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How to Freestyle

Learn all about the art of the freestyle in rap.

Last Updated: December 2023 | 2288 words (11 – 13 minute read)

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Freestyle rap is one of the most entertaining and impressive things an emcee can do.

But not every rapper can freestyle – it takes a specific skill set. It’s a skill set you can develop, but you need to hone it well to really be great at this.

In this beginner’s guide on how to freestyle rap, we’ll get into what you should learn, how you should practice and end off with some tips on how to get better at freestyling.

If you’re completely new to rap, make sure you check out our beginner’s guide on how to rap first. There’s a lot in there we won’t go over here.

Let’s get into it…


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What is Freestyling in Rap?

Freestyle in rap is a form of rapping that is done entirely (or mostly) off the top of one’s head. There are no (or very few) pre-written lines of bars that the rapper will use when performing.

That is the essence of rap freestyle…

Rapping off the top of your dome in a clever and interesting way.

You’re making the ideas, rhymes and flow as you go along. And you never know where you’ll end up.

Written vs. Off Top

However, in more recent years the idea of a “freestyle verse” has penetrated the lexicon. And now a lot of people (especially younger people) refer to any one-off verse as a “freestyle” whether it’s been pre-written or it’s off the top of the head.

Many fans don’t even know the difference. But if you’re a student of the game, it becomes easier and easier to tell the two apart.

I’m not mad at this shifting definition… but in this article we are strictly talking about the ability to come up with rhymes on the spot, off the top of your head.

Having said that – we do recommend that you keep a few pre-written lines in the tuck, that you can pull out when your wits inevitably fail you.

Learning to Freestyle

To really learn how to freestyle as a rapper you need to train yourself in a few different ways.

There are a lot of different aspects to a great freestyle – flow, rhyme, wordplay (learn more), concepts. 

And so you want to build up your skills in the most effective areas of speech and vocal performance.


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Build Your Vocabulary

Plain and simple – rapping is about WORDS. And you need lots of potential words to really become a great freestyler.

The first thing you should do is listen to a lot of freestyles and read a lot of books.

When you listen to others freestyling, you get a sense of what is possible and how it’s done. You want to study the greats and see how they use wordplay and cadences.

What are the things they talk about? How do they start their freestyles? How do they progress until the end?

And by reading lots of books you open your mind up to thoughts, concepts, words, philosophies and ideas that you’ve never had before.

Reading is honestly the best way to build your vocabulary.

Find Your Rhythm

You also need to increase your vocabulary of “rap flows.” 

That means you need to know how different rap cadences (i.e. rhythmic patterns – learn more) are used and integrated into an overall freestyle (or even regular verse).

Because freestyling in rap isn’t bound by 8 or 16 bars of music/time, a great freestyle can go on and on.

But if you’re rapping in the same flow/rhythm, it’ll get boring and stale really quick.

Practice Different Flows

So practice using different types of rhythms/flow – you don’t have to use words while you do this. Gibberish sounds are totally fine, as long as you’re getting used to different types of cadences.

Just sit there and start imitating different rappers flows.

And then start combining them and messing around. Be comfortable switching in and out of completely different rhythms. 

It can help to have different beats playing in the background. Different types of instrumentals will naturally force you to adopt a different rhythmic pattern with your voice.

Find the Rhymes

Rhyming is obviously an important part of rap.

One of the ways you can improve your ability to freestyle is to know a bunch of words that rhyme together.

It’s easier to put together a concept based on two words you know that rhyme together.

So when you’re bored, just start thinking of different types of words that rhyme. After a while your head will be full of new ways to put words together.

Study a Rhyming Dictionary

A great idea is to purchase a rhyming dictionary (affiliate link) and just study it. Read through it on a regular basis and see the thousands upon thousands of ways you can rhyme words.

You’re guaranteed to find new rhymes that have never crossed your mind before.


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How to Practice Freestyle Rap

They say the best way to get better at something is to just do it a lot.

And the same goes for freestyling. This is a skill – a skill you need to practice and hone to be good at. 

You should now have the ammunition – the vocabulary, flows and rhymes – for your freestyle. Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together.

Here’s how…

Slow it Down

When you’re first starting out, don’t try and rap super fast (learn how). Just slow everything down to turtle speed and get the mechanics of it working.

Here’s how to approach freestyling when you sit down to practice:

  1. Clear Your Mind and Relax Yourself (don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do it well).
  2. Think of a single concept that is interesting to you
  3. Take a second to think of the words and ideas you can potentially use in your rhyme.
  4. Now think of something specific to say about that concept using words/ideas from step 3
  5. Split what you want to say into 2 parts – your first line, and your second line. A setup, and a delivery.
  6. Express the first part of the idea (the setup) in a lyrical or semi-poetic way using a rhythm/flow – don’t be too long or verbose. Be short and concise.
  7. What was the last word of that one idea?
  8. Think of a potential rhyming word that you could use to end your second line with.
  9. Now fill in the rest of your second line (the delivery) so you can end with the rhyming word from step 7 (make sure you stay in your flow/rhythm)
  10. Repeat steps 4-9 until you run out of ideas. 
  11. Start all over with a new concept.

The idea of a setup and delivery (your first and second line) is easiest to think of in terms of stand up comedy or rap.

When you’re telling jokes or rapping, a lot of the time you’ll have a setup (a phrase/line that sets the stage/background for whatever point you’re trying to make) and a punchline (the “meat and potatoes” of your idea that makes the point you’re trying to make in a clever/funny way).


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Use What’s Around You

When you’re practicing freestyling it can be helpful to just use the things around you to make rhymes from.

You may not have something specific you can think of. In those cases just look around the room and start making up lines about the everyday items you see. Talk about the bowl of chips or tissue box or salt and pepper shaker. 

Find ways to say something about what you’re doing or where you’re at right now in this moment.

The idea is just to work the muscles in your brain to train yourself to think in terms of rapping random ideas off the top of your head.

Make it a Game

A few years ago someone came out with a product that was meant to be a “freestyle rap game.” And that kind of stuff can be pretty useful when you’re learning how to freestyle.

But you don’t need to buy a product specifically for that purpose. You can turn your practice into a game by using basic flash cards.

Go buy some blank white cards and a marker at Amazon (affiliate link) and then on each card write down 2-4 random words that rhyme together, or 2 different concepts or ideas to rap about (learn more).

Then shuffle up the cards and pick one out randomly. You now have to come up with a freestyle using those words on the spot. 

You can set a timer and see if you can beat it.

Do it Everywhere, All the Time

Since rapping is such a cerebral activity, you can do it literally anywhere. All you have to be able to do is think.

So the next time you’re bored, don’t whip out your phone. Instead practice freestyling – just use the things around you and come up with rhymes (learn more).

You should do it every chance you get. Wherever, whenever.

Tips for Freestyling Better

Now that you have the ammo and a game plan to become a freestyle rapper, here’s some tips that will help you get better as you continue to practice.

Don’t Overthink

There’s nothing quite as big of a momentum or motivation killer than overthinking.

So try your best not to overthink your lines. They don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have to be 100% eloquent or properly pronounced and enunciated.

This is freestyle. It’s ok to be messy.

And if you can’t think of something relatively quickly, just say some gibberish and keep it moving. 

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. Just keep spittin.

Not Everything Has to Rhyme, All the Time

I know I spent quite a bit of time talking about rhyming. And yea, rhyming is important in rap. It’s foundational.

But that doesn’t mean every single line has to rhyme every single time. 

There can be lines that don’t rhyme. 

And always remember, that not all rhymes are “perfect” rhymes. Some rhymes are just slightly related, or slightly sound similar. 

It’s ok to use those too.

Store Some Pre-Written Lines

One of the big open secrets about freestyling is that.. surprise surprise… not every single line is always going to be off the top of a rappers head.

Even the best freestylers out there will have a bunch of clever lines they’ve thought of before that they pull out of their mind’s “vault” and throw into a freestyle.

This can be a great way to keep the momentum going for longer freestyles where you might draw a blank for a line or two.

Just don’t pretend you’re freestyling if you’ve pre-written your entire verse (or even a significant portion of it).

If you’re REALLY freestyling, yes it should be off the top of your head, but it’s ok to use great lines that you’ve already thought of before.

Try to Be Clever

And with all forms of entertainment, it’s good to be clever when you’re freestyling.

It’s not just about rhyming words together in some boring monologue. You should also try to say something witty, clever, profound or entertaining.

This can be difficult to do, especially when you’re starting out, but it’s an important part of rap. 

Say something, don’t say nothing.

It’s a good idea to work on your wordplay skills while you’re learning the art of the freestyle.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What’s Freestyle Rap?

Freestyle rap is a form of rap that is not structured into song form. Traditionally, a freestyle rap has been a verse made up entirely on the spot, but in today’s popular language it may also refer to something pre-written.

Are Freestyle Raps Written?

No, true freestyle raps are not written – they are almost entirely made up on the spot. However in today’s popular language a “freestyle” can either refer to a pre-written verse or something made up on the spot off the top of your head. Also, even in true freestyles that are “made up,” some individual lines, rhymes or concepts may have been previously thought-up or written down.

How Can I Freestyle Better?

To freestyle better you should build up both your word vocabulary and your rhyme vocabulary. You should also continually think of new concepts and ideas that can be used in a freestyle rap. Finally, practicing freestyle at a slow, methodical pace at home can help you be a better freestyler when you’re put on the spot in public.

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    Final Thoughts

    Freestyling is really difficult for most people – including me.

    I’ve been rapping since I was 10, but I’ve never been a REALLY GREAT freestyler. I HAVE been able to hold my own back in the day, though.

    I’m out of practice now, but that just proves this is a skill that needs to be worked on regularly.

    And you should practice your art form on a daily basis if you really want to get better at it.

    Use the techniques and knowledge you learned in this article to get better and better at freestyling. If you put in the work, there’s no way you won’t get better.

    If you are ready to get your music out there to the world, I highly recommend you use Tunecore – they’re an affordable way to release unlimited music to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more.

    Thanks for reading this complete beginner’s guide on how to freestyle rap. I hope it was helpful.


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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.