Guide to Ceremony Music Instruments

ceremony music instrumentsStrings, piano, guitar, harp and bagpipes are some of the more common ceremony music instruments.

Here are special considerations for working with each instrument type:


String instruments include violin, viola, cello and upright bass.

A string quartet (two violins, viola and cello) is one of the most traditional ceremony music options.

You can also have a string trio (two violins + cello), string duo (two violins or violin + cello) or solo string instruments.

You will generally pay more for a greater number of instruments, but also get a fuller sound.

Classical music is the most readily available for string instruments, but you can often find string covers of modern songs as well!

Special considerations for strings:

  • String instruments cannot get even a tiny bit wet. The glue that holds them together dissolves in water. For outdoor ceremonies, even a barely-there mist or rain will be dangerous for them.
  • Strings are relatively quiet instruments and will need to be amplified in large indoor venues or outdoors.
  • A string quartet will require more setup space than a solo instrument.


Piano music is a beautiful choice for either classical music or modern song covers.

You could have a solo pianist, or piano accompaniment to a singer or other instrument.

Many churches and other traditional wedding venue will have a piano in the ceremony space.

Special considerations for piano:

  • If your venue has a piano, double-check that you have permission to use it.
  • Ask whether the piano is used regularly – if not, it may need to be tuned.
  • If your venue does not have a piano, your performer will need to bring in an electric keyboard. The keyboard will need to be plugged in and amplified.


Guitar options range from classical acoustic guitar all the way to modern electric guitar.

For an even more offbeat feel, consider alternatives like ukulele or banjo!

Special considerations for guitar:

  • Electric guitars always need to be plugged into a sound system.
  • Acoustic guitars or ukulele will need to be amplified in a large venue or outdoors.
  • Some guitarists play purely instrumental versions, while others also sing. Ask your performer about their usual style.


Hiring a harpist for your ceremony is a beautiful traditional choice!

However, there are a few important thing to keep in mind when working with these large, heavy instruments.

Special considerations for harp:

  • Your harpist will need a lot of space in your ceremony setup.
  • Equally important, they will need a way in to your venue that does not require stairs and gives them plenty of room to maneuver.
  • The harp is best suited for indoor ceremonies. Outdoors, the sound will not carry very far, and the harp is difficult to amplify.

Ask your harpist whether they have performed at your venue before. They may be able to advise you on the best setup.


If you have Scottish heritage or just love the sound of bagpipes, they can make a lovely accompaniment to your ceremony!

Find bagpipers in your area by searching for your local pipe band or highland games.

Special considerations for bagpipes:

  • Bagpipes are extremely loud. They are really only appropriate for outdoor ceremonies, where they will be audible for a few blocks in every direction.
  • They do not pair well with other instruments, so your bagpiper will be a solo performer.
  • Bagpipers usually dress in traditional garb to perform. The clothing is made of wool and gets hot in the summer, so put them in the shade if you can!

There are as many ceremony instrument choices as there are instruments, but these are some of the most common. Enjoy planning your ceremony music!


Ceremony Music Options: Pro vs. Friendor vs. DIY

Ceremony Music OptionsFor your ceremony music, you can choose to hire one or more professional musicians, enlist musical family or friends to perform, or DIY the music with a playlist streamed over your sound system.

Each choice has pros and cons! Here are some to consider:


Option #1: Hire professional wedding musicians


  • Plenty of choices for instruments and genres
  • Can guide you through choosing music
  • Experienced dealing with issues like tricky processional timing
  • Will be calm and professional on the wedding day


  • Most expensive option
  • May need to be booked far in advance
  • Lack of personal connection with the performers

Option #2: Enlist musical family or friends


  • Inexpensive or free if offered as a wedding gift
  • Special personal connection to the performer


  • Performer is working rather than just enjoying the ceremony
  • May be nervous or stressed at performance time
  • May have limited song choices depending on experience level

Option #3: DIY with a playlist


  • Inexpensive or free
  • No limit on music genres or song choices
  • Know in advance exactly what the music will sound like


  • Requires sound system setup
  • A guest or helper must be assigned to cue songs
  • May be viewed as too informal by more traditional guests

Whichever option you choose, your wedding ceremony music will be a beautiful and meaningful part of your day!


Hiring Ceremony Musicians: 50 Questions to Ask

Hiring Ceremony MusiciansLike any other wedding vendor, you should be 100% comfortable with your ceremony musician(s) before booking with them.

You can ask as many or as few questions as you need to!

Here is a comprehensive list of 50 questions to ask a potential ceremony music performer:


  1. What instrument(s) do you play?
  2. What genre(s) of music do you perform?
  3. Are you available for our wedding date and location?
  4. What are your rates?


  1. How long have you been playing your instrument(s)?
  2. How long have you been in business as a wedding musician?
  3. How many weddings have you performed for?
  4. Have you performed at our venue before?


  1. Do you have audio or video recordings available?
  2. Do you have testimonials from previous clients?
  3. May we contact a previous client to ask about their experience?
  4. Do you offer a guarantee?


  1. Can we see a list of song choices?
  2. Are you able to perform songs that are not on this list? Is there an extra fee for that service?
  3. How far in advance do we need to request custom songs?


  1. Will you perform for the ceremony prelude?
  2. Do you start playing at a set time, or whenever the first guests arrive?
  3. Can we choose individual prelude songs and the order to play them in?
  4. Will you keep playing if our ceremony starts late?


  1. How will we signal you to start the processional?
  2. How will we signal you to switch between processional songs?
  3. Can we choose exactly which parts of a song to play for the processional?
  4. Do you have experience playing for processionals involving small children or pets?


  1. How will we signal you to start the recessional?
  2. Can we choose exactly which part of a song to play for the recessional?
  3. Will you continue playing as our guests exit the ceremony space? For how long?


  1. How much space do you need?
  2. Do you need chairs set up? How many/what kind?
  3. Do your instruments need to be amplified?
  4. Will you provide the microphones and equipment needed for amplification? If not, how many microphones, mic stands and cables do we need to provide? What kind?
  5. Is there any other equipment we need to provide for you?

Inclement weather

  1. What is your inclement weather policy for outdoor ceremonies?
  2. Can your instruments be played outdoors in mild inclement weather, like very light rain?
  3. Can you play outdoors in mild inclement weather if there is shelter overhead?
  4. Will there be any changes to your setup or equipment needs if we use our rain location?

Day-of logisitics

  1. What time will you arrive at our venue?
  2. Do you have other weddings booked before/after ours on the same day? When/where?
  3. What is your usual performance attire?
  4. What is the best way to contact you on the wedding day if needed?
  5. What happens if there is an emergency and you are not available to perform?


  1. Do you charge sales tax?
  2. Do you charge travel fees to our venue location?
  3. Are there any other additional fees we should be aware of?
  4. Do you offer a discount for off-season or weekday weddings?
  5. Do you offer a discount for booking cocktail hour or dinner music on the same date as our ceremony?

Booking process

  1. Do you require a deposit to secure our date?
  2. Until we send our deposit, are we first on the list for our date? Will you contact us before booking another client?
  3. When is full payment required?
  4. What is your refund policy?
  5. What payment methods do you accept?

With these questions answered you will be well-equipped to choose your ceremony musicians!


Ceremony Music 101: Four Times to Play Music (+ One Time Not To!)

Ceremony Music 101

When might you want music in your wedding ceremony?

Here are 4 places most couples include music, and 1 time not to!


In most cases, your wedding guests will start to arrive about 30 minutes before the start time listed on your invitations.

Many couples choose to play music during this time, to set the stage and get everyone in just the right mood.

No matter how well you’ve planned, you can generally expect your ceremony to start at least 5 – 10 minutes late. It’s just the nature of the beast!

To be on the safe side, plan for about 40-45 minutes of prelude music.


The wedding processional includes anyone walking down the aisle.

Depending on your ceremony plans, this could include:

  • Parents, grandparents or other important family members
  • Attendants for one or both sides of the couple
  • Children or pets bearing flowers or rings
  • One or both partners

If you have multiple people participating in your processional, you can choose how many different songs to use.

The fewer processional songs you need to switch between, the easier it will be to coordinate.

In most typical ceremony venues, it only takes 20-30 seconds to walk down the aisle. You might want to start your processional songs partway through, so you can hear your favorite parts!


You can include music at any time during your ceremony. Here are a few common options:

  • During a short unity ritual such as lighting a unity candle or pouring sand for a sand ceremony
  • Throughout a more involved ceremony ritual like a tree planting
  • During the signing the marriage license or related document
  • Between readings or as a transition from one part of the ceremony to another

If you are playing music between readings or at a transition point while nothing else is going on, opt for about 30 seconds of music at a time.

More than that will feel too long and your guests will start to get fidgety.


The recessional happens when the couple and their attendants walk back up the aisle at the end of the ceremony.

It is a joyful and celebratory moment often accompanied by cheers or applause from your guests!

Choose an upbeat song, and skip over any slow build at the beginning.

Some couples also choose to have a “postlude” as well: 5-10 minutes of music after the recessional as your guests file out of the ceremony space.

When NOT to play music

During your ceremony, avoid playing music while anyone is speaking.

When your officiant or reader is talking, it might seem like a good idea to include background music for extra effect.

In reality this just makes it hard for your guests to hear what’s going on.

Save the music for times when no one is speaking. Your guests will appreciate it!



Ceremony Music Tips

Ceremony Music Tips: 9 Hints for a Seamless Experience

Ceremony Music TipsPlanning your ceremony music can be a bit daunting at times.

Here are 9 ceremony music tips to help you create a seamless experience for your guests:


Tip #1: Your older guests will usually arrive first. If your prelude music includes a mix of traditional and modern song choices, put more traditional pieces earlier in the playlist.

Tip #2: You might need extra time during your prelude, either because your guests start arriving very early or your start time runs really late. If that happens, just start the playlist over from the beginning. Most guests won’t have heard the first several songs anyway!

Tip #3: If you have live musicians, assign someone to keep them informed if your ceremony is running late. After 5-10 minutes they’ll start worrying that they missed a cue.


Tip #4: In a typical ceremony venue, it only takes about 20-30 seconds for one person to walk down the aisle. Plan the length of your processional songs accordingly.

Tip #5: It’s easy to double-check the length of your processional songs. Find out the length of your aisle, measure out the same distance at home, and time yourself walking at a normal speed.

Tip #6: Whether from excitement or nerves, just about everyone will walk faster during the ceremony than they did during the rehearsal!

Tip #7: Small children can get shy at the last minute. Add extra time to any songs that will be playing for them, in case they need a moment of encouragement.


Tip #8: Make sure your ceremony musician (or the person in charge of your playlists) knows what the last words spoken by your officiant will be, so they know exactly when to play the recessional song.

Tip #9: You’ll only hear the first couple of seconds of your recessional song. Be sure to start it at the most upbeat part!