Wedding Music 101: Prelude, Postlude…What Does It All Mean?

by dave

Wedding Music 101“What is wedding prelude music?”

I get a lot of questions like this about wedding music.

I’m not surprised. In fact, this is the reason I started Wedding Music Unveiled—to help you make sense of church wedding music and make it easier for you to plan it.

If you are just starting out, you too might be confused by or unfamiliar with many wedding ceremony music terms.

Here’s a list of such terms with introductory-level definitions—explanations that work for you, not for musicians! This should put an end to the confusion.

Check out the end of the article for even more helpful information like this!

There are many “wedding music getting started” articles posted here that you should also check out!

Wedding music terms

You’re likely to come across many of these terms in your wedding planning. I hope you find the quick, practical definitions useful:

  • Bridal march. The piece of music played while a bride enters the church. A better term is “processional”.
  • Bridal party processional. The piece of music played when the bridal (or wedding) party enters the church. Only used in weddings when the bride enters the church all by herself to a separate piece of music.
  • Bulletin. Also called “wedding program”. In many churches, the bulletin is what is handed out Sunday mornings as people enter church. It contains announcements, events, and information about the worship service. Some people also use the term when it comes to weddings, but “wedding program” is probably better.
  • Canon. A style of music and also the name of a famous piece written by Johann Pachelbel in the late 1600s. A canon itself has nothing whatsoever to do with weddings. It’s also not a weapon of war (cannon is a completely different word).
  • Entrance march. What some people call the processional.
  • Entrance music. What some people call the processional.
  • Exit music. What some people call the recessional. Note that it refers to the entire wedding party leaving the church (including the just-married couple) but not the guests (see Postlude).
  • Hymn. A song sung by all in worship to God. Hymns can be used in weddings.
  • Instrumental. Technically, any piece of music played on an instrument. For weddings, people tend to use it to refer to music that is played by an instrument other than their primary instrument (for example, a violin piece instead of an organ piece).
  • Instrumentalist. Technically, a musician who plays any instrument (as opposed to a singer). But for weddings, it typically means a musician playing a secondary instrument (something other than your primary instrument which typically is an organ or piano).
  • Interlude. There is no such thing. It’s a term probably coined by someone who did not understand church weddings. When people say interlude, they generally mean a piece of music (most often a vocal song) played at some point during the wedding service.
  • Minister of Music. A musician employed by a church to oversee all things musical. May also happen to be an organist, but the term expresses a higher level of duties than just playing the organ. A good person to approach first about your music if your church has one, regardless of your plans for music.
  • Organist. A person who plays an organ. Because organ-playing skills are completely different than for other keyboards (such as a piano) and because organs are very complex and expensive instruments, the person who serves as your organist generally should be from the church or someone who has the right skills (check with the church first).
  • Postlude. The pieces of music (often several pieces) played as the guests leave the church.
  • Prelude. The pieces of music played before the ceremony starts as guests are arriving. The purpose of prelude music is not to cover up the noise of guests arriving. It sets the tone for the ceremony to come.
  • Preservice. An alternate term for prelude (at least regarding weddings).
  • Processional. The piece of music played as the bride and/or wedding party enter the church.
  • Recessional. The piece of music played as the couple and their wedding party (but generally not the guests) leave the church after the ceremony. Different than the postlude (what guests leave to).
  • Solo. Technically, anytime a musician plays by him or herself. But for weddings, it’s a sung piece of music (even if there are multiple other instruments involved). It is almost always during the ceremony (though it doesn’t strictly need to be—it just generally works out that way). When multiple singers are involved, don’t refer to it as “The Solo”.
  • Soloist. In the context of weddings, a vocalist.
  • Song. While some people use it to refer to any piece of music, it should only refer to a piece of music sung by one (or a small number of) singers. Often it refers to what the soloist (or vocalists) sings. It’s different than a hymn, which is something everyone sings, though you could choose to have a soloist sing a hymn as a song.
  • Trumpet voluntary. A piece of music in a certain style that features a trumpet or trumpet-like sound on an organ. Often very festive, elegant, or march-like. It has nothing to do with weddings, though its style means that many trumpet voluntaries work well in weddings. One trumpet voluntary, Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary in D is used in many weddings.
  • Walk down the aisle music. What some people call the processional when they don’t know the word processional.
  • Wedding ceremony. In a church, a worship service featuring the marriage of husband and wife. The key point here is that it is a worship service and not an event constructed however the couple wants it. A church’s standards of worship must be maintained.
  • Wedding march. What some people call the processional. Also the name of several specific pieces of music.
  • Wedding service. Same as wedding ceremony, but probably a more accurate term as “service” recognizes the inherent worship aspect.
  • Wedding program. What is handed to arriving guests that lists the order of the ceremony, participants and details (often including music).
  • Wedding solo. Another way of referring to a song sung during the wedding ceremony.

More help is available!

I hope this list helps you! Want more like this?

Consider my introductory Church Wedding Music mini-course, a series of three free videos that’ll get you started! You can get immediate access below or on the right side of the web page. Or if you want more information, click the link above.

So what else would you like to know? What are you confused by when it comes to wedding ceremony music?

Let me know and I’ll try to help.

Don’t forget there’s a lot more information available in our free email newsletter and our church wedding music guide.

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