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The funeral is a time to honor and remember a loved one’s life, but how can you personalize the service to reflect that person’s personality, preferences, interests, and uniqueness? According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally respected grief counselor and author, there are 7 distinct elements to a funeral, and each one can be personalized. Today, let’s talk about how you can use music to personalize a loved one’s final tribute and create an event that is truly special and meaningful.

Older man playing a violin

 First, Why Does Personalization Matter?

I encourage you to slow down, take a deep breath and focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning. What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over, families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

In a world focused on efficiency and getting things done as quickly as possible, the funeral is a moment to slow down and be thoughtful. When we do things too quickly, they can sometimes feel impersonal and hollow. That’s why personalization is key!

A personalized service beautifully and lovingly honors life. It creates a sweet moment of remembrance, a time to say goodbye, a unique acknowledgement that a person’s life mattered in all the big and small ways. Now, let’s talk about music and its vital role in personalizing a funeral or memorial service!

Banjo laying on top of sheet music

How to Personalize Music at a Funeral

Music sets the tone of a funeral or memorial service and brings emotions to the forefront. In fact, one of the purposes of a funeral is to allow mourners to grieve together, and in many ways, music says what words cannot. We often shy away from our emotions, but don’t be afraid to invite people to express their grief. Consider using music as an avenue to bring out what people are thinking and feeling. Plus, you can add a deeply personal touch by selecting music that was dear to the person who has died.  

1. Choose songs that are meaningful, no matter their musical genre

Traditionally, hymns and other religious songs are often played at a funeral, but that doesn’t have to be the case. To add a personal touch, instead choose songs that are meaningful to you or to the loved one who has died. Did they love Fleetwood Mac? Play “Gypsy.” Did they always sing “You are My Sunshine” to the grandkids? Then, find your favorite version and play it. There’s no right or wrong genre of music for a funeral. There’s simply what is meaningful to you and your family.

2. Decide between live music or recorded music

For the grieving process, there’s no difference between going with live or recorded music, so it’s entirely up to your preference. Was your loved one part of a barbershop quartet? Ask their fellow quartet members to sing a number. Do you have a musically talented family member? Then you might consider asking them to perform live. Alternatively, you can create a digital playlist of songs that will play during the gathering or visitation. And if you want to do a mix of live and recorded music, go for it! The funeral director will help you coordinate all the fine details of the service.

Person holding a smartphone that displays a digital music playlist

3. Include songs that honor personal or religious beliefs

As you plan a funeral or memorial service, you should keep your loved one’s preferences at the front of your mind. If they were a religious person, consider including hymns or praise songs. If they were a veteran, perhaps play their military branch’s official song, such as “Anchors Aweigh” for the Navy or “The Army Goes Rolling Along” for the Army. Consider the organizations your loved one was involved with – are there any songs that would be a meaningful addition to the service?

4. Share clips of your loved one’s musical talents

If your loved one was musically talented themselves, consider finding a way to include their musical giftings at the service. Do you have recordings of them singing or playing an instrument? Incorporate that footage into a memorial tribute video. Alternatively, you can play any recordings during the service or visitation. Did they write lyrics or put together musical arrangements? Play those songs. If you aren’t sure how to include a loved one’s musical stylings at the service, speak with your funeral director. They can help you brainstorm ideas.

Woman in church choir singing a solo

Questions to Help You Brainstorm

If songs haven’t already started popping into your head, here are a few questions to help you brainstorm which songs to include at a service.

  • Did your loved one play any songs over and over again?
  • Did they have any favorite artists?
  • Were they known for singing any particular songs?
  • Did they have a favorite instrument?
  • Did they have a preferred music genre (classical, rock, Motown, etc.)?
  • Is there a song that always reminds you of them?

Hopefully, these questions will trigger some ideas for you and give you a good starting place for selecting music that will not only personalize the funeral but add special meaning as well. And again, if you are stumped, look to your funeral director. They are your advocate and guide throughout the funeral planning process. They can provide much-needed assistance when you just aren’t sure what to do next.

Music sheets folded into half circles

For additional inspiration, here are more articles on music that may help:

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