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Alternate picking and sweep picking

Question by Ashoke Bhattacherjee

I have been practicing alternate picking all these while and have recently started to practice sweep picking.

What i want to ask is that is it a good idea to combine alternate picking & sweep picking?

For example, if i have to play 3 notes per string, i start say on the 1st (high E) string with a down stroke. then up stroke & down stroke for the 3 notes on that string.

Next when i am going down to the 2nd (B) string, I need to be playing an upstroke in order for economy picking to work.

I understand that sweep picking can be used in this way if i am playing legato. But if i don't want to play legato and want to alternate pick for more definition of the notes, is it worth to do the above technique?

I ask because to practice that, i have to start all over again and it will take a considerable effort to unlearn the old way & perfect the new one.


The combination of alternate picking and sweep picking is known as economy picking.

So firstly, you don't have to unlearn anything, because you need to be able to alternate pick if you are going to use economy picking. It's just an adjustment.

Now, you have a choice on that matter. Start economy picking or just alternate pick. I could list legendary guitarists in both camps.

You mentioned coming down from the 1st string to the 2nd string. If you were economy/sweep picking, and wanted every note to be picked (avoiding legato), you would start your alternate picking on the 1st string with an up stroke, as follows...

U - D - U

The direction of travel (which is what economy picking is concerned with) would therefore be towards the 2nd string. So you'd sweep onto the 2nd string with another up stroke and continue alternate picking on that string. The full pattern would look like this...

U - D - U - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - U - D - U

Strict alternate pickers, however, would simply start with a down pick and get into the habit of jumping the string where necessary to position themselves for the up or down stroke.

Some players favour alternate picking for scales and sweep picking for arpeggios. If you're learning to sweep arpeggios across 3, 4, 5 strings, then you will want to position yourself for the direction of travel. E.g.

U - D - U - - - - - -
- - - - - - - U - - - -
- - - - - - - - - U - -
- - - - - - - - - - - U

Starting the alternate picking on a 3 notes per string sequence with an upstroke meant we were positioned for the downward travel of a sweep arpeggio.

So don't feel like you have to unlearn anything. Economy picking just means you have to think more about positioning your up and down strokes for the sweep. It's like planning your moves in a game of chess.

Ironically, you could say that alternate picking note for note is lazy in that respect (as no thought is needed for direction of travel), yet it actually requires more physical movement (jumping over strings for positioning)!

The whole concept of economy picking is about minimising physical pick movement, yet it requires more mental preparation.

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