Selecting Funeral Songs for Ceremonies

Funeral SongsThere was a time when choosing funeral songs meant looking over a list of music provided by the funeral director and selecting from a limited number of standard choices. Quite often these would be arranged for organ and if vocals were included, the song would be a hymn. Times have changed. 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 options for the music 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 are opting 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 if you are trying 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 be helpful to read the lyrics by reviewing the song on one of the many song lyric websites that are available.

There are really no right or wrong choices for funeral songs given that you keep within the bounds of good taste and you are not limited by genre or style. 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 then you are certain to make just the right choices.

Ideally, the funeral songs and music you select should:

  • Honor your loved one
  • Set the tone for the service
  • Help the mourners reflect on the life of the person being memorialized
  • Offer comfort in a time of grief
  • Be meaningful to the deceased

Funeral 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 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, there are many good websites that provide songs that are in the public domain.

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