Updated: Apr 13, 2019
You’ve booked a hall, assembled a crew of bridesmaids and groomsmen, decided on who to invite (and who not to!), and made countless other decisions. Now you’ve decided to add the special touch & warmth of live music to your ceremony.
Most likely you’ve never done this before and may have questions on how to begin. I’m a wedding ceremony musician myself, so I decided to put together a comprehensive guide to choosing the perfect ceremony music for your big day.
Whether you are leaning towards a traditional ceremony or you’re bucking tradition completely, here is the most common order (musically) for a ceremony:
Seating of Parents: This is the first portion of the ceremony where the groom accompanies his parents/family to their seats. This will last typically around 30-60 seconds.
Bridal Party Processional: A longer portion of music that may run from 2-4 minutes depending on the size of your bridal party and how long of a walk they have.
Bridal Processional: The bride walking down the aisle is the musical highlight of the ceremony. This may last 1-2 minutes. I always suggest brides walk slower than they think to really make the most of the moment.
Unity Ceremony: Sometimes couples choose to have a short candle lighting or other type of unity ceremony to symbolize their sacred bond together. This will last only about 30 seconds.
Recessional: Once you’ve kissed, a more upbeat song is played to kick off the celebration. A recessional song should be played in entirety to allow you and your wedding party time to file out. It’s also nice to have additional music playing as you greet your guests.
Music portions of the ceremony aren’t usually that long (minus the bridal party processional). So when choosing songs, a good musician will determine the best place to start a song so the timing works well. Nothing would be worse than to be standing awkwardly for an extra 30 seconds while your song finishes!
Before we talk about plugging in song choices, we should cover cost and types of musicians.
Your ceremony vision and venue will help narrow down what type of musician to hire.
Soloist vs. Ensemble If you’re looking for an intimate atmosphere, a soloist may be a good choice for you. An ensemble can consist of 2, 3, or 4 musicians. This is more appropriate to add a little more grandeur to your ceremony. Below are common soloists and ensembles to choose from:
Solo: Guitarist, Pianist, Violinist/Cellist
String Duo: Violin & Cello
Mixed Duo: Some combination of Piano, Guitar, Violin, & Cello
Quartet: String Quartet (most common)
According to Wedding Wire “the cost of wedding ceremony music can vary widely depending on the type of musicians you choose, their level of expertise and a number of other factors, the average wedding musicians’ cost in the U.S. comes in at $500” The official US wedding statistics report cites an estimated 960,957 weddings had live ceremony music in 2017 with the average cost of $618. The Knot’s annual wedding survey for 2017 priced the average ceremony musician at $761.
The simple math is: more musicians equals more money. Here are some pricing estimates:
Soloists can range between $200 - $500
Duos can range between $500 - $1,000
Quartets typically cost $1,000 and up
Choosing what song you walk down the aisle to is a big deal. I would suggest narrowing down song choices before you start shopping for musicians. When consulting with my clients, I send them acoustic arrangements of their songs choices before they book me. I’m a big proponent of clear expectation to avoid unwanted surprises.
Here’s my suggestions on choosing the the perfect bridal processional song:
I am always a fan of slightly slower song choices. Having a song at a slower tempo will not only increase the beauty of the song, but help you to walk slower and savor your special moment. Here are two song examples. I know it’s an extreme contrast, but you get the point: Slow
A simple song arrangement helps to keep the attention on you. A busy and complicated song may be distracting to your family and guests. Remember where the focus should be during your ceremony. Here are two versions of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”. Compare the two different arrangements, both good in their own right, but the simplified version is much better suited as a bridal processional. The variations are slight, but I feel they make a difference. Simple
Above all, the song you pick should be personal and important to you. The only perfect song choice is the song is perfect to you
As for the other portions of the ceremony, your musician should be able to take the lead and send suggestions from their repertoire of already learned music.
Your wedding ceremony is an expression of you, your partner, and the love you share for each other. When choosing a musician, the most important aspect is that they can translate that vision musically. I hope this guide has been helpful to giving you an idea of what to expect from wedding musicians and how to go about choosing music for your ceremony.
Here's a list of vendor search tools to help you find the perfect wedding musicians.
The Knot: https://www.theknot.com/marketplace
Wedding Wire: https://www.weddingwire.com/
In the UK: Last Minute Musicians https://www.lastminutemusicians.com/