Sometimes, music can speak louder than any words. Instrumental numbers can be wonderful choices to honor our loved ones, whether you’re having a traditional funeral service or your loved one has opted for a celebration of life service. Below we have listed the best instrumental songs for funerals.
“Amazing Grace” by John Newton, performed by various artists
Song Year: 1772
This is an absolute classic. Many people choose to have someone sing this song at their funeral, but an instrumental version also works well, especially as an introduction to a funeral service.
When law enforcement officers pass away, it is tradition that “Amazing Grace” is played on bagpipes when they are at the cemetery. If bagpipes are not your flavor, you can always have someone play this comforting hymn on piano, harp, violin, or an ensemble.
“Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp Minor” by Chopin, performed by various artists
Song Year: 1837
This nocturne written by Frederic Chopin was not even published while he was still living, which lends a certain sadness as well as a sense of redemption to the piece. It begins slowly, with careful notes and a call to the listener to pay attention to a plea, and then the notes begin to amble off to a more cheerful tone, resonating throughout the piano (as this is a piano piece).
Nocturne No. 20 is a beautiful piece to bring the room of mourners (or celebrants) to a sense of communal silence, to remember the deceased.
“Moonlight Sonata, 1st Movement” by Beethoven, performed by various artists
Song Year: 1801
Beethoven was a musical genius, despite going deaf early into his compositional career. Perhaps this and other hardships are what made him such a passionate musician and composer—he knew how quickly life can fly away from us, and “Moonlight Sonata,” written for piano, takes only one instrument to convey these emotions and so many more.
This is a classy and moving piece to choose for a loved one’s funeral, especially if they felt a special connection to the song or Beethoven himself.
“Vocalise, Op. 34: No. 14” by Rachmaninoff, performed by various artists
Song Year: 1915
One of the last works released by Sergei Rachmaninoff, this amazing piece is best enjoyed as a duet, with a piano accompanying a violin. The notes move from sharp to baseline again, creating a dancing between minor chords and major chords that give the song both gravity and joy. Although this piece is more serious than anything else, it was composed as a piece of a set of love songs, and deep feelings can be felt throughout.
If the deceased loved classical music, or even if their spouse wishes to honor them with a beloved piece, “Vocalise” is appropriate for any funeral.
“Song Without Words” by Mendelssohn, performed by various artists
Song Year: 1834-1844 (the book of movements)
Although there were several books written over the course of a decade by Felix Mendelssohn, the particular piano piece we are referring to is specific to Book 6. It is Op. 67, Allegro non troppo in E Major.
This song is breathtakingly ethereal, and it is not only emotional, but it is also meditative. This Mendelssohn piece, especially when performed by a master like Steve Anderson, takes on almost a life of its own, encapsulating its audience. It can be the perfect tribute for your deceased loved one, especially because it is a song without words, and sometimes grief escaped explanation with simple words.
“Ave Maria” by Shubert, performed by various artists
Song Year: 1853
The Schubert arrangement of this classic Latin prayer is the most popular and well known, and therefore it makes it onto our list of instrumental funeral songs. The most enduring setup is a piano and violin duet. The listing and enchanting violin weaving its notes in between those of the piano are both wistful and calming.
An ave is a farewell song, and this is the most well-known ave of them all. Especially if the deceased wished for a funeral mass, this could be a great choice of touching and traditional song to play at their wake or burial.
“Adagio” by Albinoni, performed by various artists
Song Year: 1945
Although this adagio is attributed to the famed Baroque composer Albinoni, it was really completed and composed by Remo Giazotto in 1945, who claims that the lower notes and baseline were there in a musical composition he found—he simply filled in the rest.
Whatever this piece’s origins, there is no doubt that it is a powerhouse. Piano and violin, fluttering keystrokes with mesmerizing violin strings singing, this song would be a beautiful addition to any more serious and meditative funeral service.
“You’re My Best Friend” by Queen
Song Year: 1975
We are now stepping into less solemn and more upbeat tributes to the deceased. An instrumental version of Queen’s classic “You’re My Best Friend” could seem an odd choice to some, but for others, it could be the perfect conclusion song to a celebration of life service, not only for the significant other of the deceased but to memorialize how wonderful their impact was on the lives of everyone they met.
“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” by James Taylor
Song Year: 1975
This amazing love song by James Taylor is not only upbeat and cheerful, but it is also an easy song to dance to. If the deceased wished for their service to be full of life, more like a party than a memorial, this could be a wonderful chance for the people there to let loose, reminding them how much the deceased loved each of them and of their love for the deceased. It is a great way to remember a person who was full of life and joy.
“Let It Be” by the Beatles
Song Year: 1970
There are so many reasons why “Let It Be,” whether it be just the simple version we’ve attached here, or a different arrangement with piano only, piano and violin, or some other combination, should be part of a funeral service with dignity and vibrancy. Funerals are occasions to mourn, to honor a person we have lost. They are also a time to come together and to let each other know that sadness is healthy, loss is natural, and carrying on takes a village.
“The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel
Song Year: 1964
There are endless arrangements to choose from when it comes to this Simon & Garfunkel classic that has been covered over and over. They even released their own original instrumental version. This song is about the idea that we can be around others throughout our whole lives, but in reality, we are simply walking our own path, ultimately alone.
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg
Song Year: 1938
This song was of course first popularized by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. This is a great choice for the funeral of someone who loved that movie, or for someone who has always been in love with this timeless melody. This song can be a beautiful way to remember a loved one and think of them in a better place.
“Going Home” by William Arms Fisher
Song Year: 1922
This beloved hymn is literally about returning “home,” to heaven from whence the singer believes we all come. This is a beautiful hymn to have at a funeral service, especially if the deceased was preceded by other loved ones, as the hymn itself mentions others waiting in heaven. The instrumental version, whether done on piano or with a musical group, is calming, peaceful, and uplifting.
“In the Arms of an Angel” by Sarah McLachlan
Song Year: 1997
The melody of this song is beautiful, and without the words, we can still meditate and respect the deceased without the stark melancholy of the lyrics themselves. It is a stunning and poignant song, but it refers to escaping the darkness all around us. Without the lyrics, it can be centering as well as healing when used during a funeral service. It can also be used while mourners file into the location of the funeral, or as part of a wake playlist.
“Fur Elise” by Beethoven, performed by various artists
Song Year: 1867
One of Beethoven’s most famous compositions, published nearly four decades after his death. No one really knows for sure who “Elise” was, but judging by the beauty of this piece, she was someone Beethoven cared for deeply. This is an excellent funeral song if the deceased and/or their family is a lover of classical music, a pianist, or just appreciated beauty and simplicity in music. The notes are at once relaxing and energizing, with the feeling switching just when the listener gets used to one or the other.
“Sicilienne” by Fauré
Song Year: 1898
This song is best played by a piano, and that is why a solo piano is the most popular arrangement for this enchanting piece. This song does not have a particularly happy or melancholy sound to it, therefore it is a piece to include in a funeral playlist between more emotional songs and hymns. It is a beautiful piece of music that gives emotional relief to the listeners between intense moments of sentimentality. This is not to say that “Sicilienne” lacks emotion; it is simply to say that not every song played during the course of a memorial service or a celebration of life needs to pack a punch as hard as “Amazing Grace.”
“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
Song Year: 1965
This is definitely a unique choice for a funeral instrumental piece, but the power of the intro and the feeling behind the song’s attitude and continued power throughout could be a great addition to the funeral of someone who was always optimistic, had a powerful presence, and did not let anything get in their way.
This is a song for someone who wants to be remembered as a powerhouse. “Feeling Good” even without the powerful lyrics of Nina Simone is an anthem, and what better farewell to your loved ones could there be?
“Blackbird” by the Beatles
Song Year: 1968
“Blackbird” is an altogether beautiful song. It has the feeling of memories, reminiscing good times together, going through hard times but coming out stronger, and it has a simply gorgeous melody.
This song is typically played on guitar, but there are of course other arrangements (piano, violin, etc.) you can use for a funeral. This lovely song will give the funeral attendees a moment to pause and reflect on the loved one they have lost without sadness overtaking that moment.
“River Flows in You” by Yiruma
Song Year: 2001
This piano song has enchanted listeners for over twenty years and has been covered by countless artists since its release. Yiruma plays so passionately that there is no need for words to accompany this moving piece. It is said that this song can be about the growing love between two people, and thus it can also be about the love mourners had for the deceased. It is at once full of feeling and gravitas, but it does not leave the listener feeling heavy. Instead, the melody is light and airy, and it gives the listener the feeling of floating.
“You’ve Got A Friend” by Carole King
Song Year: 1971
The instrumental version of this song provides a lovely backdrop for any funeral service. It may not be immediately recognizable, but that is what can lead mourners/celebrants to focus on the service while appreciating the ambiance this beloved song gives. “You’ve Got A Friend” has been comforting people for fifty years, and it isn’t about to stop any time soon.
“Clair de Lune” by Debussy, performed by various artists
Song Year: 1905
Typically used for romance, this piece by Claude Debussy is meant for a solo piano, and that’s how its impact really shines. A classicist, pianist, musician, Debussy fanatic, or any music lover could select this as one of the songs played at their funeral.
It begins so softly, yet those soft notes arrest the listener’s attention, and then the notes become more forceful until they weave together, almost impossible to separate.
The middle of the song can remind the listener of a soul happily ascending to the world beyond, or the joy that the deceased brought into the lives of those around them. This lovely piece performed live at a funeral could be the perfect tribute to the beautiful soul of a loved one.
Best Instrumental Songs For Funerals, Final Thoughts
Funerals are difficult, both in the planning and in the actual experience. They are ways that we can get closure for losing someone, and this gives us a chance to then grieve their loss. We hope that the list we gave above helped in some way to give you some ideas about how to have lovely instrumental music for a funeral.