Civil Ceremony Wedding Music Guide

Civil Ceremony Wedding Music Guide

Are you planning to celebrate tying the knot with your partner at a civil ceremony, but aren't sure what your music options are?

In these modern times, it's increasingly common for couples to forego the traditional, more religious aspects of a wedding such as a vicar and a church choir, and instead opt for a civil ceremony.

There are a lot of misconceptions about civil ceremonies - that they have to take place in an office, that live music can't be played at them - but these views are pretty outdated. The only definite rule you need to know about for your civil wedding ceremony is: it's a non-religious event, so alternatives to religious speeches and music are encouraged.

In this guide, we're going to explain how, even without such classic hymns as ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful' playing in the background, you can still have a day filled with music and magic.

civil ceremony - signing registers

Rules for your Civil Ceremony

First of all, let's look over the ground rules. As it's a non-religious commitment, yet a legally binding one nonetheless, a civil wedding ceremony is required by law to:

  • be performed by a registrar rather than a vicar
  • take place at an approved, non-religious venue
  • not include any religious references such as prayer or hymns.

Get in touch with your local Register Office and make some enquiries about the types of venues your local area has available.

While the Register Office itself will be one such venue, there are many other types of non-government venues which can offer this service - a venue just needs to be licensed to do so. See which of these options would best suit your civil ceremony, weigh them up against your budget, then start laying your plans!

TIPChoose your music widely. Some registrars may even insist that you submit a list of ceremony songs before the day itself, just so they can double check the music is suitable.

The type of venue you settle on will have an impact on the type of musical entertainment your civil ceremony can accommodate. Larger venues will naturally have more space for larger groups of musicians, whereas smaller venues will benefit from the intimate tones of a soloist or duo.

Here are some suggestions for the types of civil wedding ceremony bands and artists you could hire for larger or smaller venues:

Smaller venues

Even if space is limited, there are still lots of live music options to choose from, each with an extensive range of music to choose from.

Wedding Harpists

Arguably the most romantic instrument out there, a harpist is a popular choice for weddings and civil ceremonies alike. Not only does it produce a dreamy, gentle sound, but a harp will also be gorgeous for you and your guests to look at - and it's much easier to transport than a piano or a drum kit.

Wedding Guitarists

Whether you opt for a classical, a jazz or a flamenco guitarist, any type of solo six-stringer you hire to entertain your civil ceremony guests will be able to effortlessly adopt your favourite modern hits into their own signature style. As with a harpist, a solo guitarist is similarly compact and won't take very long at all to set up, and would in most cases be more than happy to continue to play background music for you, as well songs for the stand-out moments.

Wedding Pianists

There are few pieces of music a solo pianist can't do justice to with their own two hands: classical pieces, pop songs, movie soundtracks - you name it (as long as it's in no way religious).

You will need to check whether your venue has its own in-house piano, or whether it has space to accommodate one, before hiring a solo pianist - although they may be able to bring a portable keyboard and even a piano shell to recreate the effect of a regular piano.

Acoustic Duos

Although we've enjoyed Simon without Garfunkel and Hall without Oates, a musical partnership just seems much more fitting for your civil ceremony. Typically, one or both members of the duo will play guitar, and one or both will sing - whichever combo you get will be a winner.

Wedding Singers

To really save on space, you could book an act which requires no instruments whatsoever. Furthermore, there are few things that sound purer of soul than a solo vocalist singing you sweet messages of love.

Larger venues

Add an ensemble of musicians to the mix to take your civil ceremony music to the next level.

Jazz Bands

Playing this, the coolest genre of music (ask anyone), at your ceremony will immediately put your guests at ease and highlight your hip edge as a couple.

Depending on just how much larger your venue is, you might prefer a jazz trio with a drummer, double bassist and pianists, a jazz quartet which also adds a vocalist to the mix, or even a 5- or 6-piece jazz ensemble with a full horn section.

Gospel Choir

A gospel choir doesn't necessarily need to be exalting the Lord above in order to lift up your spirits - it's all in the power of their combined voices. The good news is: there are plenty of songs which are considered today to be non-religious or secular hymns, so you can still fill your ceremony room with a gospel choir's uplifting sound.

Acoustic Wedding Bands

If you want your ceremony to be really rocking, hire an acoustic wedding band to come a-knocking. Wedding bands may surprise you with how dynamic they can be - they can soften their sound right up for the more tender moments, then liven everyone up again for moments of celebration.

Wedding String Quartets

The beautiful blend of twin violins, a viola and a cello is the perfect soundtrack to any kind of romantic event. You'll find that most modern string quartets don't exclusively have classical music in their repertoire either - they're just as happy playing Stevie Wonder as they are Schubert.

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Wedding ceremony music ideas

In contrast to a traditional white wedding, there is no set order of service to follow when it comes to the events that make up your civil ceremony. In fact, you're free to make your civil wedding ceremony as elaborate or as simple as you like!

However, there's no reason why you can't take some inspiration from traditional weddings. A civil ceremony will still need to feature such iconic moments as the bride's entrance, so you can still have fun choosing the best civil wedding ceremony music ideas for each of these.

When it comes to choosing the right music for your civil ceremony, it's worth reminding yourself that you need to avoid religious music and hymns. Some registrars may even insist that you submit a set list of songs that your band will play, before the day itself, just so they can double check none of the tunes overstep this line.

You'll find that most registrars these days will allow instrumental versions of religious pieces such as ‘Ave Maria' - you'll just need to assure them that none of the explicitly religious lyrics will be sung.

That aside, this still leaves hundreds upon thousands of fantastic love songs you can choose from, as well as a tonne of classical music. If that sounds a little overwhelming - don't worry, we've picked some of our favourite civil wedding ceremony music ideas to score each step of your ceremony, which we've divided into the following 4 stages:

Prelude: the arrival

This is an important stage, as it allows your wedding band to set the tone of your event for your guests as they arrive. As elegant and ornate as your decorations can be, it's the music that will bring the picture to life.

While you may be inclined to save some of your favourite songs for the main events to come, there's nothing stopping you from serving up a few stone-cold classics for your guests as they find their seats. Here are a few of our top picks for tunes to welcome your guests into your venue:

  • Spring - Vivaldi
    Spring - Vivaldi
  • Moonlight Sonata - Beethoven
    Moonlight Sonata - Beethoven
  • All You Need Is Love - the Beatles
    All You Need Is Love - the Beatles
  • Yellow - Coldplay
    Yellow - Coldplay
  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Judy Garland
    Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Judy Garland

Processional: the walk-in

This is the fairytale ‘here comes the bride' moment taken straight from every rom-com, so you'll want to ramp up the anticipation to the max. There are no wrong song choices, but you will also want to choose a piece of music that's recognisable enough for your guests to understand the importance of this moment the second it starts to play.

  • Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen
    Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen
  • Thinking Out Loud - Ed Sheeran
    Thinking Out Loud - Ed Sheeran
  • Canon in D - Pachelbel
    Canon in D - Pachelbel
  • Blowin' in the Wind - Bob Dylan
    Blowin' in the Wind - Bob Dylan
  • You're Beautiful - James Blunt
    You're Beautiful - James Blunt

The signing of the register: the declaration

Far from ‘the boring legal stuff' which signatures are generally associated with, this is the moment when you are officially recognised by the government as a legal partnership - and it deserves to be celebrated!

As well as the physical signatures, this part of the ceremony will also involve the exchanging of vows. This whole section takes, on average, about 5 minutes - which is luckily enough time for a whole song, maybe even two.

  • Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars
    Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars
  • All Of Me - John Legend
    All Of Me - John Legend
  • LOVE - Nat King Cole
    LOVE - Nat King Cole
  • I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
    I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
  • How Long Will I Love You - Ellie Goulding
    How Long Will I Love You - Ellie Goulding

Recessional: the walk-out

When you cross the finish line, hand in hand as a couple, you'll want a song that's celebratory in nature to put a spring in your step.

The song you choose for your recessional should also be a song that's personal to you both - so if there's a particular tune that you both know is ‘your song', this is the time to play it.

  • Can You Feel the Love Tonight? - Elton John
    Can You Feel the Love Tonight? - Elton John
  • One Day Like This - Elbow
    One Day Like This - Elbow
  • Friday I'm In Love - the Cure
    Friday I'm In Love - the Cure
  • Ode to Joy - Beethoven
    Ode to Joy - Beethoven
  • We Found Love - Rihanna and Calvin Harris
    We Found Love - Rihanna and Calvin Harris

We hope our guide has given you an idea of how to plan your civil wedding ceremony music for your big day - and we wish you all the best!