Wedding entertainment: how to find the perfect soundtrack for every stage of your big day

You don’t have to be a virtuoso to pick out great songs for your wedding. Trusting your musicians, Patricia-Ann Young discovers, is the key

a man in a tuxedo plays the piano
Dennis Douglas, aka Aberdeen Wedding Pianist, will add a classy note to your drinks reception with his expressive playing

It’s the part of wedding planning that everyone thinks they’re going to enjoy. We all firmly believe our taste in music is the best, and we’re finally going to get a chance to show it off with our own pick of the tunes!

Yet the reality is that when it comes time to put together a playlist for your musician or DJ, it can be a bit of a headscratcher. The songs you love to belt out in the car perhaps aren’t really suitable background music for your drinks reception, and your favourite Phoebe Bridgers track might be too dreary to march down the aisle to.

In situations like this, it’s always best to consult the musical gurus in your life – and the musical gurus in my life turn out to be some of the most talented and experienced wedding musicians in the business! Read on to find out what they have to say about picking the right mix for your special day.


At a wedding, the party starts as soon as your guests cross the threshold of the venue, so this is when the tunes should start too. Siobhán Daly of Amarone Music, a musical trio of flute, violin and guitar (or piano), explains why playing music early is so vital: “It sets the tone for your day. Our couples generally ask for softer and more elegant music at this point, such as traditional Scottish songs, well-known classical pieces and/or acoustic versions of popular songs or film scores.”

Dennis Douglas, aka the Aberdeen Wedding Pianist, says he aims for a gently romantic atmosphere at this point of the day: “I want it to be background-level as guests mingle and prepare for the ceremony. Sometimes there are delays so I have dip into my repertoire of love songs – Disney music can be quite nice here. I want to create a sense of calm and romance at this stage.”


The ceremony is when your guests first sit up and take notice, so it’s good to get the music here right. A bit like the song for your first dance, the songs here could represent something meaningful to you both as a couple. Margaret Hill of the much-loved WooHoo Band encourages couples to follow their heart when it comes to ceremony music. “Choose a song that feels special to you, whether it’s ‘your’ song or something from a band you both love,” she says.

“You may have a song you’ve always dreamed of walking down the aisle to but if you need inspiration, you should discuss your favourite musical memories together – maybe you remember dancing in the kitchen to a certain tune? You might be surprised by which songs can sound romantic when played by a string trio or a piano! Whatever you choose, you can make the moment more personal and intimate with live music. Musicians can play any song you choose, whether you want a vocalist, an acoustic performance, or your favourite song performed as a moving string piece.”

If you decide to forgo live music for a recording, prepare ahead of time so there are no hiccups. “Sometimes couples leave it to the best man or one of the ushers to look after the music on the day,” says Stuart Maclennan of Fresh Entertainments. “But they are guests too and should be focused on enjoying the day and not worrying about the technical side of things. So always organise that with your venue ahead of time.”

Drinks reception

a saxophonist takes a selfie before the wedding ceremony begins; two guitarists play
Left: Saxophonist Marshali Scott gets ready to sax it up before this wedding ceremony kicks off; Right: WooHoo Band have a flexible lineup with anything from three to 14 performers to suit the size of your stage (Photo: Tamar Hope Photography)

“The beauty of a drinks reception is all of your friends and family are on a high,” says saxophonist Marshali Scott. “You’ve just got married and they are all excited, ready to enjoy the day ahead. It’s nice to go for music that is upbeat and uplifting. The party vibes will be starting to kick in, so you can pick something livelier at this stage in the day if you wish. It’s very much your show, though, so if you want to keep things calm until the reception kicks off, that’s chill too,” says Marshali. “Go with what is true to you both. Your friends and family will feel happy that the music that is getting played reflects your taste and adds that personal touch to the whole day.”

Tom Ion, guitarist with band The Soul Establishment agrees there’s lots of options out there to suit the mood you want to create. “Some couples will book an instrumental group like a string ensemble or jazz combo to create a relaxed, less-intrusive feel so guests can mingle,” he says. “Others prefer to get the party started at this point and book something like an acoustic group with singing, a choir or a roaming band. It’s totally up to you.”

Party time

Once the reception kicks off, it’s party time! But what type of party? While bands and DJs are always open to hear what kind of music their couples are into, it isn’t a good idea to try to dictate too much of what they’ll play once your reception is in full swing. “It does no harm to give your band a flavour of what you’re into as guidance to help keep you on the dancefloor, but we’d always advise trusting your musicians,” says Euan Lawrence at Tartan Entertainment.

Ciadhra McGuire of band The Old World News shares the same sentiment: “We offer a bespoke cover of your choosing and will take into account any other requests you might have, but we do ask that you trust us. To decide our next song, we tend to feel out a crowd and see what they’re responding to and what the energy is like. Being too rigid or prescriptive with a set list often doesn’t work.”

If your taste in music is off the beaten track and you really want to hear some of those tunes on your wedding day, let your musicians know as early as possible, says Stuart at Fresh Entertainments. “Trust the professionals to do what they do best, but if you love rock music, you shouldn’t feel that you can’t hear it on the day of your wedding. If you tell your DJ or band the type of music you enjoy ahead of time, they can play a few of those tracks throughout the night.”

A little bit of Slipknot as a chaser to Ed Sheeran? Why not!

Top tip: The bride famously gets an entry track, but what about the groom? Dennis Douglas, aka Aberdeen Wedding Pianist, says that it is becoming increasingly popular for grooms to be played down the aisle too. “I’ve been asked to play everything from the Harry Potter theme song to Blink 182’s ‘I Miss You’!”