How to choose hymns for a funeral

Sign: which song or music would you like at your funeral?

Four minute read

You don’t have to be religious to enjoy singing a good hymn. Research shows that group singing gives us a sense of belonging, a feeling of working for a common purpose, and connects us together. We share our top tips for choosing hymns for a funeral.

Why choose hymns for a funeral?

Singing hymns at a funeral is not only traditional, it can be a cathartic way for people to express strong emotions when words are not easy to find. Singing hymns can be uplifting, it can bring back memories, and it enables people to participate in a shared activity together.

Hymns are composed especially for communal singing. The best hymns are usually easy to sing, neither too high nor too low. You don’t have to be an accomplished singer to belt out the tune of a familiar hymn.

Many hymns are written to help the people singing them to reflect on what matters most, and on the journey that they have taken in life. They often celebrate the beauty of the world around us, lift our spirits and remind us of important times in our lives.

And, of course, if religious faith is important to you, then there is even more richness in choosing to sing hymns at a funeral.

However, there are plenty of meaningful alternatives to including hymns, prayers or other religious elements in a funeral service, if these don’t feel right to you.

Congregation singing a hymn

How do you choose the right hymn for a funeral?

There are no right or wrong choices. But if you need inspiration, here are seven places to start.

1. Personal favourites

What about a favourite of the person whose life you are celebrating? Or one that was sung at a family wedding or christening, and brings back happy memories? Going even further back, do you know any particular hymns which they loved as a child?

2. ‘School assembly’ hymns

These are the classics that many of us will remember singing at school. They tend to use simple, evocative language to celebrate our relationship with each other and the natural world. Great examples are ‘All things bright and beautiful’ and ‘Morning has broken’.

3. Uplifting hymns

These are many hymns with rousing tunes. These are easy to sing along to, and often focus on praising God. These kinds of hymns include ‘Thine be the glory’, ‘Praise my soul the king of heaven’ and ‘Praise Him, Praise Him’, with ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ as a more contemporary option.

4. Hymns of comfort

Many hymns remind people that God is present, even during difficult and dark times, and offer words of comfort. ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’ is a traditional hymn which gives reassurance and hope.

5. Hymns about the journey of life

Through music, readings and tributes, a funeral is an opportunity to remember the things that were important to the person who has died as they travelled through their life.

‘Lord of All Hopefulness’ is a popular and traditional choice of hymn about life’s journey, with ‘One More Step Along the World I go’ being more modern and upbeat.

6. Hymns that everyone knows

There are some hymns which are familiar outside of a religious context. Maybe from a sporting event, the last night of the Proms, or from their use in films or on TV.

Hymns like ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Amazing Grace and ‘Abide with me’ are popular, well-known and a good choice for a funeral.

7. Sing something else!

If you don’t want to sing a hymn, but you do want to sing together, there are many uplifting and meaningful non-religious options.

Favourites include ‘Bring me sunshine’ from Morecambe and Wise, ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’, ‘Wonderful world’ and ‘Always look on the bright side of life'.

We’ve also heard James Taylor’s ‘You've got a friend’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘I walk the line’ being sung at funeral ceremonies.

Piano keyboard and music, Louis Smith unsplash web

Practical tips for choosing hymns for a funeral

  • Some hymns are very long, so don’t feel that you have to sing all the verses!
  • If you are holding the funeral in a church, they can arrange someone to accompany the hymns on an organ or piano.
  • Some crematorium or cemetery chapels will have an organ you can use to accompany the singing. We can help you find an organist to play. Otherwise, you could use other live musicians, or using a recorded backing track of the music is absolutely fine too.
  • Some hymns have more than one tune. If this is the case, we will always check with you to make sure we are using the version that you are expecting!
  • If you are choosing a less well known hymn, consider how easy it is to sing and whether there will be a few people with strong voices among the guests who can start off with confidence, and encourage others to follow. The recorded backing track of the hymn will either have just the music, or you can choose a version that includes voices as well. This is helpful to give your guests the confidence to join in.
  • You don’t have to sing if you don’t want to. You could play a recording of the hymn to listen to, or ask musicians to perform it. For example, the London Funeral Singers provide professional singers, choirs and musicians for funeral services.

We’re always happy to share ideas for hymns that others have been inspired by, and to help you track down more unusual choices too.

Discover ten ways to use music at a funeral and our top tips about how to personalise a funeral.

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