Photo: Julie Wilhite Photography
When considering wedding music ideas for your ceremony, cocktail hour and wedding reception, you don’t have to follow the traditional string trio, jazz quartet and an eight-piece band or DJ formula. You can find specialty bands, musicians and singers who can perform cultural songs, different genres and music from different regions of the world that can customize your wedding and bring it to life with tunes that will get guests on their feet.
Check out these 10 unique wedding music ideas for your big day.
For couples with an Irish or Scottish heritage a bagpiper (or a group of pipers), in kilts of course, can be a nod to your family’s background. You can welcome guests to the ceremony by having a bagpiper play a traditional song, such as "Haste to the Wedding" or "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," as they enter the church or venue, and "Highland Wedding" as the newlyweds make their exit. At the reception, a bagpiper can play as the couple and wedding party make their grand entrance, cut the wedding cake, or if some of the guests know a jig or reel, you can book a group with a fiddler, piano and strings to accompany a bagpiper.
Big Band or Swing Band
A big band or swing band offers the timeless sounds of the 1930s and 1940s, associated with Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller and Count Basie—ideal for a Gatsby-style, vintage-inspired wedding. With ten musicians or more combining several trumpets, trombones, saxophones, guitars, drums, bass and a piano, a big band or swing band can play a variety of jazz, bebop or swing tunes that are guaranteed to get guests on the floor. Today, big bands and swing bands may also be able to play Top 40 hits, Motown and other genres, so look for a group who can also provide modern sounds for a diverse catalog.
Photo: Aster & Olive Photography
Looking for wedding music ideas for a barn reception? With origins in the American South, bluegrass bands have a distinct sound that is sure to complement a rustic-style wedding. Originating in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, a bluegrass band consists of a banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bass, and the lyrics to each song tell a story. The acoustic sound makes it ideal for an outdoor wedding, or one set in a barn.
Founded in New Orleans in the early decades of the 20th century, a Dixieland band is made up of a trumpet, trombone, clarinet, tuba, drums, piano and guitar, and has a jazz sound that can be quite festive for a wedding’s cocktail hour. You can also hire a Dixieland band to play parade style and lead the couple and their guests from the ceremony venue into cocktail hour.
When you think of gospel music, you may visualize a choir in colorful robes, but you can hire a gospel band complete with a piano or organ, drums, guitars and tambourines too. A gospel band can be limited to a quartet or have over a dozen singers accompanied by instruments. Couples can have a gospel band play at their wedding ceremony, though if the wedding will be held in a church, you should confirm with the officiant what music is allowed to be played during the processional, ceremony and recessional.
Photo: Anna Gomes Photography
Traditional Mexican musicians, a mariachi band can consist of anywhere from three to more than six instruments, including guitars, violins and trumpets. Widely recognized by their charro outfits and wide-brimmed hats, a mariachi band can perform on a stage or move around the room as a wandering act, ensuring that everyone gets their own serenade. A mariachi band can play a range of tunes from upbeat to romantic songs in both Spanish and English.
Originating in the villages of Eastern Europe, this Jewish genre of music has a distinct sound thanks to the clarinet, accompanied by a combination of violins, flutes, accordions, piano, cellos and a percussion instrument. A klezmer band can play at any point at a Jewish wedding, starting with solemn wedding songs during the ceremony processional, followed by more upbeat tunes for cocktail hour, and of course the Hora and other traditional dances at the reception. It’s important to note that a klezmer band isn’t usually limited to just Jewish music. The band may be able to play jazz, pop hits and other genres too. When interviewing bands ask them what other music is in their repertoire to learn if you can have them play more than just a handful of songs.
Synonymous with big games and parades, a marching band can energize your wedding with its brass and percussion instruments. Couples can hire a marching band associated with their alma mater, favorite team, or an independent company. Ask them to get the party started by entering the reception just before the newlyweds and bridal party, or lead the recessional or couple’s getaway. With a permit, you can have a marching band lead your guests from the ceremony site to the reception venue, second-line style made famous in New Orleans. As for the songs they can play, many marching bands can do more than team fight songs. Find out what’s on their song list or if they’re able to learn additional songs in time for your big day.
Photo: Ahava Studios
Steel Drum Band
One of our favorite wedding music ideas for a beach wedding—a steel drum band! Created in the Caribbean, a steel drum or pan can be combined with conga drums and other percussion instruments to play calypso, reggae or salsa music. Many steel drum bands can also play Top 40 hits, covering tunes from a wide range of artists including Jimmy Buffett, The Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder!
If the couple’s a fan of a specific band or musician, a tribute band can offer them a concert of their favorite songs at the wedding reception. (A Tribute Band is a group of musicians who play the music of a specific group.) For example, a Beatles tribute band will dress like The Beatles and play their songs. There are tribute bands for many popular groups ranging from The Rat Pack and Michael Jackson to ABBA and Queen. If you are considering a tribute band for your wedding, consider how many songs from the group you can actually dance to. You may want to limit their set for part of the reception, and ask them to play – or hire a second band or DJ – other songs that guests are more likely to dance to.