Ultimate Wedding Music Guide

By  Tommy Peske
Updated on 02/20/24
Ultimate Wedding Music Guide

Ultimate Wedding Music Guide

By  Tommy Peske
Updated on 02/20/24

Part of the Wedding

Ultimate Wedding Music Guide

By  Tommy Peske
Updated on 02/20/24

Just like the best movies feature incredible soundtracks, weddings are elevated by the right music. “The songs you select will set the overall tone for your special day so it’s crucial for the bride and groom to both contribute to the playlist”, says John Anderson, co-founder of Life Line Wedding. Choose wisely and you’ll be brought back to that emotional, unbeatable moment every time you hear the music throughout your marriage. 

So of course a lot of thought goes into choosing wedding music. Some couples split the decisions or work together to select each one. Maybe your partner has given you the entire responsibility, or you’ve asked to pick for certain moments.

No matter how you’ve ended up choosing your wedding music, we’re here to help. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to make a nuptial tracklist with the best wedding songs. 
Couple dancing under a disco ball

Types of Wedding Music

Wedding music comes in all shapes and forms, from DIY playlists to elaborate bands. And you may have different types for different parts of your day. 

Here are the most common types of music you’ll see at weddings: 

  • Recorded Music – this is usually the lowest cost option and gives you limitless possibilities for song choices. You can play your own DIY playlist or hire a DJ. 
  • Acoustic Musician or Vocalist – a live musician will have a limited repertoire of songs but may offer to learn new ones for you. This is typically pretty affordable since it will just be one person, and sometimes you may have a talented guest willing to perform at your ceremony.
  • Live Instrumental – this can range from a guitarist to a string quartet. Many instrumental musicians play both classical and contemporary songs. Costs for this will vary greatly depending on what you have. Bringing a piano to a remote location? Super pricey. Having an ukulele artist come out for a beach wedding? Simple and affordable. 
  • Wedding Band – This is typically an expensive option, especially if they need to bring in their sound equipment, but they will add a lot of pizzazz to your reception. If your ceremony and reception are in the same place, they can also play songs for your walk down the aisle. 

Every Musical Wedding Moment, And How Many Songs to Choose

If you’ve hired a professional DJ or musician, you don’t need to choose a song for every moment of the wedding. Instead, you’ll select some key tunes you want to play at particular times. 

Below, we’ve included the most significant moments of weddings and how to choose your songs for each one. From the moment guests arrive until the final send-off, we’ve got you covered.

The Prelude

  • WHAT IS IT: The time before the ceremony when guests get settled in. If one partner isn’t making a big entrance, they can also get in place with the minister at this time. 
  • HOW LONG DOES IT LAST: Anywhere from 5-30 minutes, depending on when you have your musician arrive. 
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: Romantic or cheery background music. Frequently this is only instrumental, since guests will be mingling and relaxing as they find their seats. 
  • HOW MANY SONGS TO CHOOSE: One song max. Some couples will pick the song just before the ceremony begins. Otherwise, just let the musician or DJ choose the pieces. 
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS: Clair de Lune, What a Wonderful World, Make You Feel My Love

The Processional

  • WHAT IS IT: The processional is the official start of the ceremony, when everyone walks down the aisle. You can have one partner, grandparents, parents, flower girls, and ring bearers walk in at this time, or you can keep it simple with just a couple of entrances. 
  • HOW LONG DOES IT LAST: 2-7 minutes, depending on how many people walk in and how long the aisle is. 
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: Romantic and hopeful, yet somewhat slow – it’s marking the beginning of the serious part of the wedding day. This is where you will hear the classic wedding songs.
  • HOW MANY SONGS TO CHOOSE: 1-2. Typically you’ll have a single song for the parents and bridesmaids/groomsmen to walk in with. If you have a big group, you can choose one piece for the parents/grandparents and another for the bridal party. 
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS: Canon in D, Stand by Me, Thinking Out Loud

The Grand Entrance

  • WHAT IS IT: The Grand Entrance (or bridal entrance) is technically part of the processional, but we’re giving it its own section since it’s such an important moment. This is when one or both partners make their big walk down the aisle. You can enter separately, walk in together, or have one partner waiting at the altar while the other makes a show-stopping arrival. 
  • HOW LONG DOES IT LAST: 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on whether one or both partners enter and how long the aisle is. 
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: Grand, romantic, and meaningful. This is the ultimate moment for a wedding.
  • HOW MANY SONGS TO CHOOSE: 1. You might choose two different songs if you’re both making a grand entrance, but that’s a bold choice that will take up extra time in your ceremony.
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS: The Bridal Chorus, Can’t Help (Falling in Love With You), A Thousand Years

Couple walking into their wedding

The Recessional

  • WHAT IS IT: It’s your walk back up the aisle after the ceremony. The newlyweds lead the recessional, followed by any wedding party and then the parents. Afterward, guests get up to move to the cocktail hour or reception.  
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: Happy and celebratory
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS: The Wedding March, This Will Be (An Everlasting Love), I Choose You

Cocktail Hour

  • WHAT IS IT: The time between the ceremony and dinner when guests have cocktails and appetizers. The newlyweds typically take photos during this time. 
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: Relaxed and festive background music
  • HOW LONG DOES IT LAST: 30 minutes to an hour
  • HOW MANY SONGS TO CHOOSE: None, just let the musician or DJ do their thing
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS: A DJ may ask if you’d like a particular genre of music, while a musician will play their typical setlist

The Reception Entrance

  • WHAT IS IT: Usually the newlyweds and the wedding party will make a fun grand entrance into the reception. 
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: Super fun – this is the official start of the reception, the *fun* part of the wedding.
  • HOW LONG DOES IT LAST: A minute or so
  • HOW MANY SONGS TO CHOOSE: 1 – 2, depending on if you want a separate song for the newlyweds. 
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS: 24K magic, You Make My Dreams (Come True), Signed Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours)

Dinner Music

  • WHAT IS IT: When everyone sits down to eat
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: Happy background music
  • HOW LONG DOES IT LAST: 1-2 hours, depending on your group size and if it’s plated or buffet dinner
  • HOW MANY SONGS TO CHOOSE: none; just let the professional cover this stretch of music
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS: A DJ may ask what genre of music you prefer, while a live musician or band may stick to instrumentals so everyone can talk during dinner. 

The First Dance

  • WHAT IS IT: When the newlyweds dance together at the reception
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: The first dance song is usually slow & romantic, but some couples mix things up by doing a choreographed dance to an upbeat song
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS:  At Last, Unchained Melody, All of Me

Couple enjoying the first dance

Parent Dance

  • WHAT IS IT: When one or both of the newlyweds dance with their parents. For example, a father/daughter dance or a mother/son dance
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: It can be upbeat or emotional, whichever you prefer
  • HOW MANY SONGS TO CHOOSE: 1 or 2. Sometimes only one partner dances with a parent, or both will dance at once to the same song. Or you can do two separate dances. Some weddings skip parent dances altogether, so that’s an option too. 
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS: Because You Loved Me, Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World, Sweet Child O’ Mine

Dance Party

  • WHAT IS IT: This is the part of the reception when the dance floor floods.
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: Super fun music with a great rhythm for a dance party
  • HOW LONG DOES IT LAST: 1 to 3 hours, depending on how long you have the venue booked for and how much your guests will enjoy dancing
  • HOW MANY SONGS TO CHOOSE:  0-2. You may have a couple of dance wedding songs you want to hear, but for the most part, you should leave it to the professionals. 
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Uptown Funk, Wobble

The Send Off

  • WHAT IS IT: The final song of the night. It may be the last song on the dance floor before the lights turn up, or it could be playing as you and your new spouse make a grand exit.
  • WHAT IS THE VIBE: Whatever you want! It can be super upbeat or super romantic. Choose a hit dance anthem or a dramatic ballad. 
  • HOW MANY SONGS TO CHOOSE: 0-1, You may have something special in mind, or you can leave it up to your band or DJ
  • POPULAR SELECTIONS: Firework, Don’t Stop Believing, Wonderful Tonight

Newlyweds kissing

FAQS About Wedding Music Choices

Still not sure about your wedding music selection? Here are some FAQS and advice to get your planning on track!

  • When should I make my song selection?

You should pick your songs early in the planning but wait until closer to the day to finalize them. Ask your musician or DJ when they need your selection. 

  • Do I have to select a song for each of those moments?

No! You don’t have to make any song selections if you’re hiring a DJ or professional musician. They can choose beautiful music that fits the vibe of your wedding.

  • What if I’m making a DIY wedding playlist?

Then you will need to hand select each song for the entire wedding day, and assign a guest who can manage it for you. You can turn to Spotify for ideas. 

  • How can I get ideas for music?

Think of songs that are meaningful to you as a couple. It could be hits the year you started dating, or a bop you always sing along to together. Some couples include pieces that were played at their parents’ or grandparents’ weddings, or music from their favorite movies. 

You can choose super popular wedding songs or obscure ones, as long as it’s music you like. 

Wedding music

Creating a Memorable Wedding Playlist

Now that you know what moments need music at your wedding, it’s time to curate your soundtrack. This should be a fun task, so try not to overthink it, and let your partner have a say in it also. The music should represent your day and your relationship –  it shouldn’t put a damper on either one. 

As you decide on your wedding day music, you’ll soon find that you’re not only creating a playlist, but you’re also tying an incredible memory to some of your favorite songs.

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