Start With a Title If You Can
Writing a song is much easier when you already know the title. A good song title will:
- Tell you what the song is about
- Sound really cool when you repeat it out loud
- Suggest an attitude or emotion
Sometimes a good title jumps out at you from the world. When you’re reading about butterflies or looking at butterflies or talking about butterflies, you might hear some words and think: “Song title!”
So keep your ears open. But don’t count on finding your title by accident. Also do some brainstorming.
Start with the simplest title you can think of – something you know you won’t use. Write it down. While you’re writing, let your brain think of another one. Keep writing them down. Don’t worry about how good or bad they are – just fill a whole page with possible titles. Then look back over your list. Chances are you’ll see one or two you like!
Here is my own brainstorming, so you can see what it looks like. I’ll write down the first few butterfly titles that come to mind. Trust me, they won’t be great…
Bella the Butterfly
I Wish I Were a Butterfly
1000 Purple Butterflies
Flutter, Little Butterfly
You add your own ideas to the list!
Once you find a title you like, you can use it as the main part of your chorus, which is the main part of your song. Your title can also tell you what to put in the rest of your song.
For example if my title was “Flutter, Little Butterfly” then I would ask myself, “Why should the butterfly flutter?” Answers: To get to a flower, to have fun in the sun, to show off its pretty wings – these ideas would fill up the verses of my song.
See how having a title helps you write the whole song? That’s why professional songwriters love to start off with a great title, when they can. But it isn’t always easy to think of one, even for professionals!
So if you’re having trouble finding a title, don’t feel bad. Try starting with an idea instead…
Start With an Idea
In a way, you already know what your song is about: butterflies. But it’s almost impossible to start writing about such a big topic. A song is short, and it’s personal, so it needs to be about one small idea.
A good song idea will make it clear who is singing, what they are singing about, and why. Brainstorm by asking yourself some questions. What about butterflies is interesting to you? What kind of story can you tell about a butterfly? What does a butterfly want? What advice would you give a butterfly? Ask your own questions and answer them.
My students each wrote down three ideas that might make good butterfly songs. Here are some of them:
- A song about what nectar is like to a butterfly
- A song about a caterpillar wanting to grow up
- A butterfly in captivity is sad and sings about wanting to be free
Each of these ideas is very small compared to “A song about butterflies.” And it’s weird, but when you’re working with a smaller idea, you’ll find it’s actually easier to fill a page with details.
Think about that captive butterfly. She might feel crowded by other butterflies. She can see flowers and trees outside and she feels the breeze and her wings just want to flutter. She thinks she is trapped forever. But maybe she will be released at a wedding. If I kept going I’d easily write down more than enough details to fill a song.
Your main idea is also linked to your title. Once you have one, it’s much easier to come up with the other. But, if you’re still having trouble knowing what to write about, a little improvisation might get you there…
Start With Words or Music or Both
I walk around my house sometimes just singing random made-up stuff out loud. This is a form of “improvising.” And… I mostly sound like a goofball when I improvise (you can ask my family), but sometimes I sing some cool little thing that I end up turning into a song.
You might think it’s lucky to discover a song that way, and it is. But you can make that luck happen on purpose. You can even put that luck to work on a topic you want to write about, like butterflies! You just have to ask your brain to do some random singing about your topic.
You probably know when the best time is for you to improvise. For me it’s when I’m alone doing something I don’t have to think about. I improvise while taking a shower, riding in the car, going for a walk, taking out the trash, or doing the dishes.
So next time you have a good chance to improvise, give your brain an assignment, like this: “Brain, I need an idea for a song about butterflies.” Try not to think about it after that. Just make some noise and let some singing happen. You don’t have to sing words – “La la la” or “Dooby dooby doo” will work just fine. Pretty soon you’ll probably be singing about butterflies. Maybe you’ll even sing something you like!
I usually trick my brain by giving it an assignment just before I get into the shower. If I improvise something good, I’ll keep repeating it until I get a chance to sing it into my voice memo app. That way I won’t forget what I came up with.
Once you’ve improvised some ideas, ask yourself: Did I sing a song title? Do I know what this song is about? If you have a title or idea, then you’re off to a great start!
If not, write down any words you sang in the middle of a page, then brainstorm around them until you find a good title or idea.
Maybe you just improvised a melody, one that makes you think of butterflies. Great! Sing that melody using nonsense words until you know it by heart, then see if you can replace the nonsense with some butterfly-related words that fit. For example, “La De La De La De Daa” might become, “I’m a pretty butterfly.”