After the loss of a loved one, the to-do list to prepare for the funeral or service while also managing your grief may seem insurmountable. Funeral services seem to be getting more and more complex with photo slideshows, in depth eulogies, videos, and collages. Thinking about adding music to a funeral or service may seem unimportant or trivial at first, but it can be a great way to honor the deceased.
Additionally, music is an exceptional and deeply moving way to work through grief and slowly begin the processing of healing from a difficult loss. Music surrounds us in many aspects of our life, so it makes sense that it would help us say goodbye to a loved one and honor their legacy as well.
Music played at a funeral service can represent the deceased’s favorite songs or genre, celebrate their life, or can even be music recorded by the deceased if they were a musician. Importantly, music can help loved ones process through the many steps of grieving. Because of this, music does not always have to be somber or sad and instead be any kind of music that reminds you of the deceased or helps you to think of fond memories with them.
In times of sorrow, music can help comfort those in attendance. Music can also help the service run smoothly and give guests something to enjoy and focus on during times of transition and waiting.
Another important aspect of having music at a funeral service is to help our bodies and brains process grief. The chemicals and hormones in our brains change as we listen to music. Music produces an emotional response within us and can convey a feeling often better than spoken words can.
By having music at a funeral service, you can help guests to connect better and process their feelings. Music may bring uplifting feelings or unlock feelings of sadness. Music is one of the most universal and therapeutic mechanisms we have to connect with each other.
Music is also a special way to personalize your loved one’s funeral service. As you grieve, you may focus on ensuring that your loved one’s funeral or memorial service is perfect and that it represents them in the best possible way.
By adding music to a funeral service, you are able to ensure that the funeral is personalized exactly to your loved one. Music may also make the service memorable which can help to ensure that your loved one’s memory and legacy is special and never forgotten.
If you are struggling to narrow down the playlist to a select group of songs, that is okay! It could be that the deceased loved music or that you find many songs that you feel represent them and honor their legacy.
The great thing about music is that it is nearly universally loved! It is hard to think of anyone who does not at least like music. This makes it a great tool to incorporate throughout the many ways you celebrate your loved one’s life and legacy.
Certain times when you may choose to play music include:
As guests enter the service area and are seated. This can help the guests feel welcomed and also help to ease uncomfortable or somber silences or initial bursts of emotions as people enter. Videos or photo slideshows of the deceased are often shown during this time to help bring an audio aspect to the presentation.
During otherwise silent times in the service or times dedicated to reflection and prayer. This can again help to avoid uncomfortable silences or expressions of emotion such as crying to sniffling. Often instrumental or soft music is best for these times. You may also dedicate this time during the service for all guests’ to enjoy the deceased’s favorite song, a religious hymn, or live music performed by friends or family of the deceased.
During a special ceremony within the service. This can be during communion, candle lighting, the laying of flowers, or guests singing a song together. The music can also be played at the end of the service, as guests exit the service area and are reflecting on the service. This can also be helpful if there are many guests that may be waiting to file out of the service space.
During other events of remembrance, such as during a wake, visitation time, memorial service, or celebration of life. Some of these events open up more opportunities for different types and varieties of music. Also, if there are online memorials such as a memorial website, social media page, or online guest book or an online video memorial. You would need to create this yourself, but it can be a great way to share all of the music, videos, photos, and memories of the deceased in a touching way that will last forever for all to see.
Other instances. You may also incorporate lyrics into the service program, eulogy, or other prepared remarks or texts. If there are particularly special lyrics from a song, you may choose to have those engraved on the deceased’s headstone or urn.
Choosing music for the funeral service can seem like a daunting task, but it is important to remember that as long as the music represents the deceased and brings back fond memories with them, there is no “right” or “wrong” music to play.
There are many ways you can go about deciding what type of music or specific songs to play and you should not feel too overwhelmed as you decide. First, you may decide to play music that the deceased love to listen to. Were there certain songs, artists, or genres that they frequently enjoyed? Did the deceased possibly have a playlist of their favorite songs or leave behind a list of songs that they wanted to be played in their memory?
Something else you may want to consider is the tone that you are looking to set for the funeral or service. While you may choose somber music, you may also choose upbeat music that helps people celebrate the life of the deceased or serene instrumental music only.
You may also choose songs that personify the deceased. What songs do you hear that immediately remind you of them? Were there any special songs you shared together? What are songs that were playing during special moments you had with them?
Examples of inspiration for songs may include:
A song that was played at their wedding (first dance, father-daughter dance, or mother-son dance) or during other special occasions such as birthdays or retirement parties. This could also include songs from their alma mater or their favorite sports team fight songs.
A song they used as their ringtone or in their social media profiles or their go-to karaoke song to sing in the car. Songs from their favorite musicals, theater shows, movies or TV shows would also work.
If the deceased was a musician, music performed and recorded by the deceased. Include songs that you remember made them smile, sing along to or get up and dance.
Religious songs, hymns, or musical instrumentals including from religious texts. Taps for those that served in the military or other military related songs are ideas as well.
Music from the deceased’s favorite travel destination such as Tibetan singing bowls or West African talking drums. Think cultural songs or songs from their unique ethnic background such as bagpipes or drum.
Sounds that the deceased enjoyed such as meditation sounds, sounds of nature and outdoors, or instrumental music. You can also ask the funeral director or religious leader for their input.
Popular songs on Apple Music, Spotify, the radio, or Billboard top hits. Also, songs you find in your internet research. You may search for general songs to play in a funeral service or songs that have a specific meaning or message behind them.
Be sure to think of songs from all aspects of their lives, from childhood nursery rhymes or favorite songs all the way to the songs they listened to in their final days.
After you have decided on the songs, medleys, and sounds to be played during the funeral or service, you will want to compile them into a playlist. The easiest way to do this, is to take the list of songs and either add them to a CD or your song library. You may also add them to a service that will allow you to create a playlist such as Spotify and Apple Music.
Note, you may have to pay a subscription fee to use Spotify or Apple Music without advertisements, though if you do not currently pay for one already, it is likely you have a friend or family member who does. By using Spotify or Apple Music, you can also share the playlist with others and let them add their own song suggestions.
If you are going to have live music, be sure to ask the musicians in a timely manner to be a part of the service so they can be sure to be free and also have adequate time to prepare any necessary pieces that they may not be familiar with. You should inform them of when during the service they should expect to play, for how long, and the general layout of the service so they are aware of where in the program their playing occurs.
You may also host a brief practice session with the musicians or meet with them before the funeral service to be sure that they have everything they need to successfully play during the service.
There is a lot of music out there and you should not feel like you need to come up with the entire playlist by yourself. You will definitely want to ask family and close friends for suggestions. It can be a good idea to ask all close family members and friends to send you a song with a short explanation on why or how it represents the deceased. This can help you to choose the perfect selection of songs. If you are unfamiliar with the music the deceased listened to, you may also ask close friends for the artists they listened to or for concerts that they attended.
You may also look through the deceased’s personal music collection on their phone, computer, or physical collection such as records, cassette tapes, and CDs . Try to remember concerts they had attended or ask friends who may have attended concerns with them.
It is also helpful to look into what musical artists they followed on social media, music liked on their Spotify or Apple Music, artists they frequently talked about, or musicals they attended.
If you are having trouble sorting out the technology for the funeral service music, you may also ask a family member or friend that is good with technology and creating playlists to help you. It is very likely that someone in your circle is familiar with Spotify, Apple Music, or other tools to create a playlist. Your support system is around to help you and this is a task that may be very easy for someone to take over.
Lastly, if you are having a service at a religious venue or in a funeral home, religious leaders and/or funeral directors likely have general or default music prepared for funeral services. Speak with them to begin to get ideas for music that they offer and any recommendations they have.
For example, it is common for Catholic services to include at least three different songs. Protestant services hymns and music are a vital part of the service and may be the main feature. In many Jewish services music is not often featured but some Rabbis may include music by request.
During your time of grieving and honoring your loved one, religious leaders and funeral home directors are there to help.
Music at a funeral service does not have to be cookie-cutter. It is okay to think outside of the box, especially if the deceased was a vibrant person or if they specifically mentioned that they wanted their service to be celebratory or upbeat. It is okay if the music you play makes people sing along or get up and dance. Funeral services can be celebratory and do not have to be what we traditionally think of as a somber time filled with people dressed all in black.
Funeral service songs can also go beyond songs that represent the deceased. Songs can help guests reflect on the legacy of the deceased or be a final message from the deceased to those in attendance. What is a meaningful message that the deceased would want to leave behind? Is there a song that represents that?
You may also incorporate fun traditions or opportunities for guests to engage while music is being played. For example, guests may light a candle, lay a flower, or plant a tree during a song. You may also ask guests to sing along to a song. These are all dynamic ways to engage guests with the music and may allow for additional opportunities for healing and reflecting. This can also keep the funeral service engaging and flowing well.
Additionally, you may think of fun traditions that involve music that you can incorporate into the funeral service. For example, jazz funerals in New Orleans often have a tradition where a brass jazz band sets off the service by marching with family and friends to the funeral site. It is then followed by upbeat music that is used to celebrate the life of the deceased. This goes to show, there are no limits to how you use music to honor your loved one.
If you are still having trouble finding a way to use music to honor your loved one during their funeral, do not feel discouraged. You are likely very stressed and it can be difficult to think of such an important task when you are grieving.
If you are having trouble thinking outside of the box regarding songs to include in the service for your loved one or ways to incorporate music, ask yourself the following questions:
What is one word used to describe the deceased? What is a song that best represents that word?
What is a song I remember my loved one singing often? What is a song they danced to?
What are some salient identities that my loved one had? For example, being a teacher, nurse, mother, father, etc. What is a song that represents that identity?
What was my loved one’s favorite activity or hobby? What is a song that represents that activity or hobby?
Where was my loved one’s favorite vacation or travel destination? What music represents that destination?
What is my loved one’s cultural or ethnic background? Is there any music that represents this culture or ethnic background?
What is one characteristic of my loved one that I want everyone to remember about them? What is a song that represents that characteristic?
What is a song I would play for someone who had never met my loved one to help them better understand the memory and legacy of my loved one?
What is one piece of advice my loved one wanted to leave the world with? What is a song that represents that advice?
If I could tell my loved one one last thing, what would I tell them? What is a song that represents that?
Here are some tips and considerations that can help families with choosing what music best fits their loved one and do so in a way that is not only reflective of the deceased but for those that attend the services as well.
It is never too early to begin thinking about funeral service music. If you know your loved one is close to passing, you may have a conversation with them about their favorite music or about what music they would like to be played at their funeral service.
If you do not want to talk about the service itself, you may simply strike up a conversation about their favorite artists or what kind of song they want to listen to. In general, this can be a great activity and way to bond in your loved one’s final days.
If you did not have the opportunity to speak with them about music, think early about what songs remind you of them, represent them, or honor them. If you hear a song on the radio or in a coffee shop that reminds you of them, jot down the song and consider adding it to the playlist.
The app Shazam to identify a song that you do not know the name of or can Google the lyrics of a song to identify the name and artist.
You may also think of funeral service music for yourself. While you can do this as you prepare for your end of life by writing down your wishes for your funeral and informing close family and friends of songs that you would like to be played at your funeral or memorial service.
You may also do this casually as you share your favorite songs or music with friends and family. Simply having a conversation with those around you about their favorite music can be a great way to bond even before you begin preparing for your end of life ceremonies.
First, it is important to make sure the church or service venue both allows outside music and has the appropriate equipment to play music. You will want to make sure there is an operating speaker system, enough outlets for electronics that may be used to play the music, and ensure how the playlist should be played during the service.
Depending on the technology available, you may create the playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, or another music app and play it over the sound system via a cell phone or computer. If the music is being accompanied by a video or slideshow [link to creating a funeral video slideshow educational article], be sure there is also equipment for projecting the video.
Lastly, if there will be live music, be sure that the musicians are able to access their instruments and that there is space, electrical outlets, and the appropriate technology for them to play.
In thinking of technology, this may also be a good time to double check with the venue if you need any sort of copyright license or other legal approvals for playing music. Most venues, including funeral homes and religious institutions, will not need or will already have the necessary legal protection to play copyrighted songs, yet it is always a good idea to double check beforehand. Venues will be aware of any necessary rights needed to play copyrighted music on their premise.
Depending on the flow and type of service you are having, it can be possible to overdo it with music. You will want the service to flow and honor the deceased, but also be respectful to those in attendance. Too much music that guests are expected to sit in silence through may make the service long and uncomfortable.
The music is as much for the family and guests as it is for the deceased. Try not to feel pressured to choose the “perfect” music because that may lead to choosing too many songs.
Music helps is one of the many ways we work through the grief of a loved one, but it is important to remember that grief is not linear and there are many tools and techniques that can be used to help your journey through grief. Music may help the grief you feel today, but may not be as helpful tomorrow.
A song you listen to today could make you happy and think of fond memories with your loved ones, while the same song could make you feel sad and depressed tomorrow. This is normal. Music heals but music may not heal or help you overcome all of your grief.
Since listening to music that reminds you of your loved one can bring up a lot of emotion, it is important to remember that you need to appropriately take care of yourself the best you can while still honoring your loved one.
During your journey, if you come across a special song lyric or quote that helps you tremendously, it can be helpful to have that memorialized on a keepsake box, as a bookmark, or even engraved on the urn or casket.
Importantly, remember to take care of yourself and ensure that you are taking the time to properly grieve and heal. There is no rush in grieving and it is always okay to ask for help as you are preparing for a funeral service.
First, it is recommended to include music that the deceased loved or that best represented them. If you need help coming up with songs, there are many great lists available online to help you find songs that best honor and represent your loved one. These lists can be a great place to jumpstart your brainstorming and get you on the path towards a perfect playlist to honor your loved one.
Ten of the most common funeral songs include:
There are no genres of music that are off limits for a funeral service! The music selected should be a reflection of the deceased. From country and classical music to rock and R&B, there is no genre of music that should be considered off limits for a funeral service. When thinking about music for your loved one’s funeral service, consider all genres.
Generally speaking, you can include all sorts of songs and musical genres. Do not be afraid to play upbeat or fun songs if that is what you feel best represents and honors the deceased. Many people may say that they want their funeral service to be a happy and celebratory occasion. In that sense, play music that matches the style and tone they wished for.
The only music you should not include is inappropriate music, including music that may contain adult content or many inappropriate words. Be sure to listen to all of the lyrics of the songs you play carefully; you may be surprised that some seemingly happy or joyful songs have more depressing or inappropriate lyrics.
This depends on when you plan to play the music and for how long. For example, you may have a playlist of five or so songs that you play while guests enter and leave the service area as well as one or two songs that are played especially for guests during the service. If you are having music play in the background during a celebration of life or repast, you may have dozens of songs that play for the duration. There is no right or wrong amount of songs.
Absolutely not! Again, just about any music is okay for a funeral service as long as it fits the tone of the service. Somber music might not fit in with a funeral service that is focused on celebrating the life of the deceased and remembering their many fun adventures. Do what feels best for you and what honors the deceased’s memory. If you think the deceased would want happy music, queue up some upbeat tunes! There are even specific lists of happy funeral songs.
Music can be played at any time! This includes during a specified time of the funeral service, as guests are entering or leaving the service, during the after service events such as during the repast, during a memorial or celebration life, during the wake or viewing, or any time that you hope to look back and remember the deceased. You may also wish to incorporate lyrics into the eulogy or other prepared statements about the deceased.
As you think about your own funeral service, it is definitely encouraged to choose your own music. This can be a step in your journey towards passing, an activity you do to bond with your loved ones, and it may also take some stress away from your loved ones as they prepare for your funeral service. Leaving those you love with a final message in the way of a playlist is a beautiful gesture.
It may sound challenging to make a playlist but it does not have to be overwhelming. First, remember to take your time. If you are struggling with logistics, watch tutorials on Youtube and ask for help from someone who may have more technical experience. You do not have to be a tech expert to create a playlist on a free app such as Spotify.
If you would like to share the funeral service playlist with friends and family, there are many ways you can do this. If created on Apple Music, Spotify, or another app based service, you can share the playlist within the app. You may also create CDs, create an online playlist on a memorial site, or create a Youtube playlist.
Not at all! If you come across many songs that remind you of the deceased or that honor their memory, it is definitely appropriate to make a personal playlist for just you and your family. A longer playlist just for family can be a great tool to help grieve and remember the deceased in your day to day life. If it helps you to grieve and remember your loved one, it is never a bad idea!
A eulogy is a great place to incorporate music or lyrics. There are two main ways to do that. You may have music played, either a recording or live, as a section of the eulogy. In this instance, you would stop talking and allow the guests to listen to the music before you reflect on the music’s importance. You may also incorporate lyrics from a song into the eulogy by simply reading them aloud and reflecting on how they are related to your loved one.
The death of a young person can be extra heartbreaking and painful. Choosing music can also be difficult since you want to remember their legacy and also reflect on the short period of time you had with them. There are many lists available online for songs related to infant, child, and young adult loss.
When creating a playlist for young people, it is also important to remember that the songs can reflect their interests and not solely be focused on the years of life they lost. Songs they enjoyed, including from cartoons or movies, can be included and may be a welcome moment of joy and fun in their memory.
Deciding on music for a funeral service or memorial service can seem like a difficult task, but it is possible and can be a wonderful way to work through the grieving process. Music is a special and unique way to honor and remember your loved one during these special days and for years to come.
The most important thing to remember is that deciding on music is about your loved one and honoring their legacy. The playlist does not have to be perfect. You and your guests will be happy to enjoy music that brings about lasting memories of your beloved.
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November 18, 2021 by Frances Kay