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Is this simply a synonym for sweep picking or is it something else?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Nope 'economy picking' employs both sweep/alternate and other types of picking, combined with legato and/or other techniques.

So you may: -> alternate pick a triplet on a string -> sweep down 3 strings -> skip a string -> sweep back up two strings -> play a small legato phrase to finish: all as part of the same line.

The Idea is to make as little work for the picking hand as possible, so you can play as many notes as possible with as little effort as possible.

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1  
Assume a bit where you hit three notes on the G string and one on the B string. The move from G to B is down, so you pick the G string down-up-down-down, with the last on the B string. If you were following an alternate-picking approach, you would pick down-up-down-up, meaning you pass the B string and pick up. – Dave Jacoby Feb 16 '11 at 18:15
    
@VarLogRant - Yep exactly that. – DRL Feb 16 '11 at 19:17

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