Wedding Songs for a Great Ceremony

Your music sets the tone of your wedding ceremony. From majestic to joyous, spunky to traditional, the choice is yours.

wedding songs for a great ceremony
Photo by Amanda McMahon Photography

Nothing creates the mood of the moment like music. The right wedding songs can add dignity and solemnity to a wedding ceremony, excitement and liveliness to a reception. That's why you'll want to have live or prerecorded music at both your wedding ceremony and reception.

If you're having the wedding ceremony and reception at the same place, you'll probably be able to use the same musicians at both. Otherwise you may need to hire two sets of performers.

Note: The following information focuses on the ceremony; read our Wedding Reception Music Guide for the other half of the musical picture.

Finding Musicians
Keep in mind that your site may restrict you to certain types of music or to an approved list of entertainers. If you're not using your church's resident organist, you might ask a musical friend or family member to play or sing. Or you could consider hiring a harpist, flutist or string quartet. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Get a Recommendation: As with all wedding professionals, the first place to turn for musician recommendations is to friends and acquaintances who have recently married or attended weddings. Your officiant or the contact at your wedding reception site may also be able to make recommendations. For an inexpensive source, try the music program at your local college. Teachers there may be able to recommend talented young musicians who are eager to perform in public.
  • Figure Out the Fee: Since wedding ceremony music is a service rendered, expect to pay for it, just as you would pay a caterer or photographer. Discuss the musician's fee and arrange for payment ahead of time. (If a friend is providing the music and it's not appropriate to pay cash, a nice gift would be in order.)
  • Prepare in Advance: Make sure to provide the musicians with a list of your selections in advance, and discuss their attire and the time they're to arrive. Also plan out in advance where they will sit or stand and make sure they know, since you probably won't be present when they set up.

Using Pre-recorded Wedding Songs
Instead of hiring musicians, some couples opt for prerecorded music. While this approach may lack some of the dramatic impact of live performers, it does let you choose from an endless range of songs and recordings—including arrangements featuring full orchestras or favorite singers—and it's certainly less expensive. Here are some things to remember:

  • If you go this route, make sure your wedding ceremony site has an adequate sound system, and put someone you trust in charge of starting and stopping the music at the right times.
  • Make sure they do a sound check in advance so they don't have to fiddle with the volume at inappropriate times.
  • Keep in mind a possible downside to recorded music: Song length is not flexible, so you'll want to rehearse a bit to make sure your wedding processional music doesn't continue on long after you've reached the altar—or end too soon, leaving you walking in silence. Live musicians could always stretch a song out or gracefully end it early in this situation, so they could be a better choice if you don't want to worry about keeping the bridal party on a tight processional schedule.

Choosing Wedding Ceremony Music
If you're using live musicians, consult with them for their song recommendations, since odds are their repertoire will include some beautiful tunes you're not familiar with. Begin choosing your ceremony music at least two months in advance of your wedding so the musicians have time to learn a new piece if necessary. Some guidelines to follow:

  • The prelude, which can begin as much as 45 minutes before the wedding ceremony, sets the mood and usually consists of classical pieces. This is essentially background music as guests start entering and sitting, so it should be fairly quiet and unintrusive.
  • If you're having a vocalist perform, right before the processional is a nice time. This will capture guests" attention and build their anticipation for the wedding ceremony.
  • Your processional "march" should be a majestic piece, suitable for slow, stately walking. Some favorites:

 

Bridal Chorus Michael Soloway Michael Soloway - Classical Guitar Wedding - Bridal Chorus
Wedding March Mendelssohn A Brides Guide To Wedding Music - A Bride's Guide to Wedding Music - Mendelssohn: Wedding March
Canon in D Major Pachelbel Pachelbel's Canon In D Major - Pachelbel's Canon In D Major (Piano) - Single - Pachelbel's Canon In D Major (Pano) Cannon In D, Kanon In
Ave Maria Josh Groban Josh Groban - Noël - Ave Maria
Bolero Maurice Ravel Maurice Ravel - Opera Chill Out Volumen Dos - Bolero
  • Your recessional, on the other hand, should have a slightly faster tempo and joyous feel. Songs to consider:

 

Ode to Joy Beethoven Ludwig van Beethoven - Brahms' Lullaby and Other Classical Music for Children - Ode to Joy
The Four Seasons Vivaldi Antonio Vivaldi - Classical Music On TV - The Four Seasons: Summer, Presto (Theme from
Pomp and Circumstance No. 4 Edward Elgar Edward Elgar - Elgar: Enigma Variations, Marches - Pomp & Circumstance Marches in D, Op.39, No.1
The Water Music Suite Handel A Brides Guide To Wedding Music - A Bride's Guide to Wedding Music - Handel: Water Music, Hornpipe


For a change of pace, pick a pop song like "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles or a 1940s number like Cole Porter's "You're the Top" or Harry Connick Jr.'s rendition of "It Had to Be You."

No Regrets: Planning a Harmonious Ceremony

  • Make sure the music you choose for the processional is appropriately paced. You don't want to rush your grand entrance because the beat is too quick.
  • If you're having a loved one sing a special song as part of the ceremony, make sure he or she gets to practice in the ceremony location. Acoustics in a church or other large space can be drastically different than in a smaller room, and you want to make sure the song will be heard.
  • Do pick something celebratory for your recessional music.That walk back up the aisle will be your first act as husband and wife,and trust us, you're going to feel like dancing!

Related Articles:
Top 90 Wedding Songs
Saying "I Do"—Their Way
Wedding Ceremony Q&As