Music moves us like no other art form.  It enables us to express emotions and form emotional memories, which is especially relevant at a funeral service.  

This guide considers the purposes music can serve at a funeral and where music fits into a ceremony. Additionally, guiding you on how to choose the right music for your funeral. 

Who is this guide for?

  • Those planning a funeral who wants music that sets a particular tone 
  • Someone who wants to know where music occurs in a funeral ceremony 
  • Anyone wondering how to choose the music for their funeral 

Reading time:

 3.5 mins

Where words fail

What is the purpose of music at funerals?

Selecting the right music for your funeral can be a daunting task, especially if you’re a lover of music. Paradoxically, the funeral for the late singer songwriter John Lennon had no music at all!

How do you begin to whittle down and choose the right music for your funeral so the mourners get a sense of you when paying their respects. 

Music is an integral part of a funeral service and accomplishes several things:

  • It personalises the service by reflecting an aspect of your personality or life. 
  • It sets the tone of the funeral, whether that is formal, religious, or contemporary. 
  • It uplifts or consoles.
  • It brings people together and allows them to grieve.

How many pieces of music can be included in a funeral?

Typically, three pieces of music are played during the 45-minute average length funeral with a ceremony.  (The duration of a service can be doubled for an additional fee paid to the crematorium or place of burial.  Don't forget to factor in a payment for the funeral director's extra time.)

You can, of course, include as many pieces of music as you like during the ceremony – it could be all music - although it is usually interspersed with the eulogy, speeches and readings from family and other mourners.   A Christian funeral service will typically include two hymns.  With that in mind, allow 3 – 4 minutes per piece of music.

How to squeeze more music into your funeral ceremony

One way to include a wider range of your favourite music is to only choose selected verses from a particular hymn, or to ask for just an excerpt to be played from a popular song or a piece of classical music. It’s important to leave clear instructions as to which excerpt.

It’s also vitally important you give details of the composer or which version of a song you want to be played, preferably with the album title. The ever-popular, smooth-as-silk rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ by Eva Cassidy might be what you have in mind at your funeral, but if you don’t specify the recording artist you could end up with the version by Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, giving an altogether different feel to your send-off!

How to choose the right music for your funeral

At what points is music played during a funeral service?

Music is usually played at the following key points during a funeral service:

As the mourners arrive in the space where the service takes place.

During a period of reflection in the middle of the service, known as the committal.
At the end of the service as the mourners leave.

You may decide to have a song played that meant something to you as mourners take their seats, a more formal piece of music during the committal and something uplifting at the end. It all comes down to personal choice and what you want to convey in the service.

How to choose the right music for your funeral so it conveys who you are to the audience. 

It is possible that not everyone who attends your funeral to pay their last respects will know you well.  

To keep in tune with your audience, your eulogy could be used to help some people understand why a song has been chosen that wouldn’t be traditionally associated with a funeral and ensures your funeral hits the right note.

10 pieces of classical music for funerals as chosen by Classic FM

  1. Barber – Adagio for Strings
  2. Mahler – Adagietto (Symphony No 5)
  3. Elgar – Nimrod
  4. Percy Grainger – Irish Tune from County Derry
  5. Arvo Pärt -  Cantus
  6. Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending
  7. Pachelbel – Canon in D
  8. Bach – Air on a G String
  9. Albinoni – Adagio in G minor
  10. Schubert – Ave Maria
How to choose the right music for your funeral

10 hits that regularly top polls for the most popular choice of funeral music

  1. Monty Python - Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
  2. Eva Cassidy - Over the Rainbow
  3. Frank Sinatra - My Way
  4. Andrea Bocelli - Time To Say Goodbye
  5. Celine Dion & Andrea Bocelli - Prayer
  6. Robbie Williams - Angels
  7. Nat King Cole - Unforgettable
  8. Vera Lynn - We’ll Meet Again
  9. Abba - Dancing Queen
  10. Westlife - You Raise Me Up
How to choose the right music for your funeral
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About the author 

Derek Thompson

Derek Thompson is a writer and author, who has written extensively about grief and the funeral industry. He thinks humour is a much-underrated commodity. And thanks to a mix-up, when his name was read out during a committal, instead of his brother’s, he has technically been to his own funeral.

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