I will be playing keyboard (mainly piano and organ) at a wedding in a couple weeks.

Is there anything I should keep in mind (i.e proper etiquette, etc)?

I've done a lot of concerts, so I'm used to the stage part, but is there anything that would be different about a wedding that I should know? Also, I know I will be nervous, are there ways to alleviate that?

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    1. You're not the centerpiece of attention -- the newlyweds-to-be are. No flipping your hair about if it's long. the audience won't ask for an encore. Don't mess up. No pressure, but this is the most important day of their lives to some people in the room. – American Luke Aug 3 '12 at 19:42
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    You are hired help. Don't socialize with anybody beforehand or afterwards. Don't eat any of the food that is served there unless they specifically tell you that you may. – user1044 Aug 3 '12 at 19:47

Assuming you're playing for a formal service (you mention an organ, so I assume it's a church-like setting, not background music for a hotel reception or similar):

  • Familiarise yourself with the order of service; if there are hymns, which comes first?
  • Make sure you have plenty of 'filler' music as a non-intrusive prelude to the service whilst the guests arrive. Unless the couple have requested a specific voluntary/prelude then anything except large virtuoso pieces will be just fine for this. Pieces that can be stretched/shrunk as needed are ideal - Pachelbel's Canon in D is a perennial favourite.
  • You mention playing the organ - if so, do make sure you try out the actual instrument at least once before the big day. Each one is different and you need to know of any quirks before they trip you up - are all stops in tune? Is there a dodgy pedal? How loud is 'full organ' going to sound? Is there a long reverb in the building that you need to account for?
  • Don't be offended if the guests drown you out with chatter before the service. Some will be trying to listen to you intently, but others won't even know you're there! Don't be tempted to keep increasing the volume to compete unless you actually can't hear yourself - they've not come to listen to you.
  • If you're using sheet music, have it to hand in the order you will need it. If you're lucky enough to have a page-turner then they can help you with this.
  • There will probably be very little time between the end of the processional and the first hymn, so practise the transition between these. Don't (as I have done) delay things by scrambling through a hymn book for two minutes while the congregation wait to sing!
  • Accompanying hymns is a skill in itself. You need to lead them confidently and keep it moving. If the hymns aren't particularly well-known, it's important that your introduction makes it very clear when to start singing. You might opt to play an entire verse as the intro, or perhaps just the last two lines; whatever flows better.
  • Be aware of how many verses will actually be sung. Some hymns may have 6 or 7 if played through in full, but maybe only 3 or 4 are on the congregation's hymnsheet.
  • Make sure that your registration is loud enough to be heard over their voices, without drowning them out. If you're lucky enough to have experienced confident singers or even a choir, a different last-verse harmonisation can add an extra level to the music. Don't attempt it if you're either not confident yourself or think it would confuse the congregation!
  • Practise the whole ceremony, in order, from beginning to end.
  • Talk to the minister/vicar and ask him for any 'cues' he might want to give you. He (or someone else) should be able to discreetly signal the arrival of the bride so you know when to bring your prelude music to a close and start the processional piece.
  • Know the closing of the ceremony so you can start the recessional promptly (and not before!). The couple will probably wait for the music to start before they return down the aisle - if you're also waiting for them to start walking, you'll be there all day!
  • Finally, enjoy it! You might only be a supporting artist and not the star, but good music at a wedding can enhance it no end and you get to be an important part of their big day.

There are a lot of points, but I'll try and name the main ones.

  1. You're not the centerpiece of attention-- the newlyweds-to-be are. This kind of sums up many points others will make here.

  2. Don't mess up. No pressure, but this is the most important day of their lives to some people in the room.

  3. Be able to alter the tempo of the piece and still make it sound good. The bride isn't keeping step with the music, you're keeping pace with her.

  4. Try and bring the climax in the music to the moment the bride enters (or as close to it as possible). Be able to add a cadence that fits with the music wherever you are when she stops. Nobody is going to stand up in the back of the room, throw a rotten tomato and yell, "he's playing it all wrong!", even if it is a well-known piece you're playing.

  5. Don't be looking around the room. The audience can tell where you're looking and this can distract them if your eyes are wandering about. Eyes on the music, back straight, and don't do anything to draw attention-- it's not your concert.

  6. Look presentable. Find out what level of dress everyone will be wearing beforehand and dress one level above it. You're one of the few getting paid there.


Musically, your responsibilities are to entertain and not distract.

You entertain when:

  1. The music is chosen and played in a way that compliments the ceremony.

You distract when:

  1. You do not start the music on time. This one is easy to do.
  2. You do not finish the music on time. This one is hard. The music needs to stop within seconds after everything has stopped so that the speaking can proceed. Usually this means your piece should end (or at least cadence) right when the couple has stopped walking. You must prepare ahead with a vamp section that is near the end of the piece. It should sound good played slow or fast, so that you can watch the couple, estimate when they will stop, and adjust your speed and repetitions to correspond with this arrival. To complicate matters, this also depends greatly on the wedding party. I once played a wedding where everything was good in rehearsal, but at the ceremony the couple entered on the wrong piece of music (their fault, not mine). I adjusted, made a vamp section on the fly, and timed their arrival with the ending of the piece. No frowning or otherwise indicating problems here - that's distracting.

This boils down to: anytime anyone is waiting on you, you are distracting and need to fix something.

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