How to select wedding ceremony music

More often than not, when I ask a bride what music she would like for her ceremony, she does not know. And that’s perfectly ok! The best thing to do when getting ready to speak with your ceremony musician is to have an idea of what genres you would like and then ask the musician for their suggestions. Many musicians (myself included) have song sample lists available, sometimes with audio or video clips. But this can still be overwhelming, especially if you do not know how many songs you need or what is typical for a wedding ceremony. This article will help demystify the process.


What parts of a ceremony need music?

The good news is that there is no wrong way to do your wedding ceremony. It is yours, and believe me, I have seen just about everything done in a wedding. It’s ok to be non-traditional. This is your day and you can make it however you want.

That said, here are some parts of a wedding ceremony that often have musical accompaniment. I have never seen a wedding use all of these, but you should look through the list and make note of any you are planning to include in your ceremony.

  • Prelude – It is nice to have music playing for 15-30 minutes before the wedding starts. As people come in and are getting seated it gives them something to listen to and helps set the mood.
  • Candle lighting – If your ceremony will include candles, you may want to have a special musical piece played during the candle lighting. This could also be done during the prelude, so you do not have to pick out a specific piece.
  • Seating of the Mothers/Grandmothers – This too can be done as part of the prelude, its own song, or even along with the song for the bridesmaids.
  • Processional for the bridal party – Traditionally this is the bridesmaids walking in one by one, followed by the ring bearer and flower girl. Sometimes the groomsmen come in with the bridesmaids or before them. Your musician will need to know how many people are coming in and who is last, so he or she knows when to end the processional piece and get ready for the bride.
  • Processional for the bride – The bride usually (though not always) gets her own song.
  • Communion/candle lighting/sand ceremony/signing of marriage licesnse, etc. – Anything you have planned for during the ceremony that lasts more than 30 seconds without talking is a good place to have a song played. If you are going to do several things in succession, such as a unity candle, followed by communion, choose just 1 song rather than asking the musician to awkwardly end one song and switch to another. A good musician will know when and how to end pieces so they sound natural, but too many quick transitions will sound choppy.
  • Special songs – If you wish to have a special song sung during your ceremony, be sure to speak with the musician about it. No one wants the unpleasant surprise of playing a piece that is not arranged for accompaniment, and suddenly Aunt Thelma is singing along. Most musicians will want to know who is singing (or if it is a congregational piece, who is leading the singing), what key the singer wants, how many verses, etc. And often there will be an extra charge, as the musician will need to coordinate with the singer to rehearse ahead of time. Save yourself and your ceremony musician the stress by talking about this up front, before the contract is signed.
  • Recessional – This is where the newlyweds walk back down the aisle while everyone claps. The bridal party generally follows, in pairs, and then the parents and grandparents. This song is usually more upbeat and celebratory.
  • Postlude – If you will be releasing your guests by rows, or if for any reason you think it will take more than a couple minutes for guests to leave, you may want a postlude, which is like the prelude. This can be music from the same genre as your prelude or you can request more upbeat, celebratory pieces. In my wedding package, I include up to 10 minutes of postlude. If the couple wants me to play longer, my hourly rate of $100/hour kicks in, just like if it is for the cocktail hour.

What type of music should I pick?

You can pick any music you like. But if you want recommendations for what works well, here is what I have found to be a good mix.

  • Prelude – I like these pieces to be soft, romantic, and elegant. Any combination of love songs, classical pieces, and hymns works beautifully. For a December wedding, you can even include some Christmas Carols.
  • Processionals – Songs with a good beat that are flowing and elegant and also able to be ended in multiple places without sounding odd work best.
    • Here are some good choices: Air for the G String, Air from Water Music, Bridal Chorus, Hornpipe from Water Music, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, The Joy of Love, Largo from New World Symphony, Marry Me by Train, Nuptial Procession, Ode to Joy, Pachelbel’s Canon, Prelude in C, A Thousand Years, Trumpet Tune, Trumpet Voluntary, Wedding Hymn
  • During the ceremony – Love songs or hymns are the most common choices for background music or special songs during the ceremony. Remember that your music is setting the mood, so pick something that matches how you want your audience to feel.
  • Recessional – As with the processionals, something with a good beat for walking is best. Most people want something more exciting and upbeat here.
    • Here are some good choices: Everything by Michael Buble, Marry You by Bruno Mars, Spring, Trumpet Tune, Trumpet Voluntary, Wedding March, A Whole New World
  • Postlude – Same as the prelude or something more upbeat. Some of the recessional choices would work well as postlude as well.

Above all, remember that the music sets the whole tone for your wedding ceremony. If you are not sure, speak with the musician and have them suggest pieces based on your genre preferences. Then relax and enjoy your big day, knowing the ambiance will be amazing!