The Secret Picking Method...

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The most effective and versatile technique

Today I'm going to introduce you to a simple but radical picking technique: It's the "Pick-the-notes-in-the-easiest-way-possible-technique" It's the most versatile and effective way to pick, that I know of. Alternate picking has a vital advantage. It doesn't care much about how many notes you play on each string. It's based on such a simple mathematical up and down process that you can use it for almost everything. A player like Al Di Meola uses this technique only, to play scales as well as arpeggios.

Necessary vs Possible

Economy picking is different. If you want to rely solely on economy picking - you have to be very aware of the number of notes you play on each string. This is necessary in order to make sure that you come into every string shift with the appropriate up or down motion. But there's a third way to play and it goes like this:

1. Alternate picking when it's necessary and
2. Economy picking when it's possible

Let's repeat that one more time:

1. Alternate picking when it's necessary and
2. Economy picking when it's possible

If you pick like this, you make the string shift happen in whatever way it's possible and most convenient. If you happen to come into the downward string shift from a downward picking motion, you continue that motion onto the next string. But if the opposite is the case you alternate the picking motion. It's a very simple formula but it results in an uneven picking motion, that seem to be more difficult than just straight alternate picking - but it's not!

How to go about it

This is the way I pick most often. I use strict alternate picking when that's my only option or when I want that picking sound of terror. I use legato (hammer ons and pull offs) when I want a softer more "liquid" sound. But economy picking lies at the base what I do. So it becomes an effortless blend of all three techniques. The way to practice this form of "hybrid picking" is to take any lick you know already and go through it, starting with an up or down stroke. Then pick you way through the notes and when you reach the string shift, sweep over the strings if that's possible or alternate your picking motion if it's necessary.

This will give you a weird uneven picking motion, but it is surprisingly easy when you get it up to speed. When you do this enough, you'll begin to forget what you are doing and your brain will naturally seek the path of least resistance and choose the appropriate technique for the situation.

But why not stick to one picking style?

There's a price tag on alternate picking and it says "Energy". It takes energy and focus to produce a clean precise alternate picking run, no matter how skilled you are. There's also a tag on economy picking and it says "structure". With economy picking, things get easier and more effortless, but it is at the cost of flexibility. Your fretting hand has to structure the notes so it fits the uneven picking pattern. But if we combine the two, we get the versatility of alternate picking and the effortlessness of economy picking in one package! Now you have freedom... and the downsides of each picking style are almost completely gone.

7 Notes down

The first example is very simple in it's essence: 7 notes from the top to the bottom, played over and over again in different positions. But the interesting thing is the mix between economy picking and alternate picking. You start out with economy picking but as you return to the first note again you shift strings with a down- and an upstroke. This is also called "outside picking" as opposed to "inside picking" because you move your pick on the "outside" of those two strings. If you started that strings shift with an upstroke you would be picking "inside" the two strings. The outside picking string shift is easier for most people to perform. Try it out! You'll find that it's quite a pleasant way to move your picking hand :)

The 4 note Sequence

This is a classical sequence that I'm sure you know. And it's a perfect example of how you can use this picking technique to play a rather complex and difficult picking pattern. It's hard to get up to speed using only alternate picking. But when these two techniques come together in one, it's amazing how effortless it becomes in the end. I've included the fingerings for this one, because that gets a little tricky when you move from the G to the B string.

Let's mix the two

And here's a mixture of the two. Also, I've thrown in some pull offs in the beginning to loosen things up a bit. Now things are really getting spicy here - You can bang your head against your stack while you play this one without loosing your place (Eventually :)

Dysfunctional Blues

This last example is based on the E-blues scale with an E-minor Dorian on top of it. (In other words: There's a lot of notes involved) The main idea is still the 7 notes from the first example, but here I pass over three strings to turn around the lick. It seems like a daunting string shift but it's really not that hard when you are picking "outside" the strings. (Don't get me wrong, - everything on this site is "hard" but we're making things easier here) I'm ending the lick with a nice little clean economy picking run.

Be careful not to get overwhelmed by the sheer mass of notes. Break everything down into manageable pieces. Memorize the first 6 or 8 notes, then ad three more and so on. Have a great time practicing!