Ceremony song length has been addressed in other parts of our site, and particularly in the rehearsal section.
Here, we'd like to take a more in-depth look at all of the possible places you could have music, and suggest appropriate song lengths for each of those places...
Songs can be played from start to finish at full length.
2) Preparation of the Altar by Members of the Family:
This light, softly played instrumental should last only as long as it takes to prepare the altar. It should then be slowly faded out.
3) Seating of the VIPs:
Again, this song should last only as long as it takes to seat the VIPs, and for the ushers (or whoever escorts them) to return to their stations. If two different songs are used (e.g. one for the grandparents and one for the mothers) each song should be faded out immediately after the VIPs are seated and the escorts have returned from whence they came.
4) Immediately Before the Processional and/or As the Groom/Groomsmen and the Celebrant Take Their Place at the Front of the Ceremony Site:
If this song is simply being used for the appearance of the Groom and Celebrant, it can be ended as soon as they are in place. If you are choosing a special song specifically as a "pre-processional", we recommend this song to be around two to three minutes in length. A "pre-processional" can serve as a heads-up to the bridal party that the procession is about to begin, and two to three minutes will be enough time for them to get ready. Also, if the Groom and Celebrant are waiting at the front of the assembly, you don't want them waiting there for too long.
5) Entrance of the Bridal Party:
This music should be played only as long as it takes the Bridal Party to assume their places at the front of the assembly. It should be timed or edited to fade in at an appropriate place in the song. Also, it should be timed to begin no more than a few seconds before the first member of the Party begins to process.
6) Entrance of the Bride:
Again, this music should be played only as long as it takes the Bride to reach her place at the front of the assembly, next to the Groom. Very important: This music should be continued through the point where the Bride's escort hands the Bride off to the Groom, the escort has returned to his/her seat, and the Bride looks like she's comfortable, and ready to proceed with the ceremony. If the Bride's veil or dress needs to be adjusted, then the music should continue through that adjustment.
Bottom line: the music continues until whatever needs to be done has been done to get the Bride standing comfortably next to the Groom, ready to proceed with the ceremony. The song should then be ended or faded in an appropriate spot.
If there is a "fanfare" before the main processional song, it should be one that lasts no more than 25 seconds max. Most fanfares are short pieces between 10 and 20 seconds long. One of the main reasons for a fanfare is to create a dramatic effect just before the entrance of the bride, and we think that once you get beyond 25 seconds you've extended the fanfare a bit too long and the dramatic effect begins to fade.
7) During Readings:
This may seem obvious, but the low volume instrumental music used for a reading should play for at least the length of the reading. Ordinarily, it should begin when the reader is ready to begin [in fact, the reader can signal the DJ/Musician(s) that he or she is ready to begin] and it should fade once the reading is over. The DJ/Musician(s) would start the song just prior to (i.e. a couple of seconds before) the reader beginning, but this can be negotiated during the rehearsal.
In some situations, the song may begin more than a few seconds before the reader starts, and the reader would commence at some pre-arranged part of the song. This would be done purely as a theatrical measure to heighten the impact of the reading. An experienced DJ/Musician will be able to assist with the appropriate timing for background music for the readings.
8) After the Readings and/or the Celebrant's Address:
Here, you're probably looking for about two to three minutes of music - and that goes for most interlude songs. An interlude song that is too short can lose it's impact, and one that is too long can make your guests and bridal party impatient or worse, uncomfortable. Two or three minutes seems to hit the spot!
9) Just Prior to the Exchange of Vows and/or Rings:
This, again, would qualify as an interlude song. Two or three minutes would be best.
10) During the Exchange of Vows and/or Rings:
(See #7 above) Everything that applies to the background music for readings applies here.
11) Immediately After the Exchange of Vows and/or Rings:
Here, we have another interlude song. Everything that applies to #s 8 & 9 above applies here.
12) During the Lighting of the Unity Candle or Another Ritual:
The music should last the length of the ritual. Some rituals, like the presentation of roses to VIPs, can last a minute or less. Others, like Holy Communion, can last up to 7 or 8 minutes. In the case of a lengthy ritual, it is certainly appropriate to choose two songs, rather than have the music run out before the ritual is done. And if, for example, you have a particularly large number of guests receiving Communion, it would even be appropriate to give your DJ/Musicians a third song to use in case they need it.
13) After the Affirmation of the Community or Blessing of the Parents:
The length of this uplifting or inspirational music piece should be the same as that for other interlude songs - two or three minutes.
14) Exit of the Bridal Party:
The upbeat, celebratory music of the recessional should last as long as it takes for your bridal party and guests to leave the ceremony area. If you have lots of guests, you may need a couple of songs, so be sure that your DJ/Musician(s) have an extra song to use if needed.
The same principles apply here as to the Prelude (#1 above). Full-length songs can be played for the entire postlude regardless of whether it is just a couple of tunes after the recessional, or music that will carry you through a receiving line and photos.
What If My Guests Are Singing?
If your guests will be joining you in any of the interlude songs, we still think the basic principle of two to three minutes per song applies. Let's say, for example, your guests will be singing a joyous song after they affirm your marriage. Certainly, when everyone is singing, you won't have the problem of the musical interlude being too boring.
Listening is passive, while singing is active, and getting the crowd involved through singing greatly reduces any boredom effect. Still, having them sing for more than about three minutes is risky. Our experience has shown us that while crowds will often start off singing enthusiastically, the enthusiasm begins to fade after about the third verse. Better to keep it shorter.
A Practical Question About Interlude Song Length
As you were reading above about interlude songs being two or three minutes long, you may have had this question... (And even if you didn't, we are going to ask it for you now)...
"OK, you say an interlude song should be two to three minutes long, but we're using mostly recorded popular music for my ceremony, and the songs we want to use are more than three minutes long. Is it ok to use them anyway?" Our qualified answer is "sure." Just don't use too many of them or any that are excessively long. Also, remember that you can have your DJ edit or fade the song in an appropriate spot.
As indicated in the above article, instrumental selections can be used at many points in the ceremony. So, let's find out a little more about instrumental music for your ceremony.