Hello, and welcome to the first installment of my master class series. These lessons are intended for those who already have a few years' experience playing guitar. I'm going to dive right in without a lot of preamble, but I will try to explain things as clearly as possible. As always, you can email at: email@example.com if you have questions.
There are two main schools of thought on this topic. There are those who believe in strict alternate picking, and those who believe in economy picking.
Strict Alternate Picking definition: Always alternate your picking (downstroke, upstroke, downstroke, upstroke, etc.) when playing a succession of notes.
Economy Picking definition: Create and continue a smooth flow of motion when picking a succession of notes.
Which is better? Easy answer. The technique that you are most comfortable with is better. You can find fast players on both sides of the ideological fence. Paul Gilbert, Vinnie More, and many others stand on the side of Strict Alternate Picking. They teach it very well in their instructional videos, and I highly recommend you check them out.
On the side of Economy Picking you'll find Frank Gambale, and yours truly. I also recently saw a Michael Angelo instructional video where he taught both techniques.
I've chosen Economy Picking because I find it easiest for me, and I like the smooth sound it produces. Others, like Paul Gilbert, like the strong attack and note separation that can be had using Strict Alternate Picking.
So, I'm going to explain Economy Picking. If you're interested in Strict Alternate Picking, check out instructional videos like those mentioned above. Or, when you practice playing scales, simply teach yourself that every successive note most have an alternate pick. So, if you are going to play three notes, and you want to start with a down-pick, then you would pick: down, up, down. Pretty straightforward.
The mantra of Economy Picking is that you should conserve energy. You continue downstrokes and upstrokes from one string to the next, because in that way you are continuing a smooth motion. Let me explain.
Let us say you want to play three notes on the 2nd string, then play one note on the 1st string. Try this. Play whatever shape you like. Starting on the 2nd string you would have: downstroke, upstroke, downstroke. Now we move to the one note on the 1st string. Following the mantra of Economy Picking, you would continue your downstroke from before, and strike the 1st string.
Down, Up, Down-(continue motion and strike 1st string). Four notes but only three picks. We got the last note for free!
We have, in effect, swept our pick to get the last two notes of our phrase.
Does that make sense?
It is weird at first, but stop and think about it. If you are moving your pick in a downward direction, and need to get a note on an adjacent string (ie. 2nd string to 1st string), why not just continue your downward motion? Likewise, if you are moving your pick in an upward direction and need to get a note on an adjacent string (ie. 1st string to 2nd string), why not just continue your upward motion?
To contrast, a Strict Alternate Picker would not sweep the last two notes. He/she would do extra work by changing pick directions. His/her picking pattern would be: Down, Up, Down, Up. Each note gets an alternate pick stroke. This gets the job done, but it's more work.
Well, I've yakked enough about this topic. Here's a scale fragment for Economy Picking practice. Start with a downstroke. The picking pattern is: down, up, down-(continue down), up, down.
d u d (d) u d
Let me tell you one other reason to learn Economy Picking: It gets you ready to learn sweep picking, which happens to be the topic of the next lesson. Stay tuned!
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