• Understand when to use
economy picking and when to
use alternate picking.
• Learn how to switch
between different alternate-picking
• Combine percussive “unwanted”
notes with economy picking to
create ghost note patterns.
Click here to download the audio files from this lesson.
Which is better, a fork or a spoon? A
pair of scissors or a roll of duct tape?
A snow shovel or a hair dryer? My answer,
which I hope you’ve already guessed, is “It
depends on what you’re trying to do.”
All too often, I’m asked, “Which is better,
alternate picking or economy picking?”
My answer is the same as the snow shovel
versus the hair dryer: It depends on what
you’re trying to do.
At first glance, these picking styles
appear to be attacking the same problem—
how to get your pick from one string to
the next. But in the context of a complete
phrase and its particular fingering patterns,
one technique does often work better than
the other. But that’s just for that phrase.
Another one might come along and require
something completely different.
Lately, I’ve been working on improvising
over a I–IV progression. You can find this
kind of groove and chord progression in
songs like “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker or
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by
The Rolling Stones.
Let’s start with Fig. 1, which is a rhythm
guitar pattern that gives us the basic sound
of the I–IV progression.
I found a three-note solo pattern that I
like to loop over each chord. I tried both
alternate and economy picking for this pattern,
and I picked the snow shovel—I mean
alternate picking. But even armed with this
technique, I am faced with a challenge.
Because it’s a three-note phrase (picked
down-up-down), the next “loop” of the
phrase requires the whole pattern to reverse
(up-down-up). This entire time, the left
hand remains the same. So I have to get used
to reversing the picking pattern every three
notes, in relation to the consistent left hand.
This is almost as confusing to play as it
sounds, unless you listen to it and practice
it a lot. Then it becomes simple and rewarding.
Let’s check out the notes in Fig. 2.
Fig. 3 is a version of the phrase with a
little bit of string skipping added for some
wider intervals on top. The picking remains
the same. The next example, shown in
Fig. 4, still fits over our I–IV progression,
but uses wider intervals to make it happen.
Again, I’m using alternate picking.
Because there was a lot of string skipping
in that last example, I thought that
it would be a good place to show where
economy picking specifically does not
work—because of the danger of running
into the unwanted skipped string. But no
theory can stand up unless you test it, so
I dove in and tried to use economy picking
to see what would happen. And I was
treated to a great surprise! The “unwanted”
notes sounded really cool. Actually, I
muted them with my left hand, so they
became percussive ghost notes. The new
rhythm that came out in Fig. 5 by adding
these ghost notes was groovy and unique.
Let’s check it out.
Metaphorically, I guess this means that
if you dry your hair with a snow shovel, it
certainly won’t turn out the same as it usually
does. And it might turn out better!
Or as Mick puts it: “If you try sometimes
… you get what you need.”
purposefully began playing guitar
at age 9, formed the guitar-driven bands Racer
X and Mr. Big, and then accidentally had a No.
1 hit with an acoustic song called “To Be with
You.” Paul began teaching at GIT at the age of
18, has released countless albums and guitar
instructional DVDs, and will be remembered as
“the guy who got the drill stuck in his hair.” For
more information, visit paulgilbert.com