joyelle West Photography

Choosing Your Wedding Music

Choosing songs for your wedding is a (hopefully) fun and easy process, but if you’re already bogged down with a million decisions, it might be a little stressful. I’ll try to break it down for you here!

Most weddings feature 3-4 songs during the ceremony, then some additional music before and after. Here are definitions and general guidelines to get you going, but bear in mind that this all very customizable.


General processional:  This is the song your wedding party walks out to (parents, friends, siblings, little flower/ring people - whoever is dressing up and processing out before you!). I think it works best to pick something slow that flows well into the bridal/groom’s/couple’s march. If you have a very large wedding party, you might want to have two songs, such as one song for your parents and grandparents and another for the attendants and/or children.

Small wedding alternative:  If you have a very small wedding party, you might not want a separate processional song at all, but rather one song for both wedding party and bride(s) and/or groom(s).

Bridal/groom’s/couple’s march: This is the most important song in the ceremony, because it’s the one that plays while either one or both of you walk down the aisle! I think it works best if it’s on the slower side, but the most important thing is that you love it. Many people go for the traditional "Canon in D", but just as many (if not more) of the couples I work with pick a cover song with or without vocals, or a Celtic song or tune.

Recessional:  This is the song that starts after your officiant declares you officially married or as you share your first kiss. It continues to play while you and your wedding party all exit. It's best if it's something upbeat, happy and joyful - something that says, “Yay, we’re married, now let’s party!” If you’re going all traditional classical for the ceremony, this is a good time to slip in a well-known cover song to help transition into the reception.

Small wedding alternative:  If you're having a very small wedding with just parents and a few close friends, following your ceremony with your first dance might work even better than having a standard recessional.

Prelude music:  The music that I play before your ceremony while guests arrive, typically for 30-45 minutes. I try to match the mood and style of the songs chosen for the ceremony, and typically keep things on the slow and pretty side. Where appropriate, I mix in songs recognizable to both younger and older crowds.

Postlude music:  The music that I play after the recessional song while your guests exit. Typically 1-3 additional songs, but can last longer if you're sticking around to have photos taken.

Optional Mid-Ceremony Music Additions

Mid-ceremony musical interludes:  Ring blessings, hand-fasting ceremonies, unity candle lightings, sand pouring ceremonies, or other rituals in the middle of the ceremony are all great times to add in music since they're often otherwise silent. Something fairly calm and not too distracting is preferable, but it can also be a good way to feature another vocal song you really love. A song can be arranged to begin and end with whatever is going on, or it can be played in its entirety.

Transitions:  Short instrumental pieces can smooth things over while speakers are walking up and coming back down from the altar, especially in larger venues.

Music during the entire ceremony:  Another option you can consider is having me play light instrumental music, volume turned down on my amplifier, throughout the entire ceremony. Not a common choice, but it’s worked well a few times.

Cocktail Hour Music and Beyond

This is typically the time for the crowd-pleasing upbeat songs! I most often play a mix of old and new cover songs, and if requested, include some well-known Celtic or Irish pub songs as well. You’re more than welcome to give me some “must plays” or “please do NOT plays” to help guide my programming.

How to Choose Your Songs

If you have songs in mind already, great! But if you're not sure, here's what I suggest: 

Think about the overall vibe you want. Do you want all instrumental, songs with vocals, or a mix? Do you want to keep it traditional with the classical standards? Traditional with a twist? All contemporary? Rustic and folky? Do you want to honor your families’ heritage, or would you like the music to say something about you as a couple? Do you want to honor your parents by walking down the aisle to the same song they did?

Tell me your favorite artists. They might have a great wedding-appropriate song you haven’t thought of, or perhaps you have a couple of favorite songs, but you don’t think the lyrics are ceremony-appropriate. I could do an instrumental version or adapt the lyrics, or it might just give me some good insight into your tastes so I can make suggestions.

Don't feel like you need to choose "conventional" wedding songs! Some of my favorite requests have been totally non-standard, like The Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" and The White Stripes' "Hotel Yorba". There's certainly nothing wrong with the classics, but it’s your wedding - might as well make it personal and fun!