Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Welcome to our guide to musical instruments in Dungeons & Dragons 5e, where we’ll be discussing music in D&D 5e, the instruments you can use to play it, and how the ability to carry a tune or two can be a useful skill for an adventurer.
Musical Instruments in DnD 5e
Instrument Weapons for 5e
While instrument weapons aren’t a standard feature of 5e, many players may be interested in multipurpose tools such as these. For this particular set of homebrew items, it is suggested that a player has proficiency in both the associated instrument and weapon in order to use it properly.
Musical Instrument Proficiency
In D&D, musical instruments can be played by any creature. However, proficiency in an instrument lets you add your proficiency bonus to ability checks made using that instrument. Each type of musical instrument requires a separate proficiency to play.
Bards and Musical Instruments
Bards can use a musical instrument as their spellcasting focus, and there are many powerful magic items that take the form of musical instruments. There are also many mundane instruments found throughout the many worlds of D&D.
The most common bardic instruments have the very inspired name, Instruments of the Bards. These are magical instruments that allow you to learn a number of spells.
Instrument of the Bard Table
You can learn more about these magical items here.
The Purpose of Music in 5e
Music exists across all cultures, continents, and planes of existence in D&D, with songs sung and played in every language and corner of the multiverse. Whether you’re a bard using their honeyed lyrics as a vehicle for a powerful enchantment, a rogue lacing a bawdy song with hidden messages in thieves cant, or just a weary fighter entertaining her friends around the campfire with a song that reminds them of home, music is everywhere.
Music as a DM
From a Dungeon Master’s perspective, the inclusion of music can shape the mood of an environment whether it be a city street, a tavern, or an eerie castle. The bellow of Strahd’s organ sets a very different tone to the gentle strumming of an elven lute. Songs are an effective way to let your players learn more about the world around them, whether that means gleaning the temperament of the locals, a local legend, or a pivotal piece of an unsolved puzzle.
A clever adventurer pays close attention to music, as the old songs often contain fragments of myth and legend that all too often surround a kernel of truth. Songs and verse warn of traps, monsters’ weaknesses, and prophecies spoken long ago.
If you’re looking for some suitable adventuring music to play at your table, check out this article on game ambience.
Music as a Player
There is obviously one member of the adventuring party that is better disposed than most to pay attention to music and perform it themselves. As keepers of stories and song, weavers of arcane magic through sound, and usually all round extroverts, the bard class is usually only one conversation away from reaching for their lute. Bards can even use their musical instruments to cast spells, entertain a crowd, and even secure the party a warm bed for the night even if everyone is terminally short on cash.
Here are just a few ways you can put an instrument proficiency to good use.
- Making money
- Securing lodging
- Attracting (or distracting) crowds
- Playing songs around the fire to boost morale
- Winning the favor of a powerful noble
- Delighting a dragon
- Spreading propaganda
- Increasing your adventuring party’s fame
- Advertise for your business
All of these examples come back to one central theme, roleplay. The reality is that aside from an arcane focus, instruments exist within the worlds of D&D to be just that, instruments. Really, they can be used for just about anything that you can convince your DM they should be used for.
Want to seduce the mayor’s only son with your sick lyre skills? Make a performance check. Want to distract a crowd inside of a tavern while the rest of your party interrogates the sketchy barkeep? Roll those dice, and maybe sing for us a bit.
Including instruments, and being silly enough with your friends to sing Lynyrd Skynyrd or Zeppelin instead of making up old-timey songs, is just a really cool way to have fun with the part of the game that isn’t really governed by a cacophony of rules.
So go out there and bang a drum, blow a horn, or pluck some strings. So long as you and your character are having fun, that’s really all that matters. As always, happy adventuring.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.