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Behind the Music: The Parts of a Wedding

After the date has been set, the flowers have been ordered, and the dress has been fitted, the focus of wedding planning turns to the more intricate details of the ceremony and reception — especially music.

Music helps set the tone for the entire event, whether it’s traditional, contemporary or religious. Many couples have a favorite style or level of formality in mind, but often struggle to find exactly the right music. It doesn’t have to be a chore, says Aaron Mauldin of Aaron’s DJ Services in Kern County, CA.

“A wedding ceremony is essentially a symbolic event, an action devised to portray the beginning of a lifelong love and commitment,” says Mauldin. “Music that reflects the couple’s style and personality only enhances the meaning of the event. It’s your wedding; it should be your music.” As long as you choose music that is important to you, your ceremony will hit all the right notes.

To make planning go more smoothly, approach it systematically by breaking it down by the parts of the ceremony and choosing one or two songs for each section. Here are some things to keep in mind as you plan each part of the ceremony:


The prelude music sets the tone – it’s the first thing people hear as they enter the venue and take their seats. Do you want to play traditional, formal melodies that set a hushed, reverent tone? Or would you rather encourage your guests to interact with each other by playing upbeat or casual music? “I have had brides create a medley of their favorite Jack Johnson songs to play as their guests arrive,” says Mauldin. “Personalized touches really make the day special.”

Here are a few popular prelude options:

  • Air (from Water Music) – Handel
  • Air on a G String – J.S. Bach
  • Reminiscent Joy – The O’Neill Brothers
  • I Can Only Imagine – Mercyme
  • Largo – Handel
  • The Wedding Song – Kenny G
  • Wachet Auf – J.S. Bach


One of the most important scene-setting decisions you can make is the song or songs you choose for the processional. Some couples choose just one processional piece that’s played while the bridesmaids and the bride enter the venue, with the musicians pausing momentarily or increasing the volume just before the bride enters. Other couples choose to add heightened focus and drama by selecting multiple processional pieces (for the mothers being seated, for the groom’s entrance, for the bridesmaids, for the bride). Regardless, the processional officially “announces” the start of the ceremony and brings the guests to attention.

Today, the processional is about anticipation and suspense – particularly in situations where the bride has not been seen by anyone prior to the start of her walk down the aisle. The joyful, accompanying music reflects the pride and joy being exhibited by parents and family members on the couple’s special day, and serves as a backdrop to the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from invited guests as they see the bride as they’ve never seen her before.

A little drama is great, but it’s easy to get a little carried away. We heard about one bride who walked down the aisle to O Fortuna from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Featured in dozens of action flicks for the can’t-be-ignored drama of its hundreds-strong orchestra and choir, it probably blew the doors right off the church.

Consider one of these tunes for your processional:

  • Bridal Chorus (Here Comes the Bride) – Wagner
  • Canon in F – The O’Neill Brothers
  • Hymne – Vangelis
  • Canon in D – Pachelbel
  • Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – J. S. Bach
  • Trumpet Voluntary – Clarke


During the ceremony itself, music can express how you feel about each other as perfectly as your vows — sometimes even more so. How do you want to communicate those feelings to your guests? Some people choose the traditional simplicity of hymns. Others take a more contemporary route. We know one couple that had their pianist play a beautiful instrumental version of an AC/DC tune during the ceremony. It’s a novel idea — just run it by your wedding coordinator or celebrant first.

Of course, if Angus Young isn’t exactly your style, here are some more traditional choices for the ceremony:

  • Ave Maria – Schubert
  • How Beautiful – Paris
  • I Will be Here – Chapman
  • Panis Angelicus – Franck
  • The Gift of Love – (Water is Wide melody)
  • The Prayer – Sager, Foster
  • The Wedding Song (There is Love) – Stookey

One additional suggestion: be consistent. Either choose prerecorded music for the whole ceremony, or go for live music, but don’t mix and match. It can get a little jarring if you switch back and forth.


The music you choose for your recessional speaks to your relationship going forward together. It’s the culmination of the entire ceremony, and is often fast-paced and upbeat. Traditional songs full of drama and verve work well, or this is a great place to insert a contemporary tune. One couple chose Nothin’s Gonna Stop us Now by Starship, played on the organ.

Some other options include:

  • Finale (from Water Music) – Handel
  • Ode to Joy – Beethoven
  • Spring (from The Four Seasons) – Vivaldi
  • Trumpet Tune – Purcell
  • The Wedding March (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) – Mendelssohn

Whichever songs you decide on for the different parts of your wedding ceremony, remember that it’s just that: your wedding ceremony. From the prelude to the recessional and everywhere in between, choose tunes that evoke positive feelings for you as husband and wife. If the music is meaningful to you, that’s all that matters.

You might want to think twice about O Fortuna, though…