An often misunderstood area of guitar technique is the correct functioning of the right hand. It is very important to spend time developing correct plectrum technique and developing technical facility with the right hand.
The right hand elbow should be placed on the body of the guitar at the uppermost point or corner (on acoustics – the arm places just below the elbow on electric guitars). The plectrum should be held between the thumb and the first finger with the fingers curved so they are pointing back down along the arm as pictured.
To move from one string to another we use the arm as a fulcrum from the elbow. To pick a string we move the wrist in a down or up motion. At slower to medium tempi only downstrokes (usually with a rest stroke onto the next string) should be utilized, for medium and fast tempi we generally use alternate picking. Always pick from the wrist (not the elbow or within the hand via the thumb and fingers)
At very high speeds, many heavy metal players appear to lock the wrist and pick from the elbow, as the great Al DiMeola once said “picking from the elbow looks as bad as it sounds”.
I believe it is essential to ensure that you are very proficient at alternate picking before attempting sweep or economy picking and even then, one should proceed with caution. In order to truly articulate musical ideas one must be well trained in alternate picking.
Keep an eye out for forthcoming articles on plectrum choice and the rest stroke.