50 Musicians & Singers Give Advice: How to Choose Wedding Songs

Are you struggling to choose just the right songs for your wedding ceremony? Do you wish you had some advice from the professionals on what to choose or where to start? We can help.

To make your wedding planning a little easier, we asked 50 wedding musicians and singers to give their number one piece of advice for couples trying to choose songs for their wedding ceremony. They told us everything from which songs to choose (or not to choose) to how to use the right music to set the mood.

Matthew Lister Wedding Guitarist

Here is what they said:

STICK TO THE CLASSICS:

If you really are having a difficult time coming up with selections I suggest that you stick to classy but not cliched. Pachelbell’s Canon in D for the Processional? Yes! It’s beautiful, traditional, elegant, and it’s a classic for a reason. The Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin? Wow, you really did put zero thought into this, and now all your guests know it.
– Matthew Lister, Guitarist, Dover, New Hampshire www.matthewlister.com

The number one thing I would tell brides about music selection is that I think staying with traditional or light classical preludes and ceremony music works better and is much classier than trying to have that portion filled with contemporary music. Most brides will never hear the prelude music – as they are hidden away in another area. We are actually playing for all the guests which include many age groups and this as well applies to the cocktail hour. We like to mix in a couple of contemporary songs for the cocktail hour along with light classical and easy listening – just a nice mix – something for everyone! Then the couple can have the contemporary music when they can hear and enjoy it during the reception and partying.
Debra Zumbrum, Hanover String Quartet, Hanover, Pennsylvania www.hanoverstringquartet.comHow to Choose Wedding Ceremony Songs

MAKE IT PERSONAL:

My number one piece of advice is: It’s your wedding, and you should have exactly the music you want (as opposed to “what do people usually pick” or “what’s the right kind of music” etc.) To be more specific, I’d say, think of a song that’s particularly meaningful to the two of you (e.g. one that’s associated with the first time you met, or did something important together, etc.)
– Dunstan Morey, Guitarist, Toronto, Canada www.torontoguitar.ca

I suggest the bridal party select pieces of music that are special to them. A mix of contemporary and classical and/or romantic pieces keeps the wedding fun and unique. In particular, selecting a personal piece of music for the processional will set the mood for the rest of the day, and will create memories for the couple and their guests for years to come.
– Jim Falbo, Guitarist, Minneapolis, Minnesota www.jimfalboguitar.com

My advice would be: What song have you envisioned walking down the aisle to? Most brides have that special tune in mind. Seems overly simple, but it comes down that single song.
– Dayve Huckett, Guitarist, Vermont www.dayvehucket.net

I have been doing this job now for almost 20 years and when brides and grooms ask me what they should have to walk down the aisle I usually say this: You should choose pieces that really mean something to you both. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Coronation Street theme tune if it’s“your song.” Don’t just choose a song that’s popular and in the charts at the moment unless it does happen to be special to you. Pick something that will make you smile when you watch your wedding film 25 years down the line.
– Jennie Sawdon, Singer, United Kingdom www.jenniesawdon.com

When couples get in touch with me, some know straight away what songs they would like whereas for others it doesn’t come so easy. I always try and stress that their wedding should be about them, their love for one another and their personalities. I love it when they choose songs that really mean something to them or there is a story behind it. So my advice is to not put so much pressure on yourselves worrying about what you ‘should’ choose and go for what you actually want. Weddings nowadays are not always so ‘traditional’ so if you fancy something totally different then go for it, your guests should know and understand that it represents you both as a couple and they will love it. We all only want to get married once so do it the way you want it!
– Kirsty Rogers, Singer, Manchester, United Kingdom www.kirstyrogers.com

Traditional always works beautifully, but it’s OK to think outside the box when it comes to wedding music.  Pick songs that mean something to you, the couple. We have sent out our classically trained string quartets to perform everything from Mozart to Metallica at wedding ceremonies.
– Scott E. Jones, President, Cleveland Music Group, www.clevelandmusicgroup.com

There are no rights or wrongs to picking songs! Choose songs that fit your personality and the ambiance that you’re trying create. Remember, it’s your wedding day!
– Ivy Zenobi, Bellarosa String Quartet, Santa Rosa, California www.bellarosasq.com

The advice I would give couples when choosing wedding music would be to pick songs that reflect your personality and experiences. Don’t be drawn into dreary old wedding standards such as “Bridal Chorus” or “Wedding March.” Maybe you should go with “Don’t Stop Believing” or “Marry Me” by Train.
– Chas Evans, Guitarist, Brandon, Mississippi www.chasevansguitarist.com

There are no rules for wedding ceremony music! It is your day and you should get to listen to music that you love when you walk up and down the aisle. Get creative and include music that is personal to you as a couple.
– Jeremy Milligan, Guitarist, South Hadley, Massachusetts www.jmilliganweddings.com

Choose the music that will make your wedding special and memorable for you. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks, because it’s YOUR special day!
– Aaron Marx, The Wisconsin String Quartet, Madison, Wisconsin www.wisconsinstrings.com

The piece that the majority of brides choose (no matter the religious background) is Pachelbel’s Canon. Very often that’s the only piece they want leaving the rest to us. Please don’t choose Pachelbel’s Canon. Find songs that most reflects your feelings, the entrance should be joyous and a loving one, the signing of the register is merely to entertain your guests therefore it could be a classical melody and for the exit… choose the one you love the most, the one that you will always remember as the start of your new life together.
– David Giardino, Giardino String Quartet, London, United Kingdom www.giardinostrings.co.uk

The number one thing I would say to couples choosing their music is that it should be something special to them.  Never mind ever one else!
– Morag Swietlicki, The Quartet, Scotland www.thequartet.info

When we try to think of an important song that means a lot to us, often our minds get so overwhelmed with the multitude of possibilities that they shut down. This happens to me all the time. Someone will ask me, “What is your favorite song?” and I will have no examples to offer them, as if I never listened to music before in my life. The best way to remedy this is to stop trying to think about the song and to try to think about the experience. Was there a song playing when you first met? What was the first song you danced to? When you two are driving together is there a song you always turn on? This way the couple is making the decision based on unique memories instead of trying to consult some overwhelming mental playlist.
– Alan Rigoletto, Guitarist, Denville, New Jersey www.alanrigoletto.com

The number one piece of advice we always give our couples is to make sure the music they choose is completely “Them”  It is so easy for them to be railroaded into pieces of music that others would like to see as part of the ceremony. It doesn’t matter if the music is classical or pop, as long as it is indicative of them as a couple!
– Cheryl, Ariella Strings, Great Linford, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom www.ariellastrings.co.uk

When choosing music for your wedding ceremony, personalize it to fit you as a couple. Do you have a favorite song you would like to walk down the aisle to? What mood would you like to set for your ceremony, formal or informal? The style of music can vary through different parts of the ceremony. For example, you could include expressive, romantic and classical music for the prelude, a beautiful movie theme for the processional, upbeat, traditional classical music for the recessional, and celebratory classical or contemporary music for the postlude. We like to give examples of music chosen by other wedding couples, to get your musical ideas flowing and to jog your memory as to favorites you might have.
– Lillian Reichert, Mountain Strings Quartet, Hamilton, Montana mtnstrings.com

My number one piece of advice in choosing ceremony music is: Choose music that is meaningful to you as a couple! Often couples are so wrapped up in the planning that they just choose the traditional pieces that they figure are “what people use at weddings.” The most interesting and memorable weddings we have played are when the bride and groom meet with us, talk through the whole ceremony and not only choose a cohesive set of pieces (classical versus popular perhaps) but ones that have a special significance in their lives. The other piece of advice I have…Ask us for suggestions!!! That’s what we’re here for!!  We won’t choose your music for you, we’ll help you pick music that you’re happy with and will make your ceremony memorable.
– Jenny Muhl, Angelicus String Quartet, Buffalo, New York  www.angelicusstringquartet.com

The main piece of advice that I give to couples when choosing ceremony music is to pick music that is meaningful to them, and that it is music they enjoy hearing.
– Mitchell Drury, Puget Sound Strings, Seattle, Washington www.pugetsoundstrings.com

As a member and manager of a string quartet, I’d recommend that brides find a processional piece that is simply beautiful, draws up wonderful memories, or is a general favorite. Couples should find a recessional piece that really celebrates them now as one.
– Amber Dolphin, Pecatonica String Quartet, Madison, Wisconsin www.pecatonicamusic.com

This is your wedding, make it mean something so try to pick music you want. There is nothing wrong with mixing a few modern tunes in along with traditional selections for the ceremony. Don’t over do the music selections. A different selection for each entrance will sound disjointed as most selections wont have time to complete. Generally two to three songs for the ceremony entrances is all that’s needed. Less is more ( if you pick good music.)
– Chris Dunn, Guitarist, Classical Guitar Ceremonies Inc., Baltimore, Maryland www.classicalguitarceremonies.com

Most couples select a song that is meaningful to them. It should be something appropriate for the ceremony and that translates well for solo classical guitar. I generally consult with them about the options and we arrive at the perfect selection.
– Christopher Farrell, Guitarist, Redondo Beach, California www.laguitarevents.com

Pick a processional and recessional that puts your personal stamp on your wedding. Something slow and stately for the processional and something happy and bouncy for the recessional.
– Elaine Ekstedt, Seattle String Quartet, Seattle, Washington www.seattlestringquartet.com

Here are my thoughts: for the seating of the family, pick something that will resonate with your parents’ and grandparents’ generation. For the bridesmaids, pick something that they will enjoy walking to. And of course for your processional, pick the song you’ve always wanted to walk to. If you’re not planning a traditional program, picking a contemporary upbeat and lighthearted recessional song is a great choice.
– Thomas van der Brook, Hill Country Strings Quartet, Austin, Texas  www.hillcountrystrings.com

I would say that I tell couples to choose a song or songs that mean something to them, if possible, and to choose things that they really like, not just pieces that they think they are expected to choose.
– Joy Schwarz, Pianist & Singer, www.joyofmusiconline.com

WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK A PROFESSIONAL:

If you are having live music at your wedding ceremony don’t be afraid to ask your musicians for help and guidance. All their experience from previous weddings can help you pick the songs for your wedding and musicians like us love helping our clients create that perfect once in a lifetime moment! You can also look up wedding musician’s blogs for different ceremony styles and ideas from their past wedding performances.
– Kimberley Lye, Director, Niche – The London String Quartet, London, United Kingdom www.nichelondonquartet.com

You should always check with your musicians if they have the songs you choose in their library. Sometimes when you choose the songs that are too new, it will cost the couple extra to get it arranged for the ensemble. And do some research on the song, some couples choose songs that have sad meanings behind them. Always always communicate with the musicians, this doesn’t cost them.
– Hannah, OC Strings, Orange County, California www.ocstrings.com

Today there are no rules when choosing music for your wedding, so choose what you like and you’ll have no regrets. But don’t be afraid to ask pros for advice: that’s why they’re there!
– Julie Bougher, Elysium Quartet, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania www.elysiumquartet.com

When researching songs, think: Is this song going to work in an intimate ceremony setting? Will it suit my singer’s voice? Is it possible with the instrument(s) I’ve booked?
– Sarah O’ Kennedy, Singer, Limerick, Ireland www.sarahokennedy.com

Before making a final decision on song choices make sure your priest or celebrant is happy with the music and songs you have decided on. Also, Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your singer or musician when choosing songs, hymns and psalms. They will more than happily meet up and run through songs to help you decide. Especially if it’s a catholic wedding.
– Claire Semple, Singer, Glasgow, Scotland www.clairesemple.com

I encourage people to choose their songs based on tried and tested material from my existing repertoire. It’s always nice if the personality of the couple comes out in the music (I played the Superman theme just the other day!) If they do want me to learn a specific piece, I make sure that (especially for processional/recessional) we are agreed on a short section of the song that at least the majority of people will recognize (i.e. a chorus.) I suggest that the processional is slower in tempo, while the exit would be faster and generally upbeat.
– Andy Nash, Guitarist, Cambridge, United Kingdom www.andynashguitar.com

In regards to choosing solo guitar/instrumental selections, I would tell my clients to trust the experience of their guitarist/instrumentalist in knowing whether their song choice(s) would work well for solo guitar/instrumental performance.  Many songs can and do sound good arranged for solo guitar – many do not.  Also, it is usually best to choose a work well known by the public (i.e. “Stairway to Heaven” vs. “Stairway to the Stars.”) With the absence of lyrics and a short play time (as with a processional), the guests usually will not recognize that “special song” that is so near and dear to the bride and groom.
– Richard DeVinck, Guitarist, Monterey/Big Sur California www.richarddevinck.com

Have a few songs in mind before talking with ceremony musician. A good musician will either be able to learn new song(s) or suggest music in the same genre or style. Ask the musician for recommendations and describe the location, theme, etc. A ceremony musician should be able to select songs according to your taste and wedding details. For instance, romantic Spanish classical music is fantastic for a wedding ceremony in a Spanish-style location. Learn about the various parts of ceremony that music can be added (Prelude – music as guess arrive, Processionals – Family, bridal party, bride, Interlude – candle or ring warming, Recessional – Final song). A ceremony musician should be able to explain theses and select music when it is appropriate.
– Luis Alfredo Garcia, Guitarist, Orlando, Florida www.luisleftyguitar.com

I usually tell couples that it is easiest for them to just tell us whether they want classical, popular, or a mix of these styles for the prelude and postlude pieces. I tell them that I will put together a playlist rather than have them do all that extra work. If there are certain pieces, however, which they want us to be sure to include, I ask them to list these pieces. Should they need suggestions I email them a list. If there are special pieces, not in our repertoire, which the couple wants included in their ceremony or reception, I offer the service of having arrangements written for those pieces. There is a fee for having these arrangements written but it is extremely reasonable. The pieces which the couple does need to select are the piece for the seating of the parents/grandparents, the processional pieces, the interlude piece (if desired), and the recessional piece. Again, I will make suggestions if requested.
– Annette Kebsch, Tacoma String Quartet, Tacoma, Washington www.tacomastringquartet.com

Our Triangle String Quartet musicians are committed to providing the wedding ceremony music the bride has visioned in her dreams. When communicating with a couple, I council them to choose whether they prefer to have traditional classical music or contemporary popular music. That preference is the key.
– Jayne Seymour, Triangle String Quartet, Raleigh, North Carolina www.trianglestringquartet.com

CONSIDER THE LOCATION:

When consulting with couples about their wedding music, I often ask them to consider their wedding venue.  For instance, if you are getting married in a small chapel, you may not want to recess to Star Wars Throne Room Theme Song (save this for the cocktail hour!), rather Handel’s Hornpipe may be just the piece that would tie the venue and the music together beautifully. Other considerations may be your flowers, colors, bridal and wedding party dress styles, as well as an overall wedding theme.  In the end, choosing your wedding music always comes down to your personal opinion, what really matters is what resonates with you as a couple – choose your selections with confidence and everyone will be happy!
– Monique Pinelli, Cafe String Quartet, Asheville, North Carolina www.cafestringquartet.com

I advise our clients that I am available to help them select music if they are having a hard time deciding. This is part of our service.  I also advise people to firstly check with their church (if a church wedding) to find out if the church restricts the music list. This is especially important for Catholic nuptial masses.  Couples should base their selections on songs that are meaningful to them personally, or pieces that are favorites.
– Vicki, Ptarmigan String Quartet, Denver/Boulder, Colorado www.ptarmiganstringquartet.weebly.com

I tell clients to choose ceremony music based on what resonates with them – what is either meaningful or feels like it creates the mood that they desire. But I also let them know that they should consider the setting of their ceremony, as a garden wedding, for example, could lend itself to different music choices than say a church wedding.
– Laurie Melting, Singer, www.lauriemelting.com

USE MUSIC THAT SETS THE MOOD:

If a couple asks me for advice in choosing music for their wedding ceremony, I find it’s useful to know the tone of the ceremony before making suggestions. Is it going to be traditional, elegant, celebratory, fun, personal, etc? This helps me pick suitable pieces of music from my repertoire. So my number one piece of advice to couples is to pinpoint the intended tone of their ceremony before deciding on the music.
– Ed Peczek, Guitarist, Staffordshire, United Kingdom  www.edpeczek.co.uk

I advise couples to pick music that they like to listen to while leaving room for the energy of the evening to grow. I simply point out the contrast the ceremony offers to that of the reception and suggest that they choose music that will fulfill the emotional landscape that each section of the wedding naturally encompasses.
– Clayton, Keros String Quartet, Boston, Massachusetts www.kerosent.com

When choosing music for your wedding ceremony try to choose pieces that reflect the mood and emotion of the ceremony. Simply put, the prelude and processionals are typically very reverent and beautiful pieces while the recessional is typically upbeat fun and celebratory. It is even more special when a couple finds music that reflects a little of themselves and their taste for their ceremony.
– Michael Lancaster, Guitarist & Bagpiper, Denver, Colorado www.bagpipersinternational.com

The most important question is as follows: What mood do you want for your processional? If it is to be triumphant and joyful, I suggest the Purcell/Handel Trumpet Voluntary or Wagner’s Wedding March. If a bride prefers serenity, there is the ever-popular Pachelbel’s Canon, the Air from Handel’s Water Music or the Bach Arioso or Air. The other question I always ask is: do you want your processional music to be familiar to your guests, or would you prefer something appropriate or less well known? Another concern is whether they want to change the music for the bride after the bridesmaids are in place or keep it the same. It takes a few seconds to change, but this is up to the bride. If Pachelbel’s Canon is used, it works best with at least three or four bridesmaids because the emotion builds up. It last about 8 minutes and is usually cut. Once, a bride asked that we finish the pieces and guests started sending us signals to stop. Somewhat shorter would have been better. Asking the bridesmaids to space themselves out lengthens the processional which adds anticipation. It often works best if one bridesmaid is in place before the next one starts. For the Recessional, the same question of familiar or unfamiliar applies.  Mendelssohn’s Wedding March is often chosen, but I often suggest La Rejouissance from Handel’s Fireworks Music which starts a marriage off with joy and fireworks. We play it twice and then often follow it with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, again twice. I feel it is very important to play until all the guests have left the ceremony area.  Therefore, we always mark the followup piece, always upbeat, such as Bach’s Brandenburg #3 or the first or last movements from the Bach Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins.
– Barbara-Sue White, Princeton String Quartet, Princeton, New Jersey www.princetonstringquartet.com

My advice to all couples is to check the lyrics to make sure they are appropriate. Couples tend to choose songs based on song titles which can be misleading, such as ‘Band Of Gold’ which is actually a ‘splitting up’ song. I know a couple that had to re-edit their wedding video due to this!
– Gary Grace, Singer, Yorkshire, United Kingdom www.garygrace.co.uk

The music for your wedding is about expressing your style, but it is also about creating beauty, atmosphere and moments of repose that bring a wedding party and guests together as a collective. Some of the most special wedding music we have provided was not overtly romantic in the Hollywood sense but deeply moving because it created a moment of serenity and reflection.
– James, Tonic String Quartet, Australia www.tonicstringquartet.com.au

Choose something that makes you FEEL. Bonus points for a song with an easily recognizable melody, as this will heighten the emotion of the moment as your guests feel it along with you.
– Justin Cash, Guitarist, Dallas, Texas www.justincashmusic.com

MAKE SURE THE TIMING IS RIGHT:

The processional is often a lot shorter than you think it is going to be, so ask your musicians to arrange a shorter version of your chosen song for you, with perhaps one verse and one chorus, so people will recognize it and you won’t be standing at the altar for an awkward three minutes waiting for them to finish the song. They will be happy to help.
Richard Millns, Indigo Acoustic Duo, Leybourne, United Kingdom www.indigoacoustic.com

I tell couples that they may want to consider using the same piece for two or more of the first three events if the aisle is short and/or the wedding party is small. This is especially a factor in outdoor weddings when the musicians often have to clip their music to the music stands to keep the pages from blowing in the wind. It takes time for us to take off the clips, turn the page to the next piece of music, and put the clips back on. If there’s just one maid of honor processing to her own piece of music, for example, she may be done processing before the musicians get their pages turned! Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. The mothers can be seated, the bridesmaids can process, and the bride can process all to the same piece of music, played continuously. The guests will, of course, stand when the bride makes her appearance, so there will be a natural delineation and the bride’s entrance can still feel very special without a change in music.
– Peter Markush, Plum Blossom String Quartet, Charlottesville, Virginia www.plumblossomstringquartet.com

Many times, the bride’s walk is sometimes only 30 seconds or so. I will give couples advice if they’ve selected a song that takes too much time to develop. But at the end of the day, my job is to provide great music and keep the couple happy.
– Mike McCall, Guitarist, San Francisco, California www.montaramusic.com

CHOOSE EASY-TO-RECOGNIZE SONGS:

One specific suggestion that I make fairly often (since I am both an instrumental guitarist and a singer): If you are incorporating a personal special song in the ceremony, particularly a contemporary song, most guests will not recognize it or know the lyrics from an instrumental, so consider having it sung. The lyrics are probably a big part of why it’s special to you, so share that with your guests.
– Dwight Phetteplace, Guitarist & Singer, Northwood, NH  www.dwightsongs.net

Don’t get too hung up about the ceremony music. If it’s a civil wedding the entrance and exit are very short. Make sure whoever is performing the music plays the part of the piece that is recognizable or all you will have are the intros.
– Paul Martin, Guitarist, London, United Kingdom www.weddingguitaristuk.com

For more info on wedding musicians, check out the following article on hiring wedding musicians.

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