Tips for Planning Your Wedding Music
By Ryan Smith
Sept 6, 2021
Hello, I'm Ryan Smith and I'm a full-time solo cellist, composer, and producer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have planned music and performed for over one-hundred weddings, and it's my pleasure to share this overview with you while hopefully inspiring ideas for your wedding day!
Pre-ceremony music ambience
Live wedding ceremony music (and delicious food) are beautiful ways to express love and appreciation for your wedding guests, while also expressing the joyful love between you and your spouse. I begin playing for your guests 45 minutes before the time on the invitation, as some will arrive this early. Even in New Mexico :-) Many more guests will arrive about 30 minutes early.
The pre-ceremony sets the tone for the entire day! And as Robert Fripp famously said, "music is the wine that fills the cup of silence." My pre-ceremony specialty is calmness and romance, even if your wedding is running a bit late (which is to be expected, honestly!). Guests can settle into the day with a sense of reflection and sweetness, or a more lively and lighter atmosphere. It's up to you - a few descriptive words, genres, or song titles and I'll bring it to life! (Listen at Music)
Processional music tips
The goal is for each Processional group to be at their places before their song ends. Your musician will work with you to ensure the songs you've chosen are long enough, and conversely, that you don't have too many songs. Just a happy medium, which is often 1 or 2 Processional songs.
Consider: Officiant, Parents, Grandparents, Wedding Party, Flower Children, Ring Bearer, and the first spouse.
Pro tip: give your musicians a backup Processional song - just in case it's needed.
Most Popular Processional songs: A Thousand Years, All of Me, A Tale As Old As Time, Canon in D, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, I Can’t Help Falling In Love, In Case You Didn’t Know, Perfect
Usually 30-45 seconds, which is about 25% of most songs. The great news is there's always an attractive option for having your favorite song. For example, beginning at the song's chorus.
Most popular songs: A Thousand Years, Here Comes the Bride, I Can’t Help Falling in Love, I Get to Love You, Perfect, and A Tale As Old As Time.
Interlude: a sacred in-ceremony moment
Examples of wedding ceremony interludes are sand ceremonies, knot tying, and candle lighting. Often there is no speaking during the ritual. Live music adds meaning and emotion for all to experience, including you and your beloved. I love interlude songs!
Pro tip: ask your Officiant to approach your musician(s) before the ceremony, to briefly discuss start/stop cues.
Interlude song suggestions: I Cross My Heart, Ave Maria, Amazing Grace, Yellow
Recessional song ideas
This is the song as you're walking out, now officially married! It's often upbeat, but a slow and romantic song is worth considering!
Upbeat: All You Need Is Love, Wedding March (famous from the movies), Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, You Are the Best Thing, Thinking Out Loud, I Choose You, Perfect
Country Upbeat: Love You Like That, Head Over Boots, Wagon Wheel
Romantic: I Can’t Help Falling in Love, Unchained Melody, Yellow
It seems like we have sunny day after sunny day here in New Mexico, but if your wedding day includes moody skies, here are the ways it's likely to play out.
Venue checks weather apps and you decide to delay the ceremony about 30 minutes. As soon as the storm is over, they'll dry the chairs while I set up and start the pre-ceremony music. Smooth.
If it's an all day rainy day, the ceremony will be moved inside. (Rare in NM.)
Storms are incoming or in the area, and the ceremony happens as scheduled. I set up a 5'x5' canopy to ensure uninterrupted performance if it starts raining. (The canopy is high-quality and white, with weights secured to the legs so it's wind-safe.)
Wedding ceremony rehearsal tips
The norm is that musicians don't attend rehearsals, and you can rely on experienced ceremony musicians to coordinate the details with you beforehand. Musically, the rehearsal is centered around the Processional, and here are the to-do's.
Rehearsal tip 1: Designate a cue person
Wedding ceremonies tend to start at least a few minutes late. So, musicians must rely on a cue to start the first Processional song. You'll want to choose a cue person who will know when everyone is ready to start. Here are some ideas:
Wedding planners always cue musicians
Venue coordinators/staff many times cue musicians
The Officiant arriving at the altar can act as the cue! (Assuming they're not part of the Processional)
Someone near the front of the Processional can cue
A subtle head nod or thumbs up makes a great cue. Have the cue person introduce themselves before the ceremony, so musicians know who to watch!
Rehearsal tip 2: Let the song be the cue to walk
The best Processionals happen when the leader(s) of each Processional group walks after their song begins. However, if choosing upbeat tunes, consider having the second group walk in without waiting for their song. It's more casual, and prevents a possible "fashion show" kind of feeling.
Rehearsal tip 3: Practice a few times
Adjust walking speed and time between Processional entrances until everybody has a feel for overall timing. The goal is to arrive before the song ends. You can use a stopwatch.
If you work with me, I'll set us up for success by checking over your Processional details, and providing you with song lengths before your rehearsal.
Want to talk about your wedding music?
Schedule a brief, zero-pressure phone call with me.
Special thanks to Coryn Kiefer Photography (photos 1 and 2), and K Layne Photography (photo 3).