Wedding Ceremony Music: A How-To Guide, Part III

by Diane Michaels

In parts I & II of this series of posts about planning your wedding ceremony music, you learned why and how to round up a herd of musicians for your wedding ceremony. You’re shaking your head because you haven’t read the previous posts yet? Here’s Part I of my wedding ceremony music guide —take your time catching up.

The Musical Elements of Your Ceremony

Now that you’ve gathered up your musicians, what are you going to do with them? We’ve got to figure out what’s going on with your ceremony and plug the music into it. Basically, a wedding ceremony goes like this:

1. People gather (The Prelude)

2. The people getting married take their places (The Processional)

3. They get married (The Ceremony)

4. The couple leaves the altar (The Recessional)

5. Everyone runs off in search of alcohol and yummy fried hors d’ouvres.

The Prelude

Where you get married, and how many guests attend will impact what music you’ll want for your prelude and how long it should last. If you have 50 guests in a chapel, they will likely be a quiet and contemplative group. If you invite 500 guests to your wedding at a catering hall and offer them champagne upon arrival, expect them to be louder. To serenade the former group during the prelude, you can ask the musicians to play slower pieces or songs. When you have a more animated gathering of guests like in the second scenario, the music needs to balance the sound of 500 people chatting. A larger ensemble playing music that is neither too slow nor too fast will match the ambiance created by your guests.

One decision that impacts the length of your prelude is whether there is immediate seating or not. If your guests can enter the room at the time stated on your invitation, hire the musicians to begin the prelude at that time. If your invitation states the festivities begin at 11:00, but the doors to your ceremony room will not open until 11:15, for instance, hire your musicians to begin the prelude at 11:15. However, if you anticipate a large crowd will gather earlier than 11:15, you have the option of providing arrival music wherever the guests are gathering first. Your musicians will need to move into the ceremony room five minutes before the doors open to set up and be ready to begin playing the prelude when the guests enter.

The Processional

Processionals can be as unique as the couple getting married. Click To Tweet Who walks down the aisle and in what order has its roots in traditional ceremonies, but ultimately, you get to choreograph your processional to suit your vision. There is no hard and fast rule regarding how many pieces or songs to use for the processional, but if at least one of the people getting married is walking down the aisle and will be the last to enter after the bridal party has processed, then choose two pieces. Switch music for the bride (or groom) —whoever processes last.

I would recommend selecting more than one piece if you have eight or more individuals or pairs of people in the bridal party walking down a short aisle or if you have at least six people/couples walking down a long aisle.

The Ceremony

Once the musicians play the last note of the processional when all are present and accounted for at the altar or in their seats, the ceremony begins. Mostly, this part is all about talking, but there are plenty of ways to include a musical interlude or underscore.

I recommend you begin building the elements of your ceremony with your celebrant and then invite your bandleader to help fit music into the ceremony. If you want your ceremony to be short and sweet, you may opt out of musical interludes. On the other end of the spectrum, long services like wedding masses have tons of spots reserved for music.

It is beneficial to add music during the lighting of the unity candle at an outdoor ceremony. It’s not uncommon for the wind to interfere in this process. A musical underscore keeps long moments with little action for the guests to watch from becoming awkward.


(JK – there isn’t a 7th inning stretch during wedding ceremonies)

The Recessional

Most of the time, you only need to pick one piece for your recessional. Some ceremonies end with a kiss, some with the presentation of the couple, and Jewish weddings end with the breaking of a glass, followed by a shout of mazel tov from the guests. People usually greet each of these endings with cheering and applause, the perfect point for the musicians to begin playing.

The Postlude

Occasionally, time remains between the end of the recessional and the end of the musicians’ contract. Having the music continue while the guests leave the ceremony keeps the mood festive. Be sure to account for this additional time when setting the times for your contract. You won’t need a postlude if your ceremony musicians are playing the cocktail hour. They will play you out, pack up, and move to the next room in order to begin the cocktail hour in a timely fashion.

Do you have more questions about wedding ceremony music? For in-depth answers to all of your questions about planning the perfect music for your wedding ceremony, get a free copy of From Here Comes the Bride to There Go the Grooms by Diane Michaels


Would you like to receive blog posts and exclusive content directly in your inbox?

Sign up for my mailing list, and as a bonus, I’ll send you a free short story!

3 thoughts on “Wedding Ceremony Music: A How-To Guide, Part III

  1. Thank you so much for sorting how to maintain the music part in a wedding. It’d be very much helpful (at least for me) in planning how the music will go on with the ambiance.I always prefer bland music when guests are talking each other. It is gentle and not annoying of course. 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Reverend Michael. I agree with you. We don’t want the prelude music to be so invigorating people begin dancing in the aisles!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *