Economy picking

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Economy picking is a guitar picking technique designed to maximize picking efficiency by combining alternate picking and sweep picking. Specifically:

  • When picking multiple notes on a string, alternate picking (alternating between down-strokes and upstrokes) is used.
  • When changing to a new string, sweep picking (picking in the direction of travel: down-stroke if moving down or upstroke when moving up) is used.


This minimizes movement in the picking hand, and avoids the motion of "jumping" over a string prior to picking it, as often occurs in alternate-picking when changing strings. Thus the picking pattern of an ascending three-note-per-string scale would be: D-U-D-D-U-D-D-U-D, and the descending pattern would start just like alternate picking (up stroke first): U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U.

History of economy/sweep pickers[edit]

Using two or more downstrokes or upstrokes in a row to execute lines had been a technique used in jazz at least since the 1950s, but it is Frank Gambale an Australian guitarist who is probably the most widely known economy/sweep picker. Frank brought his technique to America in 1982 and had a huge influence on the Heavy Metal community first as a student (graduating with high honors) and then as a teacher at the GIT (Guitar Institute of Technology) part of MI (Musicians Institute of Technology) in Hollywood California. Frank was the first player to fully develop this technique and apply it to all scales and arpeggios. Frank uses a system of an odd number of notes to move up or down through the strings and an even amount of notes to change direction, Frank makes this observation in his instructional books and videos. This approach has had some criticism as Frank will skip a note in a scale or add a chromatic note to ensure an even amount of notes to facilitate changing direction. Therefore the scale is no longer purely ascended and descended[1] An alternative approach that maintains the purity of the scale and satisfies the even number of notes rule to change direction is to ascend one 3 note per string shape and then descend then next. This way there are 4 notes played in total on the high E string and the Low E String. These two shapes can be cycled making a repetitive exercise for economy picking.

Gambale is the first to publish a full account of the “ Sweep Picking Technique” in the book "Speed Picking" on Hal Leonard publications written in 1983 while he was still a student at GIT which was first published in 1985. He wanted to call the book "Sweep Picking" but the publisher refused because they thought that no one would know what it meant because there was no known precedent.

Yngwie Malmsteen can be heard using sweep picking in his 1978 Demo "Powerhouse", Yngwie sent his demo to Mark Varney of shrapnel records. Mark invited Yngwie to come out to California, Yngwie made the trip from Sweden in late 1982 and joined the band Steeler, who were under the sharpnel records label. Yngwie was playing live in the LA scene with Steeler in 1983.

Gambale and Malmsteen share credit for introducing sweep picking to LA guitar players and ultimately, to the rest of the world.

Les Paul Can be see performing economy/sweep picking in this 1953 video[2] at 1:10

Eric Johnson This technique can be heard in songs like "Cliffs of Dover"

Jan Akkerman guitarist of the Dutch band Focus can be seen executing a swept arpeggio on the NBC show "Midnight Special" October 5th 1973 during a performance of the Focus song "Hocus Pocus"[3] at 2:53

Chet Atkins can also been seen performing 5 string sweeps in an 1975 performance of "Jerry's Breakdown"[4] with fellow country picker Jerry Reed at 1:13

Yngwie Malmsteen makes extensive use of sweep picking in his 1984 release "Rising Force" as does Vinnie Moore in his 1986 release "Mind's Eye"

Michael Angelo Batio uses a mixture of alternate picking and economy picking in his style as does Jeff Loomis

A common modern metal style is the use of alternate picking for scales and sweep picking for arpeggios, pioneered by Shrapnel Records artists like Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert, Bruce Bouillet, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman and Richie Kotzen

Notably Paul Gilbert moved away from sweeping arpeggios in favour of string skipping arpeggios.


Gypsy picking[edit]

The picking technique of gypsy jazz has been described[2] as similar to economy picking, but with the further requirement that when the pattern switches from string to string in either direction, a rest stroke is performed.

For example, on switching from the G to the B string, the plectrum moves in the same direction and comes to rest on the E string. However, on switching from the B to the G string, the plectrum moves upward and executes a down stroke on the G string, again coming to rest on the B string. This technique was employed by gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and has been preserved by his successors. However, he did not invent it. He may have learned it from other gypsy players, of whom two of his chief influences were banjoist Gusti Mahla and guitarist Jean "Poulette" Castro.[3] However, this technique was commonly taught in numerous guitar methods in the early twentieth century and was employed by American jazz banjo players.[2]


Further reading[edit]