How to "freestyle" like this?

Hey what’s up everyone,

Asking for tips or rather a road map on how I can train myself to freestyle(If that’s the word…) on a bass line?

Here’s an example:

On this song Bobbi Humphrey - Smiling Faces Sometimes

From 0:00 to 1:17, the bassline just repeats over and over but after 1:17, the bass player starts what I call freestyling.

I really wanna learn how to do that. Any knowledge given, I greatly appreciate it.


I’d start with mapping out each fill from 1:17 on and keep going once you have a few you can just keep playing them put them in rotation mix it up a bit then keep transcribing more fills adding a few at a time let you retain them faster.

Keeping practicing and adding more fills and practice, repeat before you know it you won’t be practicing anymore, you’ll be playing. It’s all muscle memory. Next thing you’ll pull this out on another song then another. There’s no rule in freestyle just expression, so more tricks in your tool bags more you can express. That’s how I’d do it.


This is a big ask.

I’m going back to a language analogy because that’s best here.

A bass line is like learning a phrase from a language phrase book. It’s usually more simple, direct and repetitive.
What you’re hearing the player do after 1:17 is conversational. Something with slang thrown in, some dialect, and something that is happening very fast.
It’s a native speaker speaking comfortably in their first language.

So… in order to be able to this comfortably on your bass you have to achieve bass fluency.
Improvising (freestyle) on bass takes a lot of experience and confidence.
What @Al1885 suggeted is a good idea, but even if you do that, you’re still in the “learn and repeat” part of learning, and so you’d still be stuck freestyling on this song and this song alone.

To get to the point where you feel you can make up your own embellishments in any situation, you have two choices.
The fluency through immersion track, or the fluency through classes/knowledge track.
The immersion track is where you just play bass constantly and eternally and learn every bass line you hear, and you’ll start to discover how these things work, and what patterns work where and you’ll play gigs, and people will show you things, and you’ll take a lesson or two or three, and in a year or two, you’ll start feeling more comfortable improvising.
Just takes constant time - constant immersion in bass and music.
This isn’t usually something that people who are past middle school / high school / college can find time for, unless they’re already doing music as a lifestyle.

So then - classes.
Taking lessons and classes when you can.
Having a teacher or course prescribe what patterns to learn when, and how to apply them.
Learning scales, learning to read charts, learning what notes go best with what chords, etc. and trying to maximize the benefits of the time you can spend on the bass.

A combination of these two would be ideal - something where you have a teacher or course, this forum to bounce questions off of, and - ideally - a place to go out and play so that you can test / practice all these ideas and techniques in the real world.

Improvising music - as with language - is the hardest thing to do well.
It’s very doable, and you can find some real cool beginning steps in Josh’s videos. This one has some cool tips that aim at what you’re talking about:

But as far as being in control and feeling comfortable playing improvisations in any scenario - it just takes lots of experience and time on the instrument.


Absolutely agree with @Gio as this could turn out to be a very big ask. One of the ultimate joy for all of us muszo is to be able to jam with anyone at the moment notice. Like everything else in life you just have to acquire the knowledge and put in the repetition to make it look effortless.

I also like @Gio language analogy. Victor Wooten gives several seminars and clinics about learning the language the same way a child learns the language. Not by learning the correct structure of a phrase or sentence with correct grammar but by imitation. You should check out his philosophy. Take it with the grain of salt as none of us are Vicror Wooten.


Wow…I really appreciate the replies. @Al1885 and @Gio. Yeah, apologies lol…I know it’s a big ask but it’s something I love hearing a bass player do and would like to play like that someday. I’m currently feeling overwhelmed on figuring out where to start to get there, reason why I asked. I’m a “step by step” or “Pathway” type of learner, but from the feedback I got from you two, I think I got a idea on what to focus on.

Thanks again!


If you are a play it by ear kinda guy then just start with a fill, then two then three. Next thing you know you’ll have a phrase or a verse, then tie it to the next, mix and match then it’s a song. Then the next songs, soon enough you’ll start checking off playlist.

Skip the difficult bits here and there, either learn it slow or come back when you have mastered the other parts. I usually try to learn 2-4 songs at one time because after playing about a dozen time you’ll ne to reset your brain a bit. Remember blood blister comes very soon after throbbing blister so stop while you are ahead, lol.

I know it’s been said many times before but the more you practice the easier it gets.


No apology necessary.
I love these questions.

There are a lot of players out here who have started with the BassBuzz program and have moved into more of personal embellishments / improv focused playing.

I know that @PamPurrs has been doing this with her playing, and I know that @joergkutter has both feet in the jazz improv pool…

They may have some more relevant and helpful advice than my macro-picture view.


I learned how to pull it off by taking the Simple Steps To Walking Bass course on TalkingBass. Basically, if you can nail down the key the song is in and the chord progression it can be done.


Haha, thanks, @Gio - I would say I am starting to get my toes wet in that pool :grin:

I am ad libbing my fills often, but full-out improvisation is something that takes a long time to get more comfortable with… at least for me.

But, as others have also said, @CutOutOfFL try out to come up with fills and trust your ears - all these smaller “excursions” from what is written out will inform you, and - in parallel - you can learn to understand why what you played sounded good or not.


You know, maybe one of you guys or @JoshFossgreen will tell me I’m full of it, here, but one of the things I enjoyed when I was a baby bass player (I’m in toddler territory now) was just vamping and playing one note and trying to devise a cool beat. No roots, thirds, fifths, no Nashville number system - one chord, over and over, bass coming in as you ‘feel’ it. Worry about that other stuff later.

For me, it meant less worry about fretting and loads of practice plucking (or picking, or slapping – pick your flavor). There’s so much expression available on your right hand alone and you guys are probably tired of me blathering on and on about concentrating on what your right-hand fingers are doing – but I just get off on how cool you can make one note sound if you find interesting ways to cut it or let it ride or chug or slide or whatever.

Once you get tired of just one note over and over, you pick one of your favorite songs (or at least one you know well) and figure out/look up the chords in each measure, and you start messing with those root notes only, and congratulations – you have your own unique bassline for that song. Then you do that with those Youtube vids with the drums and guitar,or a song you don’t know as well, and again, just find a cool groove on it.

After all that, you can really appreciate the triads and maybe a chromatic note or two – how it all comes together. If I had to throw it all away in one, I’d prefer a bassist with one note who could come up with a complimentary beat over a guy who could run all over the fretboard with pretty-sounding notes but no rhythm. :slight_smile:




Yeah, you make some good points, but I don’t think it was a question on whether a bass line should be simple or complicated. I guess the OP just wanted to get a better understanding of what it takes to get from “simple” lines to more embellished lines, and (in extension) how to play more “freely”/improvisatory (if that is a proper word).

At the end of the day, it all comes down to whether a bass line can serve the song/music or not :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


Rule #1 for the bass player. “Serve the Tune”.


Oh for sure – I was more or less trying to outline what worked for me. Not sure if that’s a way others have started coming up with their own fills, or if it’s better to start working with the triads and things off the bat, but for me, just getting a nice beat going was 90% of the battle. I found changing notes was easier to consider later on, when I got the hang of what wasn’t “getting in the way” of everything else.


@chordsykat ,
Totally Agree - Discovering the beat and then the scales, arpeggios , etc falls into a musical place - What a delightful battle it is



You reminded me of this bit from a Victor Wooten’s TED talk


Thanks for posting that @gcancella. Victor Wooten is so awesome in so many different ways.


Agree with @PamPurrs – Every time I watch Victor, I gain insight to how much I tend to overthink my playing. :slight_smile: Thank you, @gcancella !


LOVE this.
I do this with students as I try and try and try to get them to believe in my golden ratio:
90% rhythm
10% note

It’s ALLLL about hearing the rhythms and being able to groove the groove.


Beautiful – I like that a lot.
And you just inspired me! Now I’m going to spam the forum with new wisdom I just made up but believe in wholeheartedly:
10% fretting 90% picking :smiley: