Ok, you´ve got the alternate picking technique and the sweeping technique. But how about combining these two techniques? Then you´re into economy picking mode.
First, before you start practicing economy picking, make sure your alternate picking is really good. Also, make sure you know your sweeping. Otherwise you´ll get trouble with the timing and your economy picking might forever get a bit untight. But when you´re ready, here´s what economy picking is all about:
When you´re playing a figure where you use an uneven amount of notes on a single string and then move on to another string, the motion will be a bit difficult with alternate picking. If you´re playing three notes per string, for example from the D-string to the G-string, the picking figure down-up-down-up-down-up will force you to change string with an upstroke. This may work for you, but a more efficient way to change strings would be with a downstroke. Gypsy jazz players knows this, and does it all the time. So instead of the classic alternate picking pattern, they use this instead: down-up-down-down-up-down. Let me show you an example of a lick in this fashon played first with alternate picking and then with economy picking:
So instead of making that hard motion in your right hand on the fourth note, you just kind of sweep from the D-string to the G-string and you will avoid unnecessary tension. Here´s a chromatic exercise where you go all the way from the bottom string to the top string, using economy picking all the way:
As you can see, economy picking is very beneficial when it comes to three notes per string figures. But it can also be used in other ways, check out this A minor arpeggio with some added notes:
Also, be sure to check out the left hand fingering supplied with this lick. Use only finger 1,2 and 3, and on the fourth and fifth note, use barré with your index finger to succeed. It´s a bit tricky in the beginning, but once you´ve mastered it, this is a cool lick which you can build new ideas around.
So we´ve got the down-up-down-down-up-down motion in our hands now. But what if you want to start on the highest string on your guitar and use economy picking down to the lowest string? Yes, this is possible too. Here´s an exercise:
However, this is an even trickier technique. And not a technique that a Gypsy Jazz player would use, for instance. They use economy picking to go from the bottom string to the top, but not the other way around. A likely explanation may be that it´s hard to put emphasis on a note when you´re shifting string with an upstroke. The other way around, to shift string with a downstroke, gives you an easier way to put some more power into the tone you´re about to play. But then again, this is not an universal way, some guitarist´s likes to use economy picking both ways. That´s why I´ve got another exercise here, for those who are interested in taking the economy picking to the max:
Here´s another lick and I´ve written out two possible picking patterns. The first one utilises economy picking all the way through while the second example shows you how to play the lick in Gypy Jazz fashion, using economy picking on the way up but alternate picking patterns on the way down. Here´s the first one:
And here´s the second example:
Me, who has played a lot of Gypsy Jazz, prefers the second example, but chances are that you would like the first example more. I´m going to show you one last example of economy picking, and this time, watch closely what happens on the first string:
Yes, the right hand must change position on the first string. As you now may have noted, when you´re "turning" on the first string, you have to play an even number of notes on this string. Otherwise the sweeping motion on the way back will be impossible to achieve. That´s another reason why I don´t use economy picking all the way through, but hey, maybe you will. However, I don´t think that economy picking should be anyone´s priority numer one, it´s a somewhat limited technique. But still very useful, especially when it comes to playing really fast. My advice would be: get your alternate picking as good as possible, then work on economy picking as an addition and use it with taste. To hear fast, three notes per string scales up and down the neck in every song will bore your most loyal fan. But to do it every once in a while will, in the right context, probably awe your audience. Practice well!
Frank Gambale - economy picking master Biréli Lagrène - Gypsy Jazz virtuoso