Wedding Ceremony Music and Beyond

Your style, your live music.

You’ve almost certainly noticed the wedding ceremony music at events you’ve attended but until now, probably didn’t pay that much attention to exactly when, where and how much music you’ll need.  We’ve got you covered.  Read on to learn about how music fits into your wedding celebration!

wedding ceremony music

Wedding Ceremony Music — Prelude

For the wedding ceremony, background music begins 15 to 30 minutes prior to the start of the ceremony.  This music is ambient but super important for setting the mood of your event.  After all, it is the first thing your guests will HEAR when they arrive at your venue.  What style do you want to create?  Exciting and upbeat?  Elegant and formal?  Eclectic?  Laid back?

We generally plan between 6 and 10 pieces of music to perform for this pre-ceremony time with a few extra selections in our books just in case things run late.

Wedding Ceremony Music — Processional

When the ceremony is ready to start, this is what we think of as the VIP music.  Often the guests are cued in that the ceremony is about to begin by the entrance of the officiant and will wait and watch quietly.  The term “Processional Music” is more simply put, the walking down the aisle songs and includes seating of parents and any grandparents, the groom’s entrance*, the procession of the bridesmaids and groomsmen and the bride* walking down the aisle.   If you’re keeping count that can be up to 4 separate songs**–though many couples choose to use the same song and have several of these groups enter to it.

  • Seating of Family
  • Groom’s Entrance* (if not entering with bride)
  • Bridal Party (Bridesmaids and Groomsmen)
  • Bride*/ Couple entrance

*For same sex weddings, often the wedding couple will enter together following the bridal party.

**For Catholic weddings, there are often additional musical pieces performed at a wedding.

Wedding Ceremony Music — How to Choose Your Songs

What songs work best for these important ceremony music moments?  It really depends on what style you want to create.  The two most classic, traditional wedding processional songs are Pachelbel’s Canon in D and the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin by Wagner (“Here Comes the Bride”).  Some couples don’t want to go with these songs but are concerned that guests won’t know to stand for the bride unless the traditional wedding march is played.   This concern can easily be handled by having the officiant invite guests to stand at the right moment.

There are many options for processional music.  If you’re using recorded music, you may want to think about picking a particular style of music so that there is consistency but if you’re going with live music, feel free to mix it up.  Having a traditional classical piece like Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring for your family seating followed by a contemporary piece for your bridal party like U2’s Beautiful Day is easy to pull of with style when you have a live string quartet or other musicians performing for your day because the overall sound will be consistent since it is played on the same instruments.

If you need ideas for songs, check out our repertoire lists for string quartet as well as our acoustic ensemble song lists.   With more than 500 custom arrangements of everything from pop to country to movie soundtracks to classical music, there’s sure to be something there to get your ideas going.  Most live music ensembles will perform songs from their current repertoire and may be willing to learn a new song for an additional fee.  At Effesenden Music, we include two new song arrangements with every reservation because we want to always be growing our song list and we want you to have music that really means something to you.

The most important factor in this decision is to ask yourself what songs will be really meaningful to you and your partner!

Wedding Ceremony Music — During the Ceremony . . .?

Many people wonder if they are supposed to have background music going during the ceremony.  The answer is generally no because your guests want to hear you say those “I dos!”  However, there are a few moments during a wedding ceremony when music can add a wonderful touch.  If you are having any special ritual ceremonies like a Unity Candle, Rose Ceremony, Sand Ceremony, Tree planting ceremony (one of our personal favorites here in Oregon), than having a special song played is a great idea.  You might also want to have an actual musical moment– whether that is having a friend sing a song for you or having your live musicians perform one of your favorite meaningful songs, it can be a great way to just pause and enjoy the moment.

Wedding Ceremony Music — Recessional

After you are pronounced as married, the music that you and your bridal party walk back down the aisle to is called the Recessional.  Couples choose everything from upbeat classical music to classic rock to popular music.  We often plan 2 songs for the recessional so that the music continues as your guests are dismissed.

Cocktail Hour

Many couples opt to extend their live music to the cocktail hour following the ceremony.  This is a great way to add a very special touch to the celebration.  Your guests will love being able to listen to live music while they chat and mingle.  Our typical cocktail hour playlist ranges from 12-15 songs and we create this list entirely based on our couples’ musical style.  Again, it has to do with what type of vibe you want to create.  At Effesenden, the two most popular options are the string quartet performing contemporary music– think Vitamin String Quartet– and the acoustic ensemble doing a mix of acoustic music and Celtic, Bluegrass– think Jack Johnson, Alison Krauss, Old Crow Medicine Show and Riverdance.  Whether you choose live music or recorded music for your cocktail hour, you want something fun and upbeat while at a volume level that allows guests to hear one another talking.  Here’s a quick rundown of moods that various musical styles create:

Jazz:  Classy, Vintage, Chic, Exciting

Classical:  (we suggest Baroque music) Fancy, Elegant

Bluegrass/Celtic:  Fun, Upbeat, Joyful, Casual

Pop Strings:  Hip, Eclectic, Modern, Chic

Acoustic:  Laid Back, Relaxed

Browse our song lists by genre and start making a list of your favorite songs.  Your perfect musical genre for your cocktail hour will soon be apparent!

Violin and Guitar Outdoor Wedding

Dinner Music

The key with dinner music is that you want it to be at a volume and intensity that does not get in the way of people talking–especially your older guests.  It can be really hard for them to hear if there is a ton of background noise and since having family all together is often one of the special things about a wedding, you want to make sure that everyone can have a good time!  Our favorite genres for dinner music are classical, jazz and slower more beautiful Americana and acoustic music.  Live music is a wonderful background for conversation if it is at the right volume.  Consider your venue and how many guests you’re expecting– if you have a very small space and a lot of guests, live music may be best presented by a solo instrument such as guitar, violin or cello.

Wedding Reception Music

There are many choices when it comes to wedding reception music.  DJs, Wedding Cover Bands, an iPod and a friend’s sound system, and other types of live music.  The biggest question to ask in deciding which direction to go is what you want to have happen during your reception.  If you want your guests to be on their feet dancing the night away, a dedicated wedding band or DJ is often the way to go.   Because our specialty at Effesenden is customization, many of our clients choose live reception music so that they can enjoy their favorite songs performed live by a string ensemble while having fun with family and friends.

Next Steps

Now you know the types of music that are typically a part of a wedding celebration.  If you want to explore using live music, the next step is to decide what type of instrumentation best matches your style.  You can read about Effesenden Music’s various musical options on our Ensembles page.  If you’re interested in checking availability and receiving a customized quote, please use the contact form to tell us about your wedding.  We’d love to help you select the right instruments to perform your perfect wedding music.


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