Music is an essential and beautiful part of most celebrations, and more than ever, that’s becoming true for funerals and farewellings. As it should be! Choosing songs that reflect the person you’re honoring (or specifying what you want for your own!) is a great way to personalize the funeral service and any other gatherings. We call it a farewelling playlist, and we think it’s pretty darned cool to have (at least) one.


As someone who has planned funerals not only for clients (I’m a licensed funeral director), but also for my closest family members, I’ve come to see how much the right music can add to the experience of grieving and remembering.


3 Simple Tips for Choosing Funeral Songs


Now, while you may want to have music, deciding which funeral songs to play will depend on a variety of elements. Since this is a time when you’ll no doubt be dealing with lots of emotions as well as coordinating people and details, it may seem challenging to create a playlist. Here are some suggestions to help you. 


Set the Right Mood with the Music You Choose


Where will you celebrate? If the funeral service will take place in a religious space, you’ll want to work with your funeral celebrant to create a soundscape that “harmonizes” spiritually, be it more traditional or something unexpected. Are you hosting a wake or a home farewelling or a post-service gathering? In that case, you might design a playlist filled with your loved one’s favorite jams. The music you choose will help people know what mood you’re hoping for. Do you expect it to be quiet and somber? Well then, funeral songs in a classical or acoustic singer-songwriter style might be perfect. Do you want to encourage a more upbeat ambiance? Rock, disco, electronic dance music, pop, rap or jazz could be just the thing. 


Design Different Music for Different Parts of the Celebration


If you’ll host more than one gathering, feel free to choose a fitting song list for each event. For example, you may feature more traditional music at the funeral service but choose an unexpected favorite tune for the moment when the service ends and folks will mingle or file out. And you may load up the jukebox (or your smartphone) at your local bar with classic rock for when friends and family arrive.


Personalize Your Playlist


If you know what kind of music the person you’re honoring preferred, including that style of music at the funeral can be a lovely way to personalize it. If you’re not sure, reach out to others for ideas. If you’re still left questioning, take a look at their music collection (whether on their phone, their collection of CDs or maybe even old-school vinyls!). Do be mindful that some pop music features explicit lyrics, which may or may not be right for you. If not, look for “clean” versions to download. Finally, remember that your funeral home may need licensing rights to play your preferred songs, so clear your choices with your funeral director in advance just to be sure.


Funeral Music and My Family


I actually have several personal stories about choosing funeral songs, because I planned my grandmother’s funeral...and my father’s. If you’d like to read about those experiences, check out the blog post I wrote about it.


Elizabeth Meyer Karansky is a licensed Funeral Director, Thanatology Fellow and Farewelling's Funeral Guru. She lives with her husband in New York City.