Selecting Funeral Songs for Ceremonies

Funeral SongsThere was a time when choosing funeral music meant looking over a list of music provided by the funeral director and selecting from a limited number of standard choices. These would often be arranged for organ, and if vocals were included, the song would be a hymn. Times have changed and today we find a wide variety of instruments used, from guitar to flute to violin. Soloists may be professional singers, family friends, or some other acquaintance. As the desire to personalize memorial services has grown, so have the music options you select. Today, when it comes to song choice, just about anything goes.

See Choosing a Funeral Singer for pointers on selecting someone to sing at a funeral.



  1. Think about the person you are memorializing.

    Did he or she have favorite songs or a type of music they were particularly fond of? Remember, the funeral music you select does not have to be traditional “funeral music.” Today, many people opt for songs that have significance to the person being honored rather than selecting from a list of standard choices.

  2. Decide what type of tone you would like to set.

    Listen to the songs you are considering with that in mind. If you would like an upbeat service, your selections may be different than those selected to set a more reflective mood.

  3. Ask others for suggestions.

    Consult with family members and others who know the person well. They may have suggestions that you wouldn’t have thought of.

  4. Take a look at the person’s own music library.

    If you have access to the person’s MP3 player, streaming account, or CD collection, it can give you insight into the type of music that was most meaningful to them.

  5. Listen to the lyrics carefully.

    If you are choosing songs with lyrics, be sure to listen to the words all the way through. Sometimes the actual lyrics can be a bit surprising when you listen to them word for word. It can also help to read the lyrics by reviewing the song on one of the many song lyric websites that are available.

As long as you keep good taste in mind, there are no right or wrong choices when it comes to funeral songs–any genre or style is appropriate. In fact, we often see unconventional choices added to funeral ceremonies. The important thing to remember is that the music respects and honors the deceased, even if it’s not something one might call a funeral song. If you keep in mind the purpose of funeral music, you are certain to make just the right choices.

Ideally, the funeral songs and music you select should:

  • Honor your loved one: Remember the purpose of the music. Your choices should be appropriate and thoughtful. Remember to review the lyrics so that you can avoid any unintended consequences.
  • Set the tone for the service: The music you select will create your service’s mood and tone. For example, somber music will reflect a somber tone. It is perfectly appropriate to mix the type of music, but you should make sure the ceremony flows smoothly.
  • Help the mourners reflect on the life of the person being memorialized: Choosing music that reflects the tastes and interests of the deceased will help those attending remember special moments they shared with your loved one.
  • Offer comfort in a time of grief: Music has long been a means to provide comfort and solace. In fact, studies indicate that music can give voice to feelings and emotions.
  • Be meaningful to the deceased: Music can make the service you are planning more personal. When your selections had meaning for the deceased, your service will be unique and personalized.

Visit our Music for Funerals by Genre Pages

Copyrights and the Funeral Industry

Funeral homes must comply with copyright laws to offer music during services. There are exceptions for religious services conducted by a member of the clergy, but, in general, each funeral home location must hold licenses through music licensing agencies such as BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.

Most funeral homes choose to purchase their licenses through a blanket agreement held by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). The standard license may not cover songs that are included in slideshows. If you are creating your own slide show, you may want to check with your funeral director to see what your constraints are. If the funeral home’s license doesn’t cover this type of music, many good websites provide songs in the public domain.

Picking the right music for a funeral is not an easy task. It is one. However, that can be extremely rewarding. Take your time and keep an open mind. With so many options to consider, it’s easy to let the challenge overwhelm you. If you are struggling with your selections, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Consult with others who knew the person and ask for suggestions.

Think about the person who is being honored, and remember that you are paying tribute to a life. Listen to the songs with a critical ear and one that keeps in mind the deceased’s personal tastes and lifestyle. As long as you keep the person and the occasion in mind, you’ll create the perfect playlist.

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