Your Day, Your Way: Wedding Ceremony Music

I recently tackled the task of selecting ceremony music (and when I say “tackled,” I mean struggled through hundreds of songs and barely made it out alive). I found that it wasn’t a lack of songs that made the process difficult, but rather how many options were available. Narrowing it down to just a few was a challenge.

Below, I’ve divided the process into the three types of music most ceremonies have: preludes, processionals and recessionals. Of course, these are only suggestions to inspire you—you can include music into your ceremony in any way you see fit!

If your wedding is being held in a church with an organist, the church may have a list of songs they suggest, and it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with them. If your wedding is at another location or you’re bringing in your own musicians, they may provide you with a list of songs they typically perform, but you may also want to ask about your favorites. Either way, it’s a good idea to schedule a meeting to go over song choices and being prepared before you go to the meeting will help you make the most of your time.

Some spaces will have limitations on what type of musicians you can bring in so be sure to ask about this first, before booking anyone.

If you know you want to hire musicians, here are a few popular instrument combinations for wedding ceremonies:

String Duo (two violins or a violin and cello)
String Trio (two violins and cello)
Piano Trio (piano, violin and cello)
Flute Trio (flute, violin and cello)
String Quartet (two violins, viola and cello)
Guitar/String Duo (violin and guitar)

The more musicians you hire, the higher the cost, but there are enough combinations out there that you can find one that will fit your budget. If budget isn't a concern, hiring a choir or reenacting the wedding scene from Love Actually would really wow your guests!

Let’s start with the prelude. Prelude music is played while guests are arriving and finding their seats. Depending on when your ceremony location is open for guests, the music typically begins playing 45-30 minutes prior to the ceremony.

Pick light, background music. Save your favorites for when you walk down the aisle since you will still be out-of-sight during this time.

Examples of prelude music can include classical and modern songs such as:

“Air on the G String” (Johann Sebastian Bach)
“Air” (from Water Music), (George Frideric Handel)
“Arioso” (Johann Sebastian Bach)
“Angel Eyes” (Jim Brickman)
“Love’s Divine” (Seal)

There are many other options available and most of these songs can be previewed for free online.

The processional is the music that accompanies the wedding party and the bride down the aisle. You can use one song or a combination of a few songs. If you are having your family (such as the mother of the bride, parents of the groom and grandparents) walk down the aisle before the bridal party, you may want to select more than one song: one for the family, one for the bridal party (bridesmaids and maid of honor) and one for the bride. If you do decide to use one song, you may want to ask the musicians to pause right before you enter to highlight the moment.

One of the most popular processional songs is “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel, but there are many other fantastic songs out. Here are some classical and modern examples to get you started:

“The Prince of Denmark's March” (Jeremiah Clarke)
“Wedding March” (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
“Romeo and Juliet Love Theme” (Tchaikovsky)
“Winter” (Antonio Vivaldi)
“Wedding Processional” (from The Sound of Music), (Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein)
“Forever My Love” (The O'Neill Brothers)
“When You Say Nothing at All” (Allison Kraus)
“Come Away With Me” (Norah Jones)
“When You Say You Love Me” (Josh Groban)

During the ceremony, many couples choose to add a song during an important moment (such as a unity candle lighting) or in between readings. Some examples include:

“Amazing Grace” (traditional)
“Ave Maria” (Johann S. Bach/Charles Gounod)
“By the Sea” (The O’Neill Brothers)
“To Make You Feel My Love” (Dylan)
“Annie's Song” (John Denver)

Finally, you want to consider recessional music, which will be played as everyone exits. It’s typically lively to signify celebration and joy. This music can also be used to escort your guests or you can select a postlude, which is a separate song to usher your guests from the ceremony.

“Trumpet Tune” (Purcell)
“Hornpipe” (George F. Handel)
“Ode to Joy” (Ludwig van Beethoven)
“The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” (George F. Handel)
“Trumpet Voluntary” (Clarke)
“Joy” (George Winston)
“Spring” (Antonio Vivaldi)
“Wedding March” (Felix Mendelssohn)
“Exultate, Jubilate” (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
“Beautiful Day” (U2)
“All You Need Is Love” (Beatles)
“Bless the Broken Road” (Rascal Flatts)
“Fly Me to the Moon” (Frank Sinatra)

Here are just a few online resources you can also look through for more song ideas!
The Knot Music Ideas
Project Wedding Music Ideas

Just remember that it’s your day and you should have it your way! You can take any favorite song and use it in your ceremony—just make sure you have a musician who can play it!

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