Whether you are looking for music for your own wedding or for someone else’s big day, finding the perfect soundtrack for this special occasion is crucial. This ultimate guide will help you choose the perfect wedding song to create an outstanding celebratory experience and a memory that lasts for a lifetime. All songs are for piano, or piano and other instruments, and linked to the sheet music you need to prepare.
A wedding without music is like a romantic movie without a soundtrack – quiet, boring, disconnected, and frankly unthinkable. Two weddings at one and the same wedding location can give off completely different vibes just by featuring different styles of music. Any couple ready to tie the knot needs to be aware of the power music has to express their personalities. How to do that? We’ll guide you through it!
Marriage is this grand madness, and I think if people knew that, they would perhaps take it more seriously.Bono
First, you need to consider your overall wedding theme. Why bother with a theme at all? Well, it’s not mandatory to have a theme, but some couples prefer to have one as it helps filter and structure the celebration. To make sure your wedding is enhanced, rather than overpowered, by your choice of music, think about the elements of your wedding that you’ve already decided upon.
- An elegant wedding? Opt for Classical music
- A vintage wedding? Opt for Jazz or Blues
- A traditional wedding? Opt for traditional music, or time-tested Pop hymns
- An era-themed wedding (country wedding, medieval wedding, …)
- A very modern, contemporary theme? Choose a more recent Pop song
- A less formal, unthemed kind of wedding. Opt for that “special song” to your own taste!
If you don’t want any theme, you are free to decide whatever suits your tastes – and the venue. In some venues, there’s no electricity. This enables you to choose a Classical or Country combo, but no Rock band. Rock music will also not work in churches that have very echo-y acoustics. But a singer or a flute can sound beautiful there, in combination with a piano. In some venues, there is even a piano or an organ that can be used – check that it’s working and tuned. In most venues, musicians need to bring their own setup.
Weddings need music!
Music creates a memory. If you ask people what they remember about a wedding in the past, they’ll most likely not remember the menu, the bride’s earrings, or who caught the bridal bouquet. But they’ll always remember the special mood of the ceremony or your first dance.
Some couples like to provide their guests with an mp3 of the music recorded on the day. Others have a video of their special day made and choose their wedding music as the soundtrack.
Music unites families. Great music pulls all guests closer together as a community – and this is exactly what’s supposed to happen at weddings: Two families and two circles of friends merge and mingle, symbolically and in real life. It also appeals to all generations – it moves great-auntie Imelda as well as your teenage niece. So try to choose music that may appeal to most guests.
Music structures a celebration. There’s a song when the bride and groom enter, there’s a song when they are just newly wed, and there’s a song when the ceremony ends. There’s music while people eat. There’s the First Dance song, and there might be “special moment” songs throughout the evening.
What makes a song a great wedding song?
A wedding song ideally covers all the bases. It needs to express love, trust, and the promise of a couple sticking up for each other for the rest of their lives, all clad in a heart-warming melody that is easy to like while not being shallow or cheesy, and perhaps even a rhythmic arrangement that makes everyone want to tap their feet, clap their hands, or at the very least help the bride walk gracefully down the aisle. Quite a large shoe to fill – but some songs manage to do just that. Some miss out on some parts – e.g. the lyrics might not even be about everlasting love – but make up for it with a beautiful melody everybody loves.
The Top 3 All-time Favorites
We researched the top wedding planning sites on the web to find the 3 most popular all-time favorite wedding songs. All three capture the spirit of the day of love perfectly. Interestingly, two out of the three top favorites are not really about matrimony and everlasting devotion if you study the lyrics more closely. One isn’t even a love song, strictly speaking. But music is what you want it to be, and these are the tried and tested all-time favorites:
1.Johann Pachelbel: Canon in D
Imagine writing a song today that people love to play at weddings in the year 2350! That’s – relatively speaking – what happened to Nuremberg composer Johann Pachelbel who wrote the “Canon and Gigue in D major” in 1694 for the wedding of Johann Sebastian Bach’s older brother. Little did he know it would be hands down one of the most popular wedding pieces more than 300 years later.
The piece is based on – as we say in our day – a very catchy bassline. Pachelbel would have called it “ostinato”, which literally translates into “a melody that stubbornly keeps being repeated”. Over that obstinate bass, variations of a beautiful Canon (a layering of progressively repeated melody) unfold.
2. “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen
This song has a hymn-like quality without being religious or particularly about love. In fact, no one is too sure what it IS about. But maybe that’s part of its appeal! Its tempo is perfect for walking up the aisle, and everyone in the wedding community will be able to join in on the chorus.
Written by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen in 1984, and released on his album “Various Positions”, it has gained worldwide recognition, and its many cover versions have topped the charts throughout the years.
3. “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
This song reminds everyone to think of what’s wonderful about the world, and how everything seems more colorful and bright when you’re in love – a perfect thing to contemplate at the point of marrying.
Many people believe that Louis Armstrong has composed this song, but he has not. Bob Thiele and George David Weiss have written it, but they say they wrote it with Armstrong in mind who recorded it in 1967. While it immediately shot to #1 in the UK and other countries, it did not sell well in the United States because the head of Armstrong’s record company hated it and refused to promote it. But this did not keep it from becoming a timeless classic after being used in many films over the years, including “Good Morning Vietnam”.
A band is like a marriage – you don’t know why it works, but when it does, everything feels right.Nuno Bettencourt
3 Best New(ish) Wedding Songs
These are contenders for future all-time favorites – only they haven’t been around long enough to gain quite the universal popularity of the pieces from above. Beloved by many, they will hopefully become modern wedding classics and last forever – like hopefully the couples’-to-be marital bliss.
1. A Thousand Years by Christina Perri
In the romantic saga “Twilight”, vampire Edward swept Bella into his arms to that song. Specially written for the movie by Christina Perri and songwriter/keyboardist David Hodges (formerly of “Evanescence”) to celebrate the main characters’ love, this song is one of the 100 most-watched songs on Youtube. Released in 2011, this song in the key of Bb has remained one of the most popular wedding songs ever since.
2. All of Me by John Legend
John Legend dedicated this beautiful love song to his then-fiancée (and now wife) Chrissy Teigen when he published his fourth album in 2013. Composed in the key of Ab, this chart-topper shines because it is such a lovely, simple piano song that speaks from the heart. The video, liked by over 10 Million people on Youtube, depicts the couple just days before their own wedding in Italy.
3. Perfect by Ed Sheeran
The red-haired British songwriter wrote this million-selling piece in honor of his then-girlfriend (now wife) Cherry in 2017. It describes a long-time acquaintance that turned into friendship and love, so perhaps this is a great song for a couple sharing a similar love story. Ed shares the song’s “birth”: “I booked the studio for that day, and the song happened and was sort of finished that day. I knew it was special.”
Marriage is miserable unless you find the right person that is your soulmate and that takes a lot of looking.Marvin Gaye
The 3 Best Classical Pieces for Weddings
These are what generations of people think of when they hear the words “walking down the aisle”. Not only are they beautiful pieces of music, they are what many believe to be the epitome of wedding music. They might give you this feeling of “we are seriously doing this and meaning it – now”. It is quite popular to combine them for starting and finishing the ceremony.
Of course, these pieces are perfect for formal and elegant weddings, but since they are so iconic they suit any ceremony, even if it’s a bit of a contrast to the rest of the style (and yes, we did say stick to your theme, but let’s add that sometimes rules are there to be bent a little!).
And while there are many, many beautiful pieces of classical music to choose from, these are hands down the ones most often used at weddings (apart from Pachelbel’s Canon in D, of course).
1. Treulich Geführt (Bridal Chorus) by Richard Wagner
Originally, this part of Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin” comes right after Elsa and Lohengrin are married (in fact, they are already in their bed-chamber and sort of cheered on to perform their marital duties). Nowadays, it is most often used for the walk down the aisle BEFORE the couple is wed. If you don’t wish to hire a full Wagnerian opera choir (which can be costly, and, let’s face it, the German lyrics are quite full of century-old pathos) we recommend to simply have it played by the organ or piano.
2. Op. 61 (Wedding March in C major) by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
This piece of music is part of the composer’s collection of music based on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and it is very commonly used just before the happy couple leaves the church (with Wagner’s Bridal Chorus as the introductory piece at the beginning of the wedding). It is usually played on a pipe organ.
3. La Primavera, Op. 8, RV 269 (Spring) by Antonio Vivaldi
“The Four Seasons”, composed around 1720, is this Italian composer’s most widely known work. In four masterpiece concerti he evokes details of each season – from rain to thunderstorms and summer dances – without having to explicitly tell people, because the music is so self-explanatory.
Narrative music was a new concept at the time, and we love that “The Spring” is full of bird song and flowing creeks, sheep pastures, blossoming flowers and warm rain showers. While none of these are specific for weddings, the spirit of hope, sunshine, and fresh young growth is perfect for any wedding.
What I’ve learned about marriage: You need to have each other’s back; you have to be a kind of team going through life.Tom Petty
The 3 Best Jazz Songs for Weddings
When we think of Jazz weddings, we think of a gorgeous vintage flapper style dress, smoking and black tie, elegantly decorated cocktail tables, martinis, and a pianist playing standards in the background, perhaps joined by a crooner. In the evening, things heat up and everybody gets on their feet to dance as the combo you’ve hired starts to play fast and swingy music. But which songs to choose for the ceremony itself, so as to set the mood right from the beginning? Here are some favorites:
1. “At Last” by Etta James
This is a much-loved wedding classic, and perhaps also a fabulous choice for the first dance. Etta James’ voice is enough to let the whole wedding reception feel that lonely days are over! Written by Mark Gordon and Harry Warren in 1941 for a musical film. In 1960 Etta James recorded the song for her debut album, and it not only became her signature song, but also crossed over from Rhythm&Blues into mainstream Pop, which rarely happened at that time. Beyoncè, Christina Aguilera, and Céline Dion have all covered this song, among many others.
2. “L-O_V_E” by Nat King Cole
This charming song is fabulous for weddings with ethnic backgrounds as there are versions in Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, and French available. Nat King Cole recorded the song (in English) in 1965 after it was written by German composer and conductor Bert Kaempfert (“Strangers in the Night”) and published in 1964 as an instrumental number. It has long since become a Jazz standard, covered by many artists, including British singer Joss Stone, and Nat’s own daughter Natalie, to name just two.
3. What a Difference a Day Made by Jamie Cullum
Originally, this 1934 song was called “Cuando Vuelva a tu Lado”, and written in Spanish by Maria Grever, the first well-renowned female Mexican songwriter and film composer. The song received English lyrics from New York songwriter Stanley Adams in the same year.
In 1959, the “Queen of the Blues” Dinah Washington named her entire album after this song! She won a Grammy award for “Best R&B Song”, and, in days when hardly any artist of color even entered the Pop charts, she had a Top 10 hit! Many artists have covered this Jazz standard since. We love this version by Jamie Cullum!
A man doesn’t know what happiness is until he’s married. By then it’s too late.Frank Sinatra
The 6 Best Pop Power Ballads for Weddings
The Pop power ballad was made for weddings (if they aren’t about breakups, which is why we don’t have any Adele here). This is where you can really let your imagination run wild and come up with a song that perhaps means a lot to both of you, or evokes memories of your love story. As this is such a wide genre you can really follow your heart’s desire (or choose whatever pleases your mother-in-law best)! Here, we have collected a few timeless favorites.
1. “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” by Elvis Presley
This is the grandmother of Pop power ballads! Generations have tied the knot to Elvis’ (or one of his impersonators’) deep resonant voice. Perhaps it evokes notions of eloping to Las Vegas and getting married on the run. Perhaps you ARE eloping to Vegas and getting married on the run?
Elvis recorded the song in 1961 for his “Blue Hawai”-Album. It immediately topped charts around the world and became a staple for his live concerts. In 1977, the King gave what was going to be his last concert in Indianapolis, and closed the evening with this song – and it kept him alive in the memories of the masses. Numerous cover versions exist – notably, British band UB40’s version topped the charts again.
2. “The Rose” by Bette Midler
A perfect song for a wedding later in life, or a second marriage. In 1979, American singer and actress Bette Midler starred in the Film “the Rose”, loosely based on Janis Joplin’s biography. For the closing credits, she chose a song that Amanda McBroom had written two years earlier from among 3000 songs supplied to her. A song that sums up sadness and hope like few others: The Rose.
McBroom claims she had written it in only 45 minutes: “It did not have a bridge or a hook, but I could not think of anything to add.” Topping charts and going for gold around the globe, Bette Midler won a Grammy for her vocal rendition, and McBroom a Golden Globe as the composer.
3. “The Power of Love” by Jennifer Rush
American singer and songwriter Jennifer Rush co-wrote this ballad in 1984 after having trained as an opera singer and violinist at Juilliard. It was the fifth and last single she released from her debut album – and it turned not only into a global chart success, but even entered the Guinness book of records as the best-selling single by a female artist in British history. However, it took Celine Dion’s cover version to top the US charts.
This power ballad suits a wide range of weddings – with its operatic vocal style it could even go well with an otherwise Classical program.
4. “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban
This song is as inspirational as it is romantic. The piece starts out quietly with a steady, calm pace as it eases into the verse, and then culminates in the very emotional, almost hymn-like chorus.
It was written in 2001 by the Norwegian-Irish Songwriter-Duo “Secret Garden”, and later that year it was used to commemorate the victims of 9 / 11. Josh Groban’s 2004 cover version turned the song into a Grammy-nominated international superhit.
5. “The Book of Love” by Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel’s cover version is best known, but the song was originally written by Stephin Merritt for his American Indiepop group “The Magnetic Fields” in 1999. Most recently, it could be heard in the final series of the TV show “Scrubs”, but is the go-to wedding song in other shows, too – like “South Park”, “General Hospital” and, in 2014, “Extraterrestrial”.
6. “Tonight I Celebrate My Love to You” by Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson
This million-selling romantic ballad from Flack’s and Bryson’s 1983 duet album “Born to Love” was written by lyricist Gerry Goffin with Michael Masser who thought they would want Diana Ross or Barbara Streisand to sing it. Roberta Flack convinced them to let her and her buddy Bryson do it instead.
A girl can wait for the right man to come along but in the meantime that doesn’t mean she can’t have a wonderful time with all the wrong ones!Cher
The 3 Best Rock Ballads for Weddings
But maybe what you’re really into is the energy of Rock music? Suit yourselves – these are tried and tested Rock classics people love to use for weddings. If you can’t get Steven Tyler or Robert Plant (or the equivalent) to sing for you, you might want to consider having your musicians play them instrumentally.
1. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith
Written by Dianne Warren (who has written nine number-one hits and over three dozen million-selling songs like “If I Could TurnBack Time” or “Rhythm of the Night”) who originally wanted Celine Dion to sing it, it got picked up by Steven Tyler instead for Aerosmith’s band performance in the 1998 movie “Armageddon”. The song shot from 0 to 100 in the US billboard charts, giving Aerosmith their only US-number 1 hit. It sounds fabulous with just piano and vocals (as Warren had written it) but if you can have someone add a juicy electric guitar solo, we are sure no eye will stay dry.
2. “Everything I Do (I Do It for You)” by Bryan Adams
Way back in 1991 a movie called “Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves” featured the legendary Alan Rickman as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and Kevin Costner as Robin. There was also a love story, and the soundtrack to that was where Bryan Adams came in.
This Grammy-winning song is one of the best-selling singles of all time, topping several charts for around eighteen weeks. Of course, it has been covered numerous times, most notably by American singer Brandy.
3. “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
Is this song that was published on the band’s IV album in 1971 the “Für Elise” of the Rock world? It is both famous and infamous. So it is no surprise that, in the year 2000, it was voted N0. 3 of the most important songs ever by VHS, and at the same time, it must absolutely not be played in many guitar stores.
Legend has it that Robert Plant was relaxing in front of a Welsh campfire when all of a sudden he sat up and just started writing out lyrics that made no real sense. But they were vaguely about a lady, and stairs, and nature, about hope, love, happiness, and that you can’t buy love – this is how most people interpret it.
As to song structure, it starts out folky, lyrical, and tenderly, and then develops into a Hardrock furor, complete with distorted guitar solo and vocal screaming, until ending quietly. Some couples only play the tender, quiet part and skip the Rock bit – the song is 8 minutes long, originally, so there is enough of it left if you chop it up. But bear in mind that Page’s solo was voted “best guitar solo of all times” by “Guitar World”.
We have a couple of rules in our relationship. The first rule is that I make her feel like she’s getting everything. The second rule is that I actually do let her have her way in everything. And, so far, it’s working.Justin Timberlake
3 Most Famous Religious/Cultural Pieces (Christianity & Judaism)
1. “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert
Weirdly, this “Ave Maria” was not intended as the catholic liturgical prayer. Instead, it was called “Ellen’s Song” and part of a song cycle that Schubert composed based loosely on Sir Walter Scott’s narrative “the Lady of the Lake”. In the play, Ellen sang the song before Scottish warriors went into battle against King James.
The lyrics were way different than the Latin prayer commonly used in the Catholic church. But somehow, the Latin prayer’s words seemed to fit the chord progression perfectly, so it became more and more associated with Schubert’s composition until, nowadays, most people just assume Schubert has composed a prayer song, and that’s that. Still, its chord progression and the beautiful singing voice are bound to give everyone attending your wedding goosebumps.
2. “Ave Maria” by Charles Gounod
If Gounod’s version of this prayer sounds oddly familiar to you, the reason might be because he used Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C-major as a base, and then “meditated” his own improvisation on top. This composition with 1859 is extremely popular at weddings – and no wonder, it works as beautifully as an instrumental piece as well as sung.
3. Hava Nagila/Jewish Wedding Song by Abraham Idelson or Moshe Nathanson
Composed in 1918 in Jerusalem, this tune is sometimes attributed to Abraham Idelson, music professor at the Hebrew university, and sometimes to his prodigal student Moshe Nathanson. It is based on the form of a Ukrainian Jewish “niggun”, which is a religious song for a group, with lots of repetitive elements, and is supposed to be sung by a group. This bouncy tune works with a wide variety of instruments, or vocals, and has long since been established as a staple at Jewish weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make!The Beatles
You might prefer to choose a different wedding song instead of the tried-and-tested classics, and that’s awesome and gives everything a personal, individual touch. But make sure your music choice is not so obscure it baffles your audience. We vividly remember one wedding where the couple-to-be chose a wonderful psalm in Armenian, and expected the surprised guests to sing along. They even distributed the sheet music. There were only three problems:
- Nobody could read Armenian,
- very few people read sheet music at all, and
- they could not agree on one tone to start the piece with. So bear in mind it’s not a bad idea to choose a popular song!
And this is where our overview of the most popular wedding songs ends, and it’s up to you to decide what you want your wedding should sound like.