Weddings are musical events. “Here Comes the Bride” might be a little schmaltzy these days but the fact that we all recognize it is a testimony to how powerful wedding tunes can be.
So what should you play if you've been put in charge of the music?
It's too important to mess this up – what are the wedding songs you can't go wrong with?
You have options, but remember that whatever you play at your wedding is going to have associations for the rest of your life. Pick carefully from the following:
- Traditional wedding tunes
- Classic and sacred wedding songs
- “Oldies” and classic rock wedding tracks
- Musical and movie soundtrack selections
- Contemporary wedding tunes
Traditional Moments for Music at Weddings
You can have as much or as little music at your wedding as you want, obviously.
However, certain parts of the ceremony are traditionally accompanied by music. They tend to be the slower parts where no one’s speaking — it gives the guests something to enjoy, and covers up any awkward coughing or shuffling in the audience, so there’s a practical function here as well as a sentimental one.
In general, all of the following are traditionally musical moments:
- Prelude: A musical introduction played before the ceremony begins. This is a useful cue to the guests that things are about to get started. It helps quiet everyone down and gets them all in their seats and facing forward.
- Processional: The music played as someone, generally the bride, makes his or her way down the aisle. Both the bride and groom may use the same processional, or the groom may enter more quickly and in silence; if both parties have a different processional you’ll need either short music selections or a long aisle.
- Interlude: The music played during any silent or solemn moments in the ceremony. The lighting of the unity candle is the most common place for an interlude, but short ones can be useful any time there’s a pause in the ceremony.
- Recessional: The music played as the bride and groom depart from the altar.
- First dance: The music for the bride and groom’s first dance. This “opens” the dancing for everyone else, and is usually done with only the bride and the groom on the floor.
- Father/daughter dance: An optional tradition these days, the second dance is usually reserved for the father of the bride and the bride, with the groom and the mother of the groom sometimes accompanying. It’s becoming less common as gender roles grow less strict, but may still require a “special” song.
- Reception dancing: The playlist for the dancing after the wedding, if desired. If you’re going to have dancing at the reception, you should generally include enough music to fill at least a few hours.
Different ceremonies may have additional pieces of music, such as the hymns at a Catholic wedding mass or the zaffa dance in an Egyptian processional.
Laid-back planners can omit music entirely, but it robs the ceremony of something the guests are primed to expect, and you give up the handy cueing effect of well-timed songs.
Traditional Wedding Songs
These are the hoary old chestnuts of the wedding world — the ones every band knows how to play and every DJ has at the top of his or her catalog.
They’re crowd-pleasers, but risk seeming overdone or tacky if you cram too many into the wedding. No one needs to hear “Here Comes the Bride,” sing “Amazing Grace,” and go do the Chicken Dance all in one wedding. That’s just too much schmaltz for anyone.
All I Ask of You – from The Phantom of the Opera
Amazing Grace – trad. hymn
As Time Goes By – Frank Sinatra
Ave Maria – Franz Schubert
Bridal Chorus – from Lohengrin by Richard Wagner (the “Here Comes the Bride” music)
Canon in D – Johann Pachelbel
Chicken Dance – Emeralds
I Got You Babe – Sonny & Cher
I’m a Believer – The Monkees
Moondance – Van Morrison
Time of Your Life – Green Day
Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Classical and Sacred Wedding Songs
Classical music is perfect for couples that want a dignified, traditional feel. Some pieces are instantly recognizable, while others will be things that most of your guests don’t know, but that feel applicable to the situation.
There are literally hundreds of hymns and sacred tunes that can also work at a wedding; we’ve included a handful that are traditionally played, or that were written specifically as wedding music.
Air from Suite for Orchestra No. 3 (also “Air on the G-String) – Johann Sebastian Bach
All People That on Earth Do Dwell – trad. hymn
Andante from Divertimento No. 1 – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Arioso – Johann Sebastian Bach
Ave Maria – Franz Schubert
Ave Verum Corpus – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Bagatelle No. 25 (the “Für Elise”) – Ludwig van Beethoven
Be Thou my Vision – trad. hymn
Blest Be the Tie that Binds – trad. hymn
Bolero and Toreador – from Carmen by Maurice Ravel
Fanfare-Rondeau – Jean-Joseph Mouret
Fantasie for Organ in F – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
For the Beauty of the Earth – trad. hymn
Freude schöner Götterfunken (the “Ode to Joy”) – Ludwig van Beethoven, from Symphony No. 9
Hornpipe from Suite in F Major (the “Water Music”) – George Frederic Handel
Jesus bleibet meine Freude – Johann Sebastian Bach
Minuet in G Major – Johann Sebastian Bach
O Perfect Love – trad. hymn
Prince of Denmark’s March – Jeremiah Clarke (frequently misattributed as Trumpet Voluntary by Henry Purcell)
Quasi una fantasia (the “MoonlightSonata”) – Ludwig van Beethoven
Spring from Four Seasons – Antonio Vivaldi
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – Johann Sebastian Bach
Wedding March – from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn
“Oldies” and Classic Rock Wedding Songs
These upbeat numbers usually make up the bulk of a wedding DJ’s selections. The tunes are widely known, which makes them easier for the untrained to dance to — they’ve already got the rhythm internalized, and just need to sway along.
All You Need Is Love – The Beatles
Always and Forever – Heatwave
At Last – Etta James
Can’t Help Falling in Love – Elvis Presley
Can’t Smile Without You – Barry Manilow
Cherish – The Association
Close to You – The Carpenters
Come Rain or Come Shine – Ray Charles
Dream a Little Dream – The Mamas and the Papas
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic – The Police
Forever and Ever, Amen – Randy Travis
Going to the Chapel of Love – The Dixie Cups
Happy Together – The Turtles
I Just Called to Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder
I’ll Be There – The Jackson 5
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing – The Four Aces
More Than A Feeling – Boston
My Girl – The Temptations
She’s Always a Woman – Billy Joel
That’s Amore – Dean Martin
The Way You Look Tonight – Frank Sinatra
Unforgettable – Nat King Cole
We’ve Only Just Begun – The Carpenters
When a Man Loves a Woman – Percy Sledge
Wild Thing – The Troggs
Wonderful Tonight – Eric Clapton
Musical and Movie Soundtrack Selections for Weddings
Typical songs from musicals have the advantage of telling a classic story (or at least part of one). The lyrics tend to be more front-and-center than in rock and roll, with fewer background instrumentals.
On the flip side, they’re also not necessarily meant to be danced to — many are sung with the performer planted in one spot on stage. The slower, more dramatic ones work better as processionals, recessionals, preludes, and other ceremonial moments than as reception dances.
As a side note, it’s always worth Googling a show tune before you use it in any ceremonial capacity. Make sure the song’s really about what you think it’s about, and that it doesn’t have any unhappy associations from the plot of the musical. You don’t want your guests wondering why you chose the piece a character sings right before he or she dies for your wedding march…
(You’re) Timeless to Me – from Hairspray
Always, Always You – from Carnival
As Long As You’re Mine – from Wicked
Can You Feel the Love Tonight – from The Lion King
Celebration March – from Star Wars: A New Hope
Getting Married Today – from Company
Hopelessly Devoted to You – from Grease
If I Loved You – from Carousel
Main Theme – from Indiana Jones
One Hand, One Heart – from West Side Story
Some Enchanted Evening – from South Pacific
Somewhere – from West Side Story
Storybook Love – from The Princess Bride
Sun and Moon – from Miss Saigon
Sunrise, Sunset – from Fiddler on the Roof
Wedding Song – from Threepenny Opera
You’re the One That I Want – from Grease
Contemporary Wedding Songs
If you need an updated feel, you probably care enough about music to have lots of ideas and suggestions of your own — but here are a few contemporary, alternative, hip hop, and indie options that can work well in weddings.
Not all your guests may be familiar with these, especially older relatives, but they’re a good way to keep the sound updated, especially at the reception dancing.
#1 Crush – Garbage
Belle Star – Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris
Between the Bars – Elliott Smith
Crazy In Love – Beyonce
Encore – Jaz-Z
Got Your Back – T.I.
Grow Old with Me – Mary Chapin Carpenter
Hesitating Beauty – Billy Bragg and Wilco
Hoy Hey – The Lumineers
I Do – Colbie Caillat
I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
It Takes Two – Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock
Least Complicated – Indigo Girls
Like a Prayer – Madonna
Love Story – Taylor Swift
Lover of the Light – Mumford & Sons
My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
On Bended Knee – Boyz II Men
Overjoyed – Matchbox Twenty
Stereo Hearts – Gym Class Heroes
The Way You Move – Outkast
This I Promise You – *NSYNC
We Found Love – Rihanna
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? – She & Him
You and I – Ingrid Michaelson
There you have it, gents. Over 100 songs you can't go wrong with at a wedding or any of the wedding events outside of the ceremony. Whichever ones you choose, make it a day to remember!
Want to know more about how to make a wedding a day to remember? Click here to discover my ultimate guide to wedding attire for men.