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Featured FAQ: How Do I Choose Music for a Funeral?

November 15, 2016

Music is a powerful vehicle for expressing emotion, setting a mood and bringing people together – and choosing the right music for a funeral or memorial can make the service tremendously personal while creating a moving and meaningful experience for all in attendance.

61521439 - group of seniors singing in choir togetherMusical selections can help mourners embrace their sadness or uplift their spirits. The right music can underscore the meaning of life and death; help mourners accept the reality of death; but also celebrate life. And choosing music or songs that were meaningful to the deceased helps to make the service personal and can assist in expressing the personality of your loved one.

Funerals are no longer limited to just organ music. Most venues have a modern sound system to play recordings, and with digital music, the choice is nearly unlimited. Families may also choose to have musical instruments, such as guitar or violin, to accompany chosen musical selections. They may ask family members to sing, hire a professional singer or enlist the help of their community’s choir. A little preparation ahead of time will help those performing to become familiar with the musical selections and be prepared to participate in the service, even under difficult and highly emotional circumstances.

Music appropriate for a funeral

While there are traditional hymns and songs commonly used for a funeral, appropriate musical selections can be found in almost any genre. In fact, the deeper the personal connection to the music, the deeper the meaning of the service. Finding music that has some connection to your loved one – such as a favorite song or lyrics that express your loved one’s unique perspective on life – adds a true personal touch to the memorial. More and more, people are choosing music that is not traditional for funerals. It’s not unusual to utilize music from Broadway, country, rock or pop music.

When considering whether or not a song is appropriate, one critical aspect is to examine the lyrics to the musical selection. Be sure to read or listen to all the lyrics ahead of time to make sure the words are appropriate for the occasion and will not offend anyone in attendance.

Religious services often have prescribed moments for music with a range of traditional selections. Ask your religious leader for suggestions or if you have music in mind, run it by your religious leader to make sure your selections are appropriate for the traditions of your community.

Another important consideration when choosing music for a funeral is the copyrights for public performance of the music. Most funeral homes and even many houses of worship have standard licenses from music royalty groups such as BMI and ASCAP which gives them the right to play almost any recorded music in a public funeral service hosted at their facility. It is a good idea to ask the venue that you have chosen if they have purchased such blanket licenses to cover the use of your musical selections. However, those licenses may not apply to live music performed by a band or solo performer, so find out if the band or performer has the appropriate licenses to perform your selected music.

Suggestions for Musical Selections

It is important to find the music that best reflects the life and personality of your loved one, but it can be overwhelming with so many songs available. If you need specific suggestions for musical selections, here is a list of the Top 40 Funeral Songs from Your Tribute website. Selections include “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole; “You’ll Be In My Heart” by Phil Collins; and “The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand.

For selections for a funeral mass – such as the processional; presentation of gifts; or recessional – try some of these suggestions from Peter Paul Catholic Church: In Loving Memory – Musical Selections for a Funeral Mass.

For more suggestions, follow these links from Funeral Wise:

Broadway Music

Christian/Classical Music

Country Music

Pop/Rock Music

Other Music

While it’s certainly appropriate to utilize traditional music at a funeral, it’s not unusual to play the deceased’s favorite tunes; use popular music to convey certain periods of a loved one’s life; or employ a specific musical genre to create the right mood. Choosing musical selections which represent the life of the individual can mean more to family and friends than simply choosing standard funeral music.

To speak to one of our knowledgeable funeral directors for help in choosing musical selections for your own service or for the funeral of a loved one, please contact us at any of our locations or call our main office at 1-800-Keohane (800-536-4263).

Photo credit: Ian Allenden/


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