How to pick like a Swedish virtuoso

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Play with flow and ease

If you want to play like the wind and the water, economy picking is for you. Alternate picking feels and sounds like a machine gun, where as economy picking flows like a river. Once you have it down, economy picking feels easy in comparison to alternate picking. It feels completely effortless and that frees up a lot of energy to focus on other things. As a consequence, I always use economy picking unless I want that machine gun like sound from an alternate picking run. the sound of economy picking is more mellow, like a stream of notes with no end to them. It's very easy to leave the basic rhythm of the music and wander of in long runs. Listen to the playing of Yngwie Malmsteen. He is "out of time" more than 80 % of the time, in other words, he plays as fast as he wants, regardless of how the notes fit the beat of the music. And economy picking is superb for this kind of playing.

Today's lick is a very nice way to start practicing economy picking. I used this lick to get started with economy picking. It's important not to start with a lot of strings shifts all at once - but to choose licks that have some pauses in between this critical challenge. In this sense, this lick is perfect. If you practice this for a couple of hours you might get a sense of what awaits you when you learn it to perfection: It becomes very, very easy to play in the end...

Aggressiveness vs Flow

If I have to play something really tight and aggressive, I always go for alternate picking. If I have to play something with more flow and ease to it, I go for economy picking. But I have that choice, many other players don't. And it's stupid because once you master one of the techniques, the other isn't that hard to learn. Most people think they have to choose between alternate picking and economy picking. My advice is to learn both. If you can do some alternate picking and some - sweeping then you're already half way into economy picking. The only difference between this technique and alternate picking is the way you shift between strings.

Break the lick down

It's a very good idea to break the lick down into smaller parts. This gives you less to focus on so that you can give your full attention to your right hand. Practice this until you can play it slowly with your eyes closed. Then take it with you and practice in front of the TV or outside on a park bench :) - Notice that I'm not using two upstrokes when I shift from string to string, but rather one single upstroke that hits both strings in it's way.

What it comes down to is this: Can you pick the notes or not?

When you have several options - you can chose the most appropriate for the purpose - and this is an amazing advantage to have. When I play, I hardly distinguish between the two techniques because I use them both intertwined. There are some things that are very hard to play with alternate picking but that are easy to play with economy picking. Then there are licks that cannot be played comfortably unless you use both techniques - so I really urge you to learn both of these techniques. When I started practicing economy picking I got results almost immediately. I was pretty good at alternate picking at that time, but I started to do little things with economy picking, integrating little bits and pieces here and there. As time went by I used it more and more.

The biggest challenge

The biggest challenges with economy picking is - you've guessed it - shifting strings. What you need to learn is to sweep from string to string, and not do two up or down strokes in a row. Because you sweep rather than pick, it requires a different way of practicing than alternate picking. You need to practice the licks slow, but while you do it, be sure to play them so slow that you can get the sweep right. Your pick has to pass from one strings to another in an even motion. You might have to play very slow to accomplish this. Then you increase the tempo like you would with any other technique. you can look at the "sweep" as one up or down stroke that covers two strings. Because that's exactly how it should look and feel to you.

I'm going to repeat myself again here, but only to make sure that you remember this: To "sweep" is to play more than one note with the same stroke! In economy picking, one upstroke turns into two notes. So you have to practice making big up and down strokes that flow evenly. This is the discipline. The difference is minute but very important. Watch closely as I demonstrate the difference between picking two upstrokes and doing one single sweep that covers the entire string shifting process. It's a little hard to see the difference, but it's there and it's crucial:

More on this tomorrow!