Choosing songs for your wedding is a (hopefully!) fun and exciting process. But if you don't know where or how to start, it might be a little stressful. 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.
General processional: This is the song your wedding party - bridesmaids, groomsmen, parents, grandparents, flower girl, ring bearer, and anyone else who walks out ahead of you - will walk down the aisle to. I think it works best to pick something slow that flows well into the bridal march. If you have a very large wedding party, you might want to have two songs, one for your parents and grandparents and another for the bridesmaids/groomsmen.
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 march: This is the song for the bride's 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.
Note: I'm using heteronormative terms here, but this could just as easily be a groom's or grooms' march, or brides' march, or there could be none at all if you have one processional song for both the couple and wedding party.
Recessional: This is the song that starts either after your officiant announces you or as you have your first kiss as a married pair, that then 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, now we’re married, let’s party!” If you’re going all standard 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 lasts 30 minutes (8-12 songs). You're welcome to choose all of the songs, just a few, or give me some genre, artist, or decade guidelines.
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 song you really love. The music can be synced up to whatever is going on, or can be played in its entirety if you'd like.
Transitions: Short instrumental pieces can smooth things over while speakers are walking up and coming back down from the altar.
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.
Cocktail Hour Music and Beyond
For folks who book me for cocktail hour music and beyond, I typically expect to get through 15-20 songs per hour. Like the prelude music, you're welcome to choose all of the songs, just a few, or give me some genre, artist, or decade guidelines and let me run from there.
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 easily adapt the lyrics.
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 you and your partner only get one wedding - might as well make it personal and fun!