What is the Economy Picking Technique?

Economy picking: Not we’re not talking about choosing a financial system. We’re talking about one of the most powerful, and least understood, ways of playing our favorite instrument.

Save Time and Energy

No one likes wasting time or energy. This is especially true when it comes to communicating our thoughts and our feelings.

One of the primary goals of any true guitar player is exactly that: the communication of thoughts and feelings (albeit non verbally).

So when it comes to getting our message across, we’d all like a way to do so in the most efficient and effective way possible. That is where economy picking comes in.

From executing aggressively accelerated ascending arpeggios to performing silky smooth scalar sections, preservation of energy is the key component of an economically picked passage.

An Efficient Economy

In this article we’ll be covering six examples of how to use this powerful technique while also focusing on what makes it different from its main competitor (or best friend) Alternate picking. These six examples will be placed into two main categories: Arpeggios and Scales.

Accelerate your Arpeggios

There are 3 ways of economy picking arpeggios with a plectrum: Pure economy picking, economy picking plus hammer ons, and economy picking plus pull offs. The conventional “sweep picking” technique combines pure economy picking with both hammer ons and pull offs. This makes passages both easier to play and more varied in their sounded tones.

“Pure” Economy Picking

Pure economy picked arpeggios can only be used in one direction and are essentially a one directional sweep. These one directional sweeps are often referred to as “rakes” because it appears as though one is raking the pick up or down the strings.
There is, honestly, no difference between a rake and a strum except the speed and duration of each note in the sequence. Strums tend to be much quicker overall and allow for the simultaneous ringing of adjacent strings. Rakes are slightly slower and each note is silenced before the next note is struck. The above example is commonly strummed as a chord but in this context is used to show how similar a rake is to a strum. Note that each note (see what I did there?) is separated even though the picking and fingering patterns are so similar to a standard, strummed, chord. This is in contrast the alternate picked version, pictured below:

“Rakes” plus “Hammer On”

In the context of arpeggios, adding a hammer on to your rakes creates a compound technique that is great for playing chords with an added “7th” tone. The picking hand should hesitate after striking the first note on each string to allow some time for the fingers of the left hand to hammer on the second notes on each string of the sequence.

This is a great way to navigate up the fret board quickly. Especially compared to the alternative:

As you can see, playing this sequence with alternate picking is much more difficult than it is with a rake.

“Rakes” plus “Pull Offs”

If you want to reverse the direction of your 7th arpeggios you’ll need to use pull offs combined with your rakes.

When you want to travel down the fret board quickly, combining rakes with pull offs is a great way to do so efficiently. This is, essentially, the opposite of the rake + hammer on approach.

Once again we can see that playing the same run but with alternate picking instead of rakes makes what should be a fast and fluid arpeggio into an exercise in undue frustration.

Sweeping a Scale

Just as there are 3 ways to play an arpeggio using economy picking, there are 3 ways to play a scale passage using economy picking. Alternate picks with rake transitions, rakes with hammer ons, and rakes with pull offs.

String Transitions with Rakes

Pure economy picking a scale (pentatonic or diatonic) is not possible without having giant hands or using impossible fingering patterns. Otherwise, combining slides with economy picking is the only way to achieve the desired result. Instead, a combination of alternating pick strokes (for notes on the same string) and raking (for notes on a different string) must be used.

The advantages to using rakes for string transitions are not as great as they are for arpeggios. Still, economy picking the passage will save about 30% of the motion and energy compared with alternate picking through string transitions.

“Rakes” + “Hammer Ons”

This next technique works best for pentatnoic scales (or any note sequences that are arranged with two notes per string). It is not much different from rakes + hammer ons, the key difference here is that you must pause on each string before continuing the rake because there are two notes played on each string.

When playing two note per string pentatonic scales, economy picking may be combined with hammer ons to achieve excellent results. Just hit the lower note, hammer on the higher note, and continue picking downward, pausing briefly to allow for each hammer on, until you’ve reached the end of the passage.

Compare this with the alternate picking approach which would involve moving the pick in the opposite direction of the string to which you were transitioning.

“Rakes” + “Pull Offs”

Raking with pull offs is just the opposite of raking with hammer ons. You’re just going the opposite direction and pulling off to lower notes as you descend instead of hammer on to higher notes as you ascend.

Pull offs may be combined with economy picking to create fluid pentatonic passages. Start with an upstroke on the higher note and then pull off to the lower note. The pick will continue to travel in the same direction, pausing briefly to allow for the pull off on each string.

You can easily see how alternate picking this line is less efficient than economy picking it. Especially when pull offs are used. This is because you’d be picking in the opposite direction of the string to which you’re transitioning.

In conclusion

I hope I was able to help you better understand basic differences between economy picking and alternate picking and what the inherent advantages to the former method are. Economy picking saves time and energy and can really spice up your playing to boot.

I hope you take what you’ve learned in this article and apply it to your own style as soon as possible: it is never to late to learn new technques and find creative uses for them. Leave a comment below and let us know what you’ve learned from this article, how we can improve future articles, and shoot, why not come up with some economy picking runs of your own; I know I’d love to see what you can come up with!

4 thoughts on “What is the Economy Picking Technique?

  1. Courtney Hunt Reply

    Very good post. This taught me the difference between different types of picking. I had no idea there were different terms and techniques related to how you use a pick with a guitar.

    Regards Court

    • Caleb Post authorReply

      Thank you for your comment Courtney!
      Haha I was very surprised myself when I was first learning guitar and I found out that there were different ways of using a pick! The four basic types are:
      Up picking
      Down picking
      Alternate picking
      Economy Picking
      you can combine these with your fingers to create “hybrid” style picking patterns as well!

  2. joyce Reply

    Really- your article is very interesting. I never thought that there was a term like “Rake” in playing guitar, All i did was just strumming up and down.
    i have a niece who have just graduated from music school- ill ask him to teach me the method you shared in this article. thanks for sharing.

    • Caleb Post authorReply

      Thank you Joyce! I appreciate your input and I’m really glad you found the article interesting!
      Definitely ask your niece to see if she can teach the method;
      I personally find it the most fun way to play the instrument, maybe you will too!

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