Ok, so you've decided that music will be a part of your ceremony. Now, how many songs will you need and where do they go? The answer to both parts of that question is - it varies. It will vary depending on the length of your ceremony and how elaborate you want to make it.
How Many Songs Will You Need For Your Ceremony
If you decide on prelude music, you will need enough to fill anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes of time. If you choose, say, love songs of the 80's through today for your prelude music this might entail as many as 8 or 9 songs.
During the ceremony, you can choose as much music as you like, although our recommendation is not to go over three "non-background" interlude pieces/songs - even for the longest of ceremonies. More on this later.
If you are going to have postlude music that covers photographs and/or a receiving line you may need as many as another 10 - 15 songs.
Where To Place Songs In Your Ceremony
Music can be placed virtually anywhere in your ceremony. Beside the aforementioned prelude and postlude music, let's take a look at where else music can go during the course of a ceremony...
1) Preparation of the Altar by Members of the Family.
If there is going to be a ritual like a Unity Candle Lighting or Crystals Ritual, couples will sometimes ask family members (most often the parents) to help prepare the alter in some way for the ritual that is to follow. For example, this may involve the lighting of the taper candles which the couple will use later in the ceremony to light their Unity Candle.
While the family members are lighting the candles (or pouring wine, or crystals, etc.) a very light, softly played appropriate instrumental song might be used. This song would be a bit different in nature than the prelude music that immediately preceded it.
2) Seating of the VIPs
The seating of the mothers and grandparents traditionally launches the ceremony. Here, you may also want to choose a special song. Again, this song would be a bit different in nature, and perhaps a bit louder than the prelude music that immediately preceded it. This change of volume/tempo/type of music alerts the crowd that something special is happening.
A solo by a musician(s) would not be recommended here, since the very nature of a solo draws the guests' attention to the soloist(s), and you don't want to take the attention away from the VIPs.
It is possible to have two short pieces here, depending on how many VIPs are being seated. (e.g. one for the grandparents and one for the mothers).
3) Immediately Before the Processional and/or As the Groom/Groomsmen and the Celebrant Take Their Place at the Front of the Ceremony Site
This music can be of the same nature as that of the seating of the VIPs - it could even be just a continuation of that music, especially if it is being used only for the appearance of the Groom/Celebrant.
If you are choosing a song specifically as a "pre-processional", then it could be dramatically different than the music used for the VIPs. The volume again could be elevated a bit, and you could change from instrumental tunes to a vocal at this point. A soloist would also be appropriate at this time. This song can also serve as a heads-up to the bridal party that the procession is about to begin.
4) Entrance of the Bridal Party
Here the music takes a decided step up in volume. The procession has begun, and you want all of your guests to notice!
5) Entrance of the Bride
Again, the music takes a definite step up in volume and drama as the Bride makes her appearance and proceeds up the aisle. This change of music also serves as a cue to your guests that it is time to stand. The bridal processional itself could also be two separate pieces of music. Sometimes, there is a piece called a "fanfare", that heralds the arrival of the Bride. It is usually a short (10 to 20 second) but lively/rousing air played on brass (usually trumpets). The fanfare immediately precedes the processional song, and helps to create a dramatic effect just before the entrance of the bride.
6) During Readings
You may choose to have appropriate instrumental music played very softly in the background during readings or poetry. For instance, you may wish to have a Celtic tune played during the reading of an Irish poem. This can help to accentuate the words and meaning of the reading/poem. See our Background Music page for more information.
7) After the Readings and/or the Celebrant's Address
The right music can create a meditative or reflective mood. An appropriate song played immediately after a reading or the Celebrant's address can give you and your guests a chance to reflect on the words, and even to feel more deeply the meaning of what has just been said.
8) Just Prior to the Exchange of Vows and/ or Rings
As we mentioned in a previous section of our site, a song just before the vows can give the bridal couple a chance to pause, catch their breath, and begin to prepare for the moment to come. This could be especially important if you are going to recite your vows from memory or even if you are going to read them. The time during which this song is playing can give you a chance to review the lines in your mind, or to prepare any written notes you have.
This song can be a vocal or instrumental. It can also be a solo. As mentioned before, a solo brings the crowd's attention more to the soloist. This helps to take the attention off of the bride and groom for a couple of minutes as they pause to relax or to prepare for their vows.
9) During the Exchange of Vows and/or Rings
You could use a very soft instrumental here for the same reasons you might use one in the background of a reading. The right music could underscore the meaning of your vows and help them to resonate more deeply with both you and your guests.
10) Immediately After the Exchange of Vows and/or Rings
As mentioned in #7 above, a song here can give both you and your guests a chance to reflect on the words that have just been exchanged and to experience, to a higher degree, the wonderful moment that has just taken place.
11) During the Lighting of the Unity Candle or Another Ritual
As you light your Unity Candle, mix the sands for your Crystals Ritual, or drink wine during a Wine Sharing Ritual (or any other family/cultural/religious ritual for that matter), you may wish to have a song playing.
If no words are to be spoken during the ritual, then you can certainly use a vocal piece. If there will be music playing when words are exchanged, again, it is preferable to have it be very soft background music, similar to that used for readings.
[Examples of Rituals include Holy Communion, Greek Wreath Exchange, Japanese Rice Wine Ceremony, and the Hindu Garland Exchange. There are many others where music would be appropriate - ask your Celebrant and/or DJ/Musician(s).]
12) After the Affirmation of the Community or Blessing of the Parents
The Affirmation of the Community is the parents, families, and/or guests chance to say "yes" to all they have witnessed. It's their opportunity to offer their blessings and support to the marriage. An uplifting or inspirational musical piece after the affirmation helps to put a big exclamation point on these words. Here is an example of an "affirmation"...
The marriage of ___________________ and __________________unites two families and creates a new one. They ask for your blessing.
Parents or other family representatives:
We rejoice in your union, and pray God's blessing upon you.
Will all of you, by God's grace, do everything in your power to uphold and care for these two persons in their marriage?
13) Exit of the Bridal Party
The Celebrant has declared you husband and wife, and now it's time for you and your bridal party to exit the ceremony space. The recessional song should be upbeat and celebratory as you make your way triumphantly back down the aisle!
No More Than Three
As you can see, music can be used in many different places and for many different reasons during the course of the ceremony. A bit earlier in this article we recommended no more than three non-background interlude pieces/songs during the ceremony. We'll explain further...
For simplicity sake, let's say there are basically three different classifications of music used to enhance weddings:
Most couples will have a processional song(s) and a recessional song. As far as background music is concerned, some couples will have it, some won't...and we think you can include as many background music pieces as you like.
What we are advising is that you not include any more than three additional "non-background" interlude songs during the ceremony. These are the stand-alone songs that are played immediately before the processional(s), after the readings and/or Celebrant's address, just prior to or immediately after the exchange of vows and/or rings, and after the affirmation of the community/parent's blessings. In other words, any music that is being played while nothing else is "happening".
Why three? A song that is used to help guests reflect on the words that have just been spoken or to help them anticipate an upcoming event is great, and you might even say it creates a wonderfully dramatic effect. But, done too many times, it will begin to lose its dramatic effect, and may even come to be seen as an interruption to the flow of the wedding. And here, three seems to be the limit.
Placed appropriately, music can dramatically enhance any wedding. Be sure to use our web guide as well as your Celebrant and DJ/Musician(s) to help you plan a musical masterpiece!
Ok, now that you've got a better idea of where songs can be placed in a ceremony, let's learn more about what constitutes different kinds of ceremony music, and, let's start with prelude music.