Economy Picking Vs Alternate Picking
Alternate picking uses down, up, alternating picking motions to increase the speed at which you can play. The reason that it's able to do this is very simple. If you pick a string down, and then decide to play it again, using another downward motion, you are wasting space and energy. This is because you are neglecting the fact that you can pick the string "upwards" on your way back through to set up for the 2nd down stroke. In alternate picking, we make good use of our picking motion, and this literally increases our speed by 50% straight away.
Economy picking more efficient for the hand, rather than the finger, thumb and muscles. It can help you smoothly, and quickly move from one guitar string to the next without as much resistance. In economy picking, you will typically continue to use alternate picking for the notes, but when you need to cross to another guitar string, you will use economy picking. This means that you stay consistent with up strokes or down strokes between the strings.
Economy picking would look like this...
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Economy picking is consistent in using the exact same stroke when moving from each string. Typically, if you are ascending, you will use only Down strokes for each string change, where is if you are descending you will only use Upstrokes for each string cross over.
One way to look at it, is as though it's a combination of sweep picking and alternate picking, where with this sweep you have lots of notes in between.
Remember, there are no rules to how you use things necessarily. Every person is different, and I know that personally with my guitar playing I rarely use economy picking while ascending, but love to use it with descending.
Economy picking can help you play faster, and get over the hurdle of string changes, but you absolutely MUST start it off slow, and carefully examine what your picking hand is doing or else you will develop some seriously bad habits.
Where did this technique come from? People have been using it for years, but Frank Gambale (Jazz fusion guitar player) brought it to the United States in the early 80s, a time when many heavy metal guitar players were expanding their techniques. One of the most efficient guitar players that I have seen use this technique would be Jeff Loomis, who is truly a beast when it comes to clean technique domination.