Pick the lick, or?

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Pick the lick, or?

(Image: Rombo)
Words by Nick Brown

How to pick more economically

One of the (many) great aspects of playing the guitar is the ability to articulate the note with a range of techniques. Using a pick or fingers we can play with hammer ons and pull offs, alternate pick and also hybrid pick (a combination of pick and fingers).

These give us the option to alter the tone as required but also tackle phrases with an approach that might be easier than another. These techniques can really make a difference to your sound, and indeed many of the guitar greats vary with their uses and applications. This highlights the fact that there isn’t one set way to get your musical ideas across. 

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Figure A is a triplet lick using A dorian which could work over an Am7 chord. A typical approach would be to alternate pick this phrase. Starting with a downstroke on the first note C, you would then play up on D, down on E and then Up on F# and so on. This is fine and would feel reasonably comfortable for a lot of players but, you might be limited with speed. Any ideas why?

Moving across strings while changing direction in picking is the issue here. The downstroke on the E (7th fret) followed by an upstroke on the F# (4th fret) can be a bit clunky. We’re talking micro movements here, but once you’ve finished the downstroke on the E you have to lift the pick up and over the 4th string to then pick an upstroke on the F#. This extra movement is what usually slows us down.  What’s the solution? Economy picking (see Figure B). 

As before play the first three notes of the phrase as down, up, down (in an alternate picking fashion) but when we move to play the F# on the next string – continue with another downstroke. Using this same picking direction on adjacent strings creates an economy of motion that can be smoother and typically much quicker once you get a handle on the technique. The likes of Frank Gambale have great economy picking chops (amongst the rest of their respective arsenals!). 

The minor pentatonic is undoubtedly the most common scale of guitarists to learn and use. The convenience of the typical box pattern is easy to learn and can fit into a lot of things quickly and easily (hence so many of us learning it early in our guitar journey). To play long and smooth lines however it can also be a bit clunky. You’ve probably noticed that there’s no uniform way that any of the greats play the Minor Pentatonic scale. Alternate picking with some hammer ons and pull offs here and there – it’s really a mix for everyone and seems to just be whatever you settle on as the most comfortable to play fast! 

Figure C is then a pentatonic pattern along the lines of Frank Gambale. Yes, there are some stretches involved and for those that are only used to the standard box patterns this will feel different. But, give it a go with the economy picking and see if you can make it work. With some effort I think you’ll get some results. 

Hopefully you can now see the benefits of economy picking and the beauty is that it can be employed both ascending and descending and gives you the ability to create long lines seem to flow. Next issue we’ll expand on alternate and economy picking with sweeping and hybrid picking to give you even more options!

For more guitar tips, check out how to practise playing and feeling guitar rhythm.