Over the years players have always tried to make their playing easier. Getting the biggest bang for their buck was in mind. They came up with this idea of combining alternate picking and sweet picking. This allowed them to gain speed, control and still have that rough picking sound that you don’t get with legato playing or hybrid picking. For some players this is their primary picking style, for others it is just another tool is their tool kit. Either way, it is good to know what economy picking is and how it works.
Typically when people use economy picking it is over 3-note per string scales. This is because of the picking pattern required for it to work. The picking pattern is down, up, down, down, up, down, down for ascending, and when you are descending you have up, down, up, up, down, up, up, down. The ascending and descending patterns are the same except they are reversed. When you have the 2 down strokes or 2 up strokes is when you switch strings. This is how economy picking is similar to sweep picking.
A good exercise to do when you first start practicing economy picking is to do it without any notes at all. Concentrate 100% on the right hand. You can add notes later, but concentrating just on the right hand will make the process faster. I also suggest that when you first start out, practice switching from 2 strings. When you get comfortable using economy picking switching between 2 strings add the 3rd. gradually build up to all 6 strings. It won’t take as long as you would think.
Once you get a good grip on the basic economy picking 3 notes per string there are some altered patterns you can learn that can give you some really cool new ideas. Some players like Frank Gambale and Derryl Gabel use a lot of economy picking in their playing. This technique is not the end all be all of guitar by any means, but it is a useful thing to know.
Economy picking is a technique that is a mixture between alternate picking and sweep picking and allows for more speed than alternate picking. Economy picking is set up so that when you switch strings you continue in the same direction you were already going. Hence you do 2 down strokes or up strokes at the same time while switching strings. Practice this on 2 strings and slowly build up to all 6 strings. This is another fun technique that you can use to enjoy your music, which is what music is all about.