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Songs for Your Wedding: From Ceremony Music to Reception Music

Updated on August 8, 2020
stephhicks68 profile image

Stephanie got married in 2019 and enjoyed every aspect of planning her wedding!

Wedding Music Sets the Backdrop for Your Special Day

Your wedding is one of the most special days in your life. You have probably dreamed of this day all your life!

So, let's make it memorable.

One of the best ways to do so is to pick meaningful music that will resonate in your heart, and remind you and your soul mate of your special day in the years to come. Interestingly, the choice of music is often one of the last decisions that brides and grooms make. They will pick a date, a location, choose their bridesmaids and groomsmen, attire, and probably even flowers and cake.

Don't forget - music sets a tone for the entire affair! Your choice of music will depend in part on where you are getting married, and then - during the reception - what music you like, and what has the greatest meaning to you, your spouse, and your father... and your friends too!

Wedding music helps set the mood for your special day
Wedding music helps set the mood for your special day | Source

Choose Songs for Your Wedding Based on Location

If you are getting married in a church, temple or mosque, there may be strict rules with regard to music that may be played before, during and after the ceremony.

Check with the religious leader and/or a wedding coordinator, if you have retained one. In such circumstances, there are many beautiful, meaningful hymns and sung prayers that can add depth to the ceremony. You can have piano music, choral music, instrumental music, or organ music. Just be sure to check, and realize that additional fees may apply.

For example, many brides and grooms enjoy having a string quartet play Handel's Water Music and other familiar classical music as guests are entering.

Perhaps you love horn music instead? Or maybe even harps? There are many books filled with wedding sheet music (check out some of the selections to the right). Familiar favorites may be played on a piano or organ. Some arrangements are specially made for flute, harp, violin (or string quartet), or even french horn.

Many churches and temples alike have declared the tune "Here Comes the Bride," to be both Anti-Semitic and inappropriate for Christian weddings. Therefore, you may have to pick Pachelbel's Canon in D, or another mutually agreeable tune for a processional, instead. Be sure to consult with the choir director or organ master at least a month in advance of your ceremony so that you are not taken by surprise.

Both processionals and recessionals may be strictly regulated, as well as any interludes during the ceremony itself. In addition, use of flash photography and videography may be prohibited. Make sure that you ask ahead of time so that you get appropriate photos outside, if required.

Appropriate breaks in a wedding ceremony for vocal selections may include: (1) during the seating of the mothers or lighting of candles; (2) before the processional; (3) before the exchange of vows; (4) during the lighting of the Unity Candle (if you choose to have one); and (5) during communion (if you choose to include it as part of the service). Of course, all selections must be secular and must be approved ahead of time by the church or other house of worship (often times the music director). Popular choices include, "The Lord's Prayer," and "Ava Maria."

Church weddings may have special rules when it comes to music for the ceremony
Church weddings may have special rules when it comes to music for the ceremony

Songs for Wedding Ceremonies Outdoors

Perhaps you have chosen to get married outdoors, on a boat, or at another location, instead. In those circumstances, you will need to make arrangements to have sound piped in and/or microphones and speakers. You should see about setting up a sound system on which to play your favorite mP3 tracks.

You may wish to hire musicians to play during the processional and recessional. Soloists and/or a duet may sing selections during breaks in the ceremony. Generally, there is considerably more flexibility with respect to the timing of music and musical selections if you get married outside a house of worship.

Songs for our wedding outdoors included an onsite quartet
Songs for our wedding outdoors included an onsite quartet | Source

Popular Songs for Wedding Ceremonies

There are many albums arranged specially for weddings, with songs by Bach, Pachelbel, Vivaldi, Handel, Clarke, and other classical composers with which you will be familiar. Of course, you can liven things up a bit and select music that has a special meaning for you and your partner (romantic, religious, classical - or not!)

One final note as to why you should not delay in choosing your music until the last minute, is with respect to printing your programs. You will want to include the title of the processional and recessional selection, and any specific songs that will be sung or played during the ceremony, as well as give credit to your soloists, accompanists, and other musicians.

Father of the Bride/Daughters by John Mayer

Songs for the Wedding Reception!

This is when the fun really begins! You can let your hair down (literally, or just figuratively) and play the music that you really like! Take off the high-heel shoes, bustle up the dress and let's boogie! Some brides and grooms decide to take dancing lessons beforehand so they can impress the crowds with a romantic first dance. That is up to you. It can be a fun investment, and may add meaning to that first, special dance.

Most weddings that I have attended, the guests are usually raring to get out on the dance floor themselves, so... turn the mushy music off and get the beat going! But before I get too far astray, let's talk about recommendations on first dance tracks, both for dads-daughters, and brides and grooms. Next, we'll groove to the beat of the most danceable disks for wedding receptions!

Traditionally, the bride and groom dance a first dance together. The father of the bride will cut in towards the end of the dance, and then will follow with a father-daughter dance. Sometimes, the mother of the groom will also dance with her son at the same time, but this is less traditional.

As a bride, you and your father may want to pick a special song that has significance for you, growing up, or perhaps one that signifies your transition away from a child into a woman for your dance. You could also make a choice based on his, or your, favorite artists. The following are popular choices for Father-Daughter dances:

  1. "Save the Last Dance for Me," by Michael Buble
  2. "The Way You Look Tonight," by Frank Sinatra
  3. "Isn't She Lovely," by Stevie Wonder
  4. "I Hope You Dance," by Lee Ann Womack
  5. "Daddy's Girl," by Peter Cetera
  6. "My Girl," by the Temptations
  7. "My Father's Eyes," by Eric Clapton
  8. "Have I Told You Lately," by Rod Stewart
  9. "Daughters," by John Mayer
  10. "Butterfly Kisses," by John Carlisle

Group Wedding Party Dance! (no kidding)

Popular First Dance Songs for your Wedding

  • "The Right Place," by Taylor Hicks
  • "Lost in This Moment," by Big and Rich
  • "Once in a Lifetime Love," by Keith Urban
  • "From this Moment," Shania Twain and Bryan White
  • "At Last," Etta James
  • "On Bended Knee," by Boyz II Men
  • "Here and Now," by Luther Vandross
  • "When a Man Loves a Woman," by Percy Sledge
  • "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You," by Elvis
  • "The Way You Look Tonight," by Tony Bennett
  • "Kiss from a Rose," by Seal
  • "You are So Beautiful," by Joe Crocker
  • "I Do (Cherish You)," by 98 Degrees
  • "And I Love Her," by the Beatles
  • "Breathe," by Faith Hill
  • "She Believes in Me," by Kenny Rogers
  • "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," by the Police
  • "Unforgettable," Natalie Cole w/ Nat King Cole

We picked "Marry Me" by Train as the backdrop for our wedding video
We picked "Marry Me" by Train as the backdrop for our wedding video | Source

Band or DJ for Your Wedding Reception?

This is a really tough question, and unless you know the band well, you may (emphasis on may) do better with a DJ. I got really lucky and had a fantastic live band at my wedding reception, with a super cool name.... The Neon Lips! They played a wide range of classic rock to contemporary favorites. Everyone was out on the dance floor... way after my husband and I left! My favorite image from our video was my best friend clapping her shoes together over her head while she danced the night away! So much fun!! If you are thinking about hiring a band, then make sure that you get several recommendations, and enter into a good contract beforehand. In fact, this advice applies equally well to DJ services!

Of course, if you are serving alcohol at your reception, things may get sillier and more out of control. But booze is not necessary to really get down with the beat - as is evidenced by the number of children that really get into the whole dancin' thing... Check out the video to the right!

It can be fun to play songs to get group dances going. "Electric Slide" may get some dancing, but in this day and age, its probably out of date. But for some reason, everyone loves the Village People's "YMCA"! You're also bound to get people out there dancing (or lip syncing) to Copacabana. Another note: the Macarena was left in the 1990s, so don't try to resurrect it now!

You'll want to keep the variety going, with some old and some new hits. Grandma and Grandpa will like dancing to "You Can't Hurry Love," by the Supremes. But you and your friends may like "Dancin With Myself" by Billy Idol. And all the young cousins? Well, they'll be groovin' to "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls.

Towards the end of the night, you may want to wind things down, with a few slower, more romantic songs (hey, maybe someone else may get lucky), like "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong, or "The Last Dance," by Frank Sinatra.

If there are songs that you hate (whether you have a band or DJ), you can put together a "do not play" list! This is highly recommended. The last thing you want on your wedding day is to hear a song that gives you chills, instead of thrills!

Now THIS is some fun wedding music!

Choose Songs for your Wedding with Special Memories

Music, like aroma and taste, have a long-lasting connection to our memories.

When you are planning your wedding, make sure that you include special tunes that have significance to you and your spouse. You can honor those that are present (fathers and mothers) and those that may have passed. Choose a special song that speaks to you in its lyrics, tune, or both!

Most importantly, don't delay your decision! You'll remember the songs that were part of your ceremony and reception long after the taste of your wedding cake has faded from memory...

All the best to you on your special day!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 Stephanie Marshall


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