus has been on 3NPS, think about what would happen if you played two notes per string.
Look at the below exercise and think about how it would be played using economy picking:
The picking pattern would be identical to alternate picking (eg: down up down up).
When there are an odd number of notes per string, economy picking feels different than alternate picking because your picking direction matches the direction you move across the strings.
When there are an even number of notes per strings, economy picking and alternate picking are identical.
If you want to improve your economy picking technique, focus on licks or scale runs that use an odd number of notes per string or a combination of odd and even notes per string.
Economy Picking Exercise 7: Scale Runs
This exercise shows a typical scale run using economy picking. If you have practiced the above 6 exercises, this should feel easy.
Try to continue the scale run all the way up to the high E string (the A Minor Scale is used).
There is a lot of scale run exercises online, but when you break this scale run down, you can see how it’s simply a combination of the exercises covered earlier.
That’s why it’s so important to practice the fundamental skills rather than focus purely on scale run-based exercises. If you work on the fundamentals, scales runs automatically become easier.
Try coming up with different scale run exercises and try both economy picking and alternate picking for each run to learn which works best in different situations.
Learn more about practicing scales in this guide.
Economy Picking Exercise 8: Simple Arpeggios
Repeating patterns such as arpeggios are often a good time to use economy picking.
Sweep picking is the preferred picking method for many guitarists when it comes to arpeggios, but economy picking works just fine.
In this simple arpeggio, you can see that your hand movements are simplified compared to what would happen if you use alternate picking.
At a high tempo, it starts to become obvious how useful economy picking can be. Your down-down-up movement starts to become fluid as you sweep back and forth between the strings.
Practice this arpeggio using economy picking, then spend some time practicing it using alternate picking to learn how your picking style changes how something feels to play.
Extra Economy Picking Exercises
If you want to challenge yourself with your economy picking, try working through these alternate picking exercises and play them using economy picking.
If you have spent enough time working through this lesson, you should find it easy to work out the picking direction for all of those exercises.
Work out what the economy picking direction should be for each exercise, then practice them and watch out that you don’t accidentally start following the alternate picking directions.
Once you feel confident with your economy picking, you might want to try sweep picking. Try learning these 14 sweep picking exercises to build on what you have learned in this lesson.