Music can gracefully and beautifully guide your ceremony. It sets the mood and signals changes without announcements. From the walk down the aisle to the last dance, music naturally navigates all these transitions. Take time to plan what should be played when!
The ceremony music can be divided into four distinct sections:
Prelude - Entering the ceremony venue
As guests enter have gentle, ambient music playing while they are guided by ushers or find their own way to their seats. You will need at least 30 to 40 minutes of music and it is a good idea to have a few extra songs just in case things run late.
Processional - The wedding party takes their places
Mark the beginning of your ceremony with a change of music, guests will immediately know to take their seats. Processional music is typically characterized as joyful but expectant. Musically you are building towards that moment when the bride enters. Don’t have your music peak in volume, tempo, or energy before then.
The larger your wedding party the more music you will need, but in general plan for four or more songs to play while families take their seats and the wedding party takes their places.
Once the wedding party is in place, the big moment has arrived! The bride’s entrance should be marked by a change in song and people standing up. In a well-orchestrated ceremony, the music will have built a steady arc towards this moment, and then the music should make a fairly dramatic change. In traditional American ceremonies, the music often feels like a triumphant entry, grand but classy.
As with your entire wedding, you should do what is right for you and your family. If you have songs that will be deeply meaningful and personalize the ceremony in a way that a classical choice won’t, certainly choose it!
Interlude - music during the ceremony
Interlude music is specifically used for times of reflection, ritual, or transition. It is also used as a great moderator for setting the pace of the ceremony. Interludes keep things from moving too fast, but also enhance the importance of what is taking place. Great examples are playing an interlude piece after the vows or during the lighting of a unity candle. Your music choices should be conducive to playing these roles. Reflection time? Softer pieces with slower tempos, often without words, are commonly chosen. Ritual time? Choose music that reflects the ritual, there may be an obvious choice.
A common mistake for interlude music is to choose pieces that are too long. If the ritual you are performing takes 2 minutes but you have chosen a 4 or 5 minute piece of music, everyone just stares at each other for while, awkwardly. It’s certainly not the end of the world, but something to be mindful of.
Postlude - You are now married!
You say I Do, give each other a big kiss, and then turn around to face friends and family as married couple for the first time! Mark the moment with a celebratory song as you walk back down the aisle. Plan for 1-2 songs to be played as you leave the ceremony venue, depending on how large your wedding party is. Go ahead and choose something loud, upbeat, and fun. Think about it like the ending song after a great movie. Look up the soundtracks from some of your favorite movies or some of the great epic movies to see what they play at the end.
Consider what style of music you want for the ceremony. Popular choices are string quartets, soloists, Latin guitar duos, string trios, flute trios, or recorded music played over a sound system. Also, take note of any venue restrictions; many churches or synagogues will have limitations. They might also provide music such an organist, choir, or pianist. If staff is on hand to play music, see if they will work with you on song selection or if they have a list of songs they play.
The ceremony is also a great time to include musically talented friends or family into the ceremony.
The wedding reception includes at least four very different moods that should be matched by your music; the receiving line/cocktail hour, your entrance as Mr. and Mrs., the meal, and of course, the dancing.
Receiving Line/Cocktail Hour
A very traditional way to welcome your guests to the reception is with a receiving line. This is an easy way to make sure you see each guest and say hello. Have soft music playing in the background, but don’t overwhelm your guests with loud, boisterous song. Save this for the cocktail hour! Select a playlist of your favorite drinking tunes, or hire a steal drum player, jazz singer or any performer that matches the overall vibe of your reception. A lack of music here will definitely be noticeable, but you don’t want to overwhelm guests with loud music. People should be able to hear each other in conversational voices.
Entering the Reception
A new weddings trend is the Grand Entrance, and it should be set to equally grand music. Typically the wedding party enters the reception room as an MC announces everyone’s name. The bride and groom are saved for last. But, as couples get more and more creative this formula is being thrown out the door. A few of our favorite ideas are: choreographed dance moves for the wedding party and newlyweds, riding in on a tandem bike, having the wedding party enter first and showering the bride and groom with confetti, pulling up to an outdoor reception in a horse and buggy, or entering to with your college fight song. No matter what style you choose to enter your reception in, music should be picked to match.
During the Meal
Again, a lack of music will be noticed; have you ever been eating at restaurant and the music goes out, super awkward! On the other hand you want your guests to be able to talk, so nothing to loud. If you have planned for speeches or toasts make sure your DJ or band is aware of your timing so they can stop playing.
What happens on the dance floor is often the most memorable and fun part of a wedding; your music choice here is important. For more information on how to choose the right band or DJ read our article “Band vs. DJ”.
Your may love rap music or heavy metal, but your guests will most likely span three to four generations and want to hear something they are familiar with. A great way to plan your wedding play list is pick a few hit songs from every decade, starting with the 1930s. Most wedding bands or DJs should understand the typical wedding dance floor flow, but here is a little breakdown.
Start off with the bride and groom’s first dance. Get those creative juices flowing with our list of 25 first dance songs, or dance the first dance to your song to add a personal touch. You can pull off a Dancing with the Stars moment by learning a choreographed routine. And whether you want to show off your fox trot or just brush up on your waltzing skills, dance lessons can be a fun break from the wedding planning madness and a wonderful workout, too. Plan to get started with lessons at least two months before the big day, and practice, practice, practice!
Follow the first dance with the father-daughter and mother-son dances. These three dances are sweet moments and make for great photo opportunities. Once they’re done (or at the tail end of the mother-son dance), the floor will naturally open up to include the rest of the guests.
Traditional dances centered around a heritage or religion are wonderful ways to get guests up out of their seats and almost every culture around the world dances at a wedding! For guests familiar with the traditional dances, it’s an easy way to get them involved, and for the rookies, they can loosen up and learn some new moves. A few traditional dances are the Jewish Hora and Mezinka, the Greek Hasapiko and Kalamatiano, or Italian Tarantella. I was once at Lebanese wedding where a belly dancer started off the celebration by bringing the whole bridal party up to join her, before you knew it everyone was on the floor. Don’t be afraid to incorporate a part of you heritage, there are so many lovely wedding traditions from around the world and your guests will appreciate the flair!
As the ceremony winds to a close the music should begin to calm. Have the DJ or bandleader announce to your guests the party is coming to a close and the last few songs will be played. End of a high note and send everyone home smiling!