As I’m sure most of you know by now, finding the perfect mix of wedding songs is NOT an easy task. Nevermind the fact that so many people have different music tastes, but there’s this sense of pressure to pick the RIGHT song for the RIGHT moment. It can all get a bit overwhelming! That’s why we came up with this handy guide to which wedding songs you’ll need and when, alone with our suggestions for the best wedding songs of all time. We’re going to be adding to this list on a regular basis, so check back to see if there’s a new wedding song we’ve recently added that you love!
OK. Now that’s get into the different parts of your wedding you’ll actually need music for! From your wedding processional to your wedding reception, these wedding songs will get you through the day! Also check out our best wedding dance songs for 2021.
Wedding Prelude Songs
Wedding prelude music is what you would start playing as soon as guests arrive at your venue and the doors open. Classical works well for this, as does any kind of instrumental music. For our wedding prelude music we had our DJ play an entire CD of Django Reinhardt’s greatest hits.
Not sure what to call the song that brides walk down the aisle to? It’s this! Wedding processional music plays when the family and wedding party comes down the aisle, including the bride. You usually choose 2-3 processional songs, one for your partner that could also include your wedding parties (or you could give them their own) and the brides song. Depending on your venue, your processional songs can be religious, traditional, or modern (aka any music you love!). We’ve outlined options for each genre, below:
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Whether you’re having a religious wedding ceremony or you just love the sound of the classics, these are all gorgeous choices for wedding processional songs. Just remember that if your ceremony is in a religious venue, you will want to clear your music choices with them ahead of time as some might have restrictions.
(Note: Some people find this song offensive. Read more about why this song and a couple other classics aren’t people’s favorite, though honestly unless it personally bothers you we say forget about it!)
SEE MORE: 17 Beautiful Catholic Wedding Songs
I’m a big, big fan of choosing sweet (and cinematic!) processional songs, especially for your big moment when you walk down the aisle. One of my favorite memories from our wedding day was walking down the aisle to “Feeling Good” (one of our picks, below), which was a surprise in itself, but then we also hired two horn players to stand in the back and start playing along to it as soon as I came out. I only wish I had it on video!
Hold On, I’m Comin'” by Sam & Dave (If you’re up for having a bit of fun, I love this song for the groom’s processional!)
Recessional music plays as soon as your ceremony ends and you’re about to turn around and walk back down the aisle a married couple! This music should be happy and uptempo and basically be a big moment of celebration. We played Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric for ours (starting at around the 1:50 mark, which we used below) and it was so fun! Don’t be afraid to go a little kitschy with this one if you’re looking for something modern vs. traditional.
The Cocktail Hour
Cocktail hour music takes place during the—you guessed it—cocktail hour! LOL. This is a great time to look for compilations if you’re DIY’ing your wedding music, or to talk to your DJ about playing a certain genre of music (Ie: songs by classic singers like Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, country and bluegrass, Motown, etc.). If you’ve hired a band or quartet you can also talk to them about the style of music you like best. We’re a big fan of blues or jazz during cocktail hours. See how we made our cocktail hour playlist here, and even incorporated wedding favors around it! Here’s a few of our favorite cocktail-hour worthy songs, below, that you could create themed cocktail hours around.
This is the song (or songs) that are played when your parents (both sets) and the wedding party are introduced by your DJ or emcee as well as you and the groom. There are really no rules for this, and it’s actually the one song I totally let my husband pick since he gave me so much leeway for other parts of the wedding!
First Dance Songs
Aside from the wedding song you choose to walk down to the aisle to, this is most likely the one you’ll obsess over the most. Go for one that really moves you, even if you’re hearing it for the first time (I mean, does anybody really have their own special song anymore??)
“Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS (This was our first dance song!)
“Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers (this is actually the most popular first dance song!)
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston (Friends of mine recently played this at their wedding. They started slow dancing to “At Last” by Etta James, then this came on halfway through and they invited everyone onto the dance floor. It was perfect!)
Father-Daughter Dance Songs
After the couple’s first dance, it’s tradition for the bride and her father to have the next dance. We personally think this song can be particularly hard, because so many classic love songs have a romantic undertone. We think these picks below are about as neutral as you can get.
Mother Son Dance Songs
We think this dance gets overlooked too often! It’s so sweet to see groom’s dance with their moms, and it definitely deserves a special song. We like these, below.
The Dinner Reception
Just like the cocktail reception, this is a great time to pick upbeat music that is not super distracting. I would alternate genres more for this (vs. the cocktail hour where I think picking just one theme tends to work great).
Wedding Reception Songs
This needs no introduction! Whether you’ve hired a band or a DJ, you’ll want to pick songs that work for multiple generations and span difference decades. For instance our friends might love The Strokes or Jay-Z, but your mom and her friends will probably love Gloria Gaynor or Donna Summer. And your dad? Sign him up for Journey! These are a few of our favorite wedding reception songs, below.
“I’ve Had the Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes (just try NOT dancing to this song…it’s impossible!)
What songs are you planning for your wedding? Let us know in the comments section, below!