Playing Pop Tune Requests for a Wedding: a Guide

February 11, 2013, 2:20 PM · "We are so glad you will be playing violin at our wedding. One thing: can you play 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' by Elton John?"

If you've played a few weddings, you've probably had a few requests like this: for a pop song that you may or may not know, for which you definitely do not have the music. (Is anyone old enough to remember "You Light Up My Life"?) While the violin repertoire gives us all kinds of wonderful music that is perfectly suited to weddings, people still have their favorite pop tunes that are special to them, or special to their relationship. This is okay, and I think we should try to accommodate such requests.

But how?

One of my students, a bit too young to have negotiated the whole wedding-gig circuit yet, was asked to play in a wedding, and she was struggling to figure out how to pull off "Don't Stop Believing" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." She'd be playing on a seaside cliff in Malibu, outdoors, no pianist.

Challenge accepted!

In helping her figure this out, I thought I might share some ideas for my friends who are asked to play weddings. (I welcome your wisdom and advice, as well!) The two challenges I'm addressing here are: having no accompaniment, and being asked to play an unfamiliar pop or folk song.

In an ideal situation, an accomplished and flexible piano or organ accompanist can help you put together something with minimal (or no) rehearsal. Also, in an ideal situation, you have a roof over your head and you are asked to play something you know really well, or at least you have the music for. It's also nice if you can be hired as a quartet, which allows you many options for music.

But you might be hired (or asked) to play all by yourself, with no accompanist. In this situation -- now please don't get mad at me for this suggestion -- I advocate taking advantage of modern technology.


At most weddings, though there may be no piano or organ, there is usually a sound system. You'll have to do some inquiring, but you will likely be able to hook up an MP3 player, a CD player, or maybe just your iPod, so that you can play an accompaniment track. (Or you can just bring your own boom box, if things are really minimalist!) You can do this for classical music you are playing, as well as for pop music.

Here's the thing to google: "vocal accompaniment tracks" or "violin accompaniment tracks." You can use such tracks to accompany your standard classical pieces, and you can use such tracks to accompany pop music requests.

For example, here's one such site, with piano accompaniments to standard, mostly classical, violin pieces: Or, you can often find something fuller. For example, I wouldn't mind playing Schubert's "Ave Maria" to this accompaniment track, and here's the matching violin sheet music part in B flat, free from IMSLP.

Important note: make sure that your sheet music is in the same key as the accompaniment track!

Now, how about those pop tunes: Elton John, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga? These probably require that you read a vocal part and find a "vocal accompaniment track." Fortunately, the range of a violin is well-suited for vocal parts, and if you are in the mood for some fun, you can do a bit of improvising once you get the basic song (or not!)

Here are a few examples, to get you thinking:

EXAMPLE 1: Elton John, "Can You Feel the Love"

I did some Googling, and I found this CD accompaniment track. Of course, they assume you are a vocalist who does not read music, so they give you a version with someone singing, plus lyrics. If you want to play by ear, you can work it out, But since most of us do read, you also might want to find some sheet music that has actual notes. A quick check with the piano tells me that this is in B flat, so after some googling, here's the sheet music. This is all pretty quick and downloadable, but in this case, the track and the music cost a total of about $16. You should pass this expense on to whomever is hiring you. (If you play a lot of weddings, you might find yourself simply having a standard fee for playing any piece that is not part of your standard menu of wedding tunes).

EXAMPLE 2: "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey (or Glee)

First, you'd need the Journey version; the Glee version is a four-part vocal score (it's pretty cool, I must say, if you have a barbershop quartet you can use this version!) -- I digress..

Here is a vocal accompaniment track for "Don't Stop Believing" (I'd recommend the instrumental version without backing vocals). I had to use the word "karaoke" a few times in my search! Of course, people usually do not use sheet music when singing karaoke; they use a lyric sheet and summon the notes with alcohol-enhanced courage. So you must find the vocal sheet music, and here it is, easy to find by searching "sheet music" and the name of the song.

EXAMPLE 3: "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" -- traditional Irish tune

In some ways, traditional tunes presents more of a challenge, because they tend to be available in a lot of different keys and styles. I would seek out accompaniment that sounds good to you, and that is acoustic (not all synthesizer, if possible). In the case of "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," a search brought me to a flute version, with sheet music as well as an accompaniment CD. Nice that it was all-in-one! (I haven't heard this CD accompaniment, though, so I can't recommend it 100 percent.) Flute versions can also good options for a violinist, as they tend to be in the same range, though you will likely need to be comfortable playing a few things in position.

* * *

I hope that gives you some ideas for how to accommodate requests for pop tunes at weddings and other occasions, and also how to cope with a situation in which there is no accompaniment. I welcome your ideas as well!


February 12, 2013 at 12:57 AM · Interesting post! Where I live, most of weddings's musics are pop tunes, seriously, in most of them, the only classical repertoire I am asked to play is the Wedding March

I have no issues with playing these tunes by ear, and memorizing. Thankfully that's easy for me!

When I'm asked to play by myself, I usually look up on youtube for like "song name piano" or "song name violin". This may be a source of interesting ideas.

I have never thought of playing with recorded accompaniments! What a great idea! I can also play the piano so probably I'm going to use it the next time they ask me to play by myself.

February 12, 2013 at 02:39 AM · I may be on my own here, but personally I really dislike recorded accompaniment tracks to solo violin.

I'd much rather have a solo violin arrangement, which can be very simple but well played, couple of double stops, harmonics etc, but the sound of a solo v is in my ears a much more pleasing experience.

For popular tunes, it may mean adjusting the tempo to fit the yearning feel that the instrument can give.

February 12, 2013 at 04:04 AM · I've done a couple weddings with backing track accompaniment, but in most case, I've been lucky enough to have a cellist/violist/violinist friend hired as well so I often end up doing duo arrangements. There have been times where I've arranged stuff for violin. All the double stops/chords! I also did something with loop pedal/effects. That ended up working out pretty well! If you're not into the accompaniment tracks offered on the internet, you could always just record your own version and play along to that.

February 12, 2013 at 05:40 AM · For Don't Stop Believin' you could buy and download Adam DeGraff's version, which doesn't need any accompaniment.

February 12, 2013 at 05:23 AM · Not too sure, but wouldn't using a rather generic accompaniment track be quite restrictive particularly for this purpose (of playing mostly pop/folk tunes at a wedding)? I can see doing that for specific (mainly classical) pieces for the certain parts of the wedding day -- mainly the ceremony itself -- but not so much for the reception, etc.

My older kids may start getting requests to play at weddings soon enough -- actually, my oldest will be playing (and singing) her 1st in her school-organized ensemble (and choir) next month -- and their multi-talented (private) teacher would almost certainly discourage the use of prerecorded accompaniment for that... But then again, I guess they can always play duets -- and I can probably also volunteer my viola for some simple harmonies -- if they can't have additional accompaniment. But outside of the money issue, wedding couples wouldn't really require gigs be strict solos, no? And at least for kids (and those starting out), the experience itself would be at least as important as the bit of money they might make, no? Not that I would want to encourage the general devaluation of musicians for such gigs of course...

My Best,


February 12, 2013 at 06:32 AM · Good guide. I also reckon that musicians learn how to use midi softwares so one can find those midi files and adjust the key, tempo, and if necessary, restructure the music so it suits the event e.g. shorter or longer. One can also reassign the digital instrument sound users individual track to further fine tune the desire tone color e.g. slow strings instead of fast strings, solo brass instead of brass section, steel strings guitar instead of nylon string guitar.

Nowadays apps for android and iOS has become so accessible and they're available dirt cheap - with a three dollar app and some time and effort, you can get much more desire results than you would by downloading the backing track in mp3 or wav.

February 12, 2013 at 04:21 PM · A contractor should make sure (really, really sure) that the venue allows rock music to be used in the ceremony.

Some religious venues and/or officiants have *very* strict rules about this sort of thing.

Also, this is a handy guide:

February 12, 2013 at 07:09 PM · I love Adam's version!

Here is the sheet music

But Karen, it might not be possible to polish this up, if the wedding is the next day! ;)

Anne, thank you for the ASCAP link, very good idea to check such things.

Casey -- do tell more!

And yes, ideally, one is hired as a quartet, or one has an accompanist, and one can do it all acoustically...I'm just saying that in the absence of the ideal situation, here are some ideas. :)

February 12, 2013 at 08:43 PM · Get "iReal b" for your Android phone. Plug into amplifier. Simple to program accompaniments for tunes.

February 13, 2013 at 08:21 AM · Laurie - midi isn't the simplest thing to deal with especially when sequencing (programming, or simply recording) the notes is time consuming. However, many people sequence songs as hobby and post them around the Internet. I usually download it and change certain notes or chords or even the drum parts and tweak them to my likings.

Good things about midi is it's the scores or notation for computers and digital keyboards, any datas can be changed afterwards which is unlike an audio file like mp3. If the midi file isn't awful to begin with, usually simply loading it with good midi keyboard with better sound will give instant improvements over the synthetic sound generated by the computer OS.

My collegue who's into this kind of things shown me an android app, which I remember the name goes something like "live midi" which cost few dollars and the sound is actually pretty good, better than most entry level digital keyboards. It even have mixer to balance every instruments, intuitive transposition feature, and tempo adjusting (although full fledge editing isn't presented but it reflect the asking price, apps with good editing features usually cost $10 and up). Although these are the norms even for most freewares, but with a good sound library (midi guys call it sound samples) isnt always the case. It's especially useful when all you need is just backing track libraries with the flexibility to change tempo, keys, mute certain tracks etc in the fly.

February 17, 2013 at 05:29 PM · re charts and background tracks-

here's some very useful tools.


download lead sheets for most any tune- in any key.

this is a legitimate cite that has paid royalties

2) amazing slowdowner- a program that lets you play back mp3s at any tempo, and/or any key.

3)printmusic, or smartscore (inexpensive music notation programs)do a perfect job of transforming a midi file into notation, which you can move to any key. You can also extract out the accompanying part to use as a playalong.

I use these tools almost every day. they are useful for lots of things. For instance- you can import a sheet music pdf, and transpose it, make background tracks, etc.

Some compensating up-side to the new technological age.

February 18, 2013 at 04:20 PM · HmmmmPerhaps our quartet is odd but for at least 25 years we've been simply playing off the vocal/piano part for pop tunes.....1st violin usually takes the melody....up an octave as needed, 2nd violin fills with what's there or a characteristic counter to the melody.....Viola must read bass clef and switch what is generally the tenor line between bass and treble clef...and our cellist does the low left hand...One thing on the group's favor is that the requesting bride has no indication of how long it takes to stroll down 30' of church aisle....

At the other end of the stick, we had a bride request the 1st movt of Dvorak American for her stroll with dad..Explaining did no good and we were well into the 8th minute, after a 22' march by the bride....finally the minister sent a missionary (best man) over to Turn-Off-the-Music...they wished the last movt for their recessional....they were far. far away and all the guests were gone by the time we quit the 4th movt.

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