Economy Picking Licks – This is my solution to the Problems

Economy Picking is a great strategy if you play the phrases that are the most difficult on the guitar: 1 note per string structures like arpeggios.

You do however have to be careful with timing and phrasing when you work with this technique. It can really mess up the groove and does not really lend it self to good phrasing.

How To Learn Economy Picking

In this video I am going to go over some of the ways that I use Economy picking in my playing. I will go over 5 Economy Picking Licks, both Modal and II V I. For each lick I also have an exercise and some suggestions on how to achieve good phrasing and timing while working with this technique.

If you are familiar with my playing you will probably have seen how often I use economy picking in my playing and rely on it for cascading arpeggios, fast diatonic triad runs etc. All solid material that you want to have in your vocabulary.

Lick #1 Modal Cascading Arpeggios

The first example is on an Am7 chord using the Dorian sound. So the notes of the G major scale.

Three things to notice about this lick:

  • The Arpeggios are Em7, Cmaj7 and Am7 (so diatonic arpeggios in 3rds distance)
  • The Lick divides the bars in 2 beats, 3 and 3 beats
  • The first and highest note of each arpeggio is a down stroke (and an accented note)

Practicing Descending Arpeggios

In order to get this type of playing into your fingers it is useful to just take one simple arpeggio shape and work on getting that precise, well articulated and easy to play.

Practicing the exercise here below is a great way to work on this:

Here the repeated arpeggio and switching between alternate picking and economy let’s you develop the economy and always reference the clear articulation of alternate picking. 

Lick #2 – Forgotten 2-string Triads

Using sweeping or economy picking on two strings is something that is often overlooked, but it is a great approach to play patterns like this.

The lick below is using this technique to play diatonic D altered scale triads: Ab, Bb and Cdim. Really spelling out the altereations on the D7alt.

Notice how the alternate picking is turned around on the Em7 arpeggio in the first bar. While it is good to keep consistent with down strokes on down beats it is something that you will deviate from along the way whenever it is better for the phrasing and the execution of a phrase.

Practicing 2-string Triads

The exercise below is again taking a single triad and then working on getting that to be easy to play. Then you can move on to diatonic triads up the neck.

Once this is easy then try moving on to this exercise:

Lick #3 – Polyrhythmic ideas with Economy Picking

As you already saw in the previous examples arpeggios can be really useful in creating patterns that move on top of the beat. Both with 3 and 6 notes.

This example is using 4 notes but is changing the rhythm so that the arpeggio is 3 8th notes long. This gives the phrase a dotted quarter note effect that nicely breaks up the song.

The lick is using one arpeggio on the Am7 that is changing the top note. The two arpeggios are a first inverion Am7 and a Cmaj7. The arpeggio is voice-lead into a D7 altered (where it becomes a Cm7b5 arpeggio.

Lick #4 Quartal Harmony 

Another type of arpeggio that is a great addition to especially your modern jazz vocabulary. In this lick I am using descending 3-part quartal arpeggios on a II V I in Bb. Again making use of the 3 note groupings.

The Al Di Meola exercise

The technique I am using here is derived from a technique that a student of mine came with off an Al Di Meola video.

I don’t remember if it was the ascending or the descending version of it, but these two exercises demonstrates the principle for 3 string patterns.

Lick #5 Modal Pentatonic Patterns

Besides arpeggios Economy picking works really well for patterns in the pentatonic scale. Very often Pentatonic patterns consist of 1 note per string ideas which is ideal for sweeping or economy picking approaches.

In this case the pattern is 2 strings and the picking pattern is similar to the triads in Lick #2

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