Funeral music sets the tone and honors the deceased.

By: Molly Gorny | Date: Mon, October 5th, 2015

Funeral music

Thinking back on the funerals I have attended, what often comes to mind is the funeral music.  For me, one service, in particular, stands out. The funeral was for a family friend and colleague.  He was a serious music lover, and I’m grateful that his family made sure his memorial reflected that. As the soloist sang the classic “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” we all smiled before the tears began to flow. Yes, he would have loved that.

(Scroll down for 10 popular–and perhaps unexpected–funeral songs)

For us, that song seemed a simple choice that made perfect sense. Behind the scenes, however, I’m sure his family had a hard time deciding which favorite to share during the final farewell. There are so many choices, all good, all special. One thing I know for sure is that whenever I hear that song, I smile as I think of my friend. And that’s really what funeral music is all about–helping us remember those who passed our way by giving us something familiar that we can hang a memory on.

Unfortunately, selecting funeral music is often rushed. It comes at a time when there are so many important details that need to be taken care of. None of the decisions are easy, especially when they come upon us suddenly at a time when we are off balance. When the time comes to make your music selections, it’s worth it to take a moment and slow down. The music you select to honor your loved one can set the tone, help people reflect on the life of the person being memorialized, and offer comfort in a time of grief.

It used to be that when it came to choosing funeral music, the funeral director would provide a list of standard choices, and that was that. With the growing trend toward funeral personalization, all bets are now off. There is no right or wrong, and you are not confined to any particular genre or style. In fact, as you can see in the gallery of popular funeral songs, many people are now making very non-conventional choices. The important thing is that the music respects and honors the deceased, even if it’s not something one might call a funeral song.

Read more about selecting music for a funeral service on


  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 should not be traditional “funeral music.” Today, many people are opting for music that has 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 want an upbeat service, your selections may be different than if you are trying to set a more reflective mood.
  3. 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 or CD collection, it can give you insight into the type of music that was most meaningful to them.
  5. If you are choosing songs with lyrics, be sure to listen to the words throughout. Sometimes, the actual lyrics can be a bit surprising when you listen to them word for word. It can also be helpful to read the words by looking the song up on one of the many song lyric websites that are available.

Music and the Funeral Industry

Funeral homes must comply with copyright laws in order to offer music during services. There are exceptions for religious services that are 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 slideshow, you may want to check with your funeral director to see your constraints. If the funeral home’s license doesn’t cover this type of music, there are many good websites that provide songs that are in the public domain.