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
Sweeping is one of the hardest techniques to learn, but once you´ve got it under your belt it´s an easy way to throw in some really fast, often arpeggiated, licks in your playing. But first you must master the motion in your picking hand. When you see it on a paper, it doesn´t look too complicated - you use the pick in one long motion, and then you turn around, if desired, and go the other way in one long streak. But to do this fluently can be hard, so I´ve got some tips and exercises for you.
First, let´s talk about what sweeping really is. It´s a technique where you usually play a long sequence of downstrokes and then a long sequence of upstrokes. But unlike strumming, the notes shalln´t ring together. It should be one note at a time, no tones blending up into a cluster or chord. To achieve this you must use your fretting hand as well and synchronize it perfectly with your picking hand. So once you´ve played a note and move on to the next one, the fretting hand must let go of the first tone so it won´t ring into the next one. To do this simply lift the finger used at the fretboard a bit, so the string goes dead. And at the same time use your next finger to fret the next note of the lick and hit it with your picking hand. Here´s a great exercise where you will use all the fingers of your fretting hand and sweep both down and up.
As you can see you´ll start with your index finger and then move along all the way down to your pinkie. And as you can see, all of the first four notes are using downstrokes. What you need to practice is a fluent motion in you picking hand, and to sync it with your fretting hand so that no tones will ring into each other. Once you´ve gotten all the way down to the top string, change hand formation and use upstrokes to travel from the first to the fourth string (in an arpeggio that could function as a F#maj7 chord). And the idea is the same, sync your left and right hand so that no ringing or noise disturbs the clarity of each tone. Once you´re home on the fourth string again, move up one position on the fretboard and use the same major7-arpeggio, but this time using downstrokes. Finally, the last sequence of four notes is played with upstrokes. And once you´re done, repeat. And repeat again. Repeat until you can play this fluently, noiseless and in a decent tempo. Remember to start out slow and once you´re getting the hang of the technique, try to go faster. Sweeping is a technique that lets you play really fast without much effort, that will say, once you´ve nailed it.
What I think you should avoid when sweeping is to use barré. Sure, there are ways to do this and make it sound great, and there´s some great guitar players out there who really masters this, but in general it´s harder to make the strings go dead when using barré. Instead, try to move your fingers as fast as possibly on the fretboard, and sort of dance around to avoid unwanted ringing and noise between the tones. I´ve got a great example of how this will benefit you in this G major lick:
As you see, you could barré the seventh fret and just let your index finger stay there. But try, and you will notice that it´s really hard to do this without making the notes blend into each other, which will create more of a chord than a clean arpeggio. Instead, once you´ve played the first note, move your index finger against the first string and make it ready for note number three at the same time that as you play the second note of the lick with your middle finger. It will probably take you some time to do this aimlessly, it will seem unconveniant for most players in the beginning to move the index finger around and make space for it on the freatboard, but once you´ve got it down it will be to your benefit. Also, make sure that you don´t mess up the legato pull-off in the lick. Watch your picking hand so that you don´t make the last upstroke too early. As previously mentioned, this might seem easy, but to play a lick like this really well takes a lot of practice. Start out at a pace where you can control the lick well, and then move on.
There´s of course more ways to use sweeping than just going up and down three or four strings. Sometimes you just want to use upstrokes, sometimes it´s cool just to use downstrokes up to a high note and then do something completely else. And you can use five or six strings as well, but often it´s harder to sweep more strings than a few. We´ll look into longer sweeping arpeggios later, but to conclude this lesson, here´s a great sounding A minor sweep:
This lick might be easier then the G major lick, because it involves no moving around with your index finger. Otherwise it´s the exactly same motion as previously, with the legato pull-off and the triplets moving up and the down. Practice it, master it and then use it tastefully in your own playing. As with every technique.
Ok, alternate picking is probably the most useful picking technique, but that doesn´t mean that it´s always the one to go for. Sometimes, the downstroke is the only stroke you´ll need. This may seem unefficient - to only use downstokes requires more strength than if you would use the usual up/down-pattern. But using only downstrokes can add an element to your playing that is impossible to gain otherwise: aggressivity. And this is an important thing in many genres. I´ve used it in thrash metal, death metal, punk and even in highly intensive pop songs.
Listen to the Ramones for an example, a band that used downstrokes as a rule for their riffs. Listen to the intensity to these riffs, listen to the feeling. Their raw qualities wouldn´t be there if Johnny Ramone would have used alternate picking in these riffs.
Another great example is Metallica. You have probably heard a couple of Metallica songs in your life, but have you listened to them and thought about the way the riffs are played? James Hetfield is one of the best downpickers in the business and you can hear this in many of his songs. "Master Of Puppets" is a great example of this. James uses downpicking to get that aggressive feel to the riffs and combines it with palm muting where he needs a bit more chunk.
Even in solos this approach can be effective. You´ll sometimes get a more tough sound to your lines when you diss alternate picking in favour of downstrokes only. Sure, you problably won´t be able to play as fast as you can otherwise, but you´ll gain a tool which can accentuate tones in a really great way.
So, how do you practice this? My best tip is to look into some of your favourite metal songs and look at the picking hand of the rhyhm guitarist. Then, try to play their songs for yourself. Don´t use a floppy pick, you´ll need a pretty heavy one to achieve what you´re after, and keep your eyes on the picking hand. If you start to play alternate picking when you only should use downstrokes, then stop and start over again in a lower tempo. When you´ve nailed it, speed it up a bit and continue.
And for a bit of inspiration, check this out. Even if you´re not into metal, developing a good downpicking strength is good idea for anyone - it can be used in many other ways than just in the more extreme metal styles: