Making sure your music offers sweet harmony

Story Debra Bell

Copyright Bell Imaging & Design

The music you use for your wedding is as important as the colors you choose, the attendants you surround yourselves with, and the food you serve your guests. Your music will set the scene for each part of your wedding.

So: live, canned, DJ, or a mix? Only you and your budget can decide what will encapsulate your wedding vibe. Here are some tips for getting the most from your musicians.

1. Know what you want (and don’t want) first. Do you want the beautiful sounds of a string trio or a harpist floating on the air for your outdoor wedding? Or do you want more popular tunes to usher you to the ceremony. Or, are you looking for the whimsy of a boombox held overhead ala John Cusak in “Say Anything”? Make sure your musical selections represent the feel of your wedding.

2. Know the capabilities, and limitations, of your music of choice. If your wedding will happen in the middle of a field or overlooking the water, be aware that extension cords might not be available for your DJ to use. Likewise, the serene sounds of a string trio may get muffled in the wide open air.

Did you know that there can be limitations to what a live music group can do? Very popular music might not be appropriate (or attainable) from a live group. So if you love that new Karmin song “Brokenhearted”, don’t assume it’ll sound the same on solo guitar without vocals. Save that song for the reception.

3. Care for your musicians or musical attendant. Be considerate and provide cover for them and their instruments or sound boards and speakers. Read your contract and talk with them about your vision. Lastly, ensure that all provisions have been made to accommodate their needs by communicating their needs to your venue.

4. Take the time to time your musical selections. If you choose not to use live musicians for your wedding and are going for a DJ or canned music, time out how long the walk down the aisle will take. Speedy attendants can take a song from slow and steady to a race and then you’ll have dead time. A good DJ will be able to seamlessly transition while a CD wont. If you choose to use your DJ for ceremony music, make sure they’re experienced.


Live music: Live musicians can adapt quickly and can make speeding bridesmaids or a reluctant ring bearer seem planned. When carefully chosen, live musicians add ambiance and showcase cultures. String musicians, harpists, and classical guitarists rarely need cords or speakers and can set a classy mood instantly.

DJ advantages: DJs have a wider array of pieces that they can play, including popular selections. The DJ can also help with microphones and speaker systems to ensure your guests will hear every word of your vows.

DJs also provide you with a person responsible for keeping folks entertained and having fun during your reception. If you want lots of “wedding games” look for a DJ who will do this for you. However, if you want fun and great dancing, make that known to the DJ while you’re interviewing.

Canned music: Canned music is an economical option, however, it is contingent on a knowledgeable person running it at your ceremony or reception. It is not as flexible as either the live music or DJ alternative, and relies on the in-house sound system or a portable stereo system.

The musical rundown

Before the Ceremony

Prelude: The music your guests will listen to while they wait.

Procession: Music your bridal party will walk in to. Sometimes there is a separate song for the seating of the mothers, the procession of the groom and the groom’s attendants, the procession of the bridesmaids, and the bride’s entrance.


During the ceremony: Meditations, unity candle or sand ceremony, and other ceremony accents.

Recession: The music your guests will listen (and cheer) to as you and your attendants head off.

Cocktail hour

The music your guests will relax to while you have your photographs taken.


Popular moments for individual songs include: Introductions, first dance, mother-son dance, father-daughter dance, cake cutting, bouquet toss, garter toss, and any other special “events” you have planned.