Bard Instruments – D&D 5e Guide

In Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Bard Instruments usually play some kind of instrument. Either because of the theme or because they get one as part of their equipment list.

But how do instruments by Bard work? How can they use them? How many get to them? What kind of skills do they use?

This guide helps you learn how to play a Bard in 5e by explaining how they use instruments, which ones they can use, and how they work.

First, let’s talk about how Bard instruments in 5e work in the most basic way.

How do Bard Instruments work in 5e?

In D&D 5e, bards can choose to use instruments when they cast spells. Aside from that, almost all instruments in 5e are used for roleplaying.

Most of the time, instruments in 5e are used for roleplaying or to help a GM come up with a creative puzzle. The Spellcasting Focus of a Bard, on the other hand, can be a musical instrument.

Spellcasting Focus
You can use a musical instrument (see the Tools section) as a spellcasting focus for your bard spells.

It means that Bards can use a musical instrument to follow the rules for a Spellcasting Focus. If they use a musical instrument as their focus, they don’t have to worry about Material components that don’t have a monetary value for spells that need them.

Aside from that, Bards are known for playing their instruments well. So, they are good for roleplaying because they usually need an Ability Check or a Tool Check.

Do 5e Bards Need Instruments?

Bards do not need instruments in 5e. It helps them cast spells by getting rid of the need for simple Material parts. But if they don’t want to, they don’t have to use one.

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Using a musical instrument as a focus for spellcasting makes it easier to play a Bard. This way, you don’t have to keep track of each Material part for your spells that need them.

But Bards can still use a Component Pouch instead of a musical instrument. But they can’t use any other focus to cast spells.

So, if you want to play a Bard who casts spells without using an instrument, you pretty much only have one choice.

Other than that, the Bard class includes many types of performers, not just musicians. So, Bards don’t have to play an instrument.

What Instrument Can a Bard Play?

Bard Instruments

In 5e, bards can play a wide range of instruments. D&D has a number of instruments that any character can learn to play well. But you can add more if you need or want to.

“Three musical instruments of your choice” is what the Player’s Handbook says Bards get good at. Even though the PHB has a list of instruments, the idea is that just by being a Bard, a person can play up to three instruments.

As a result, Bards can use any of their spell-casting focuses.

In the Player’s Handbook, these are some of the instruments that Bards and other characters can play well:

  1. Bagpipes
  2. Drum
  3. Dulcimer
  4. Flute
  5. Lute
  6. Lyre
  7. Horn
  8. Pan Flute
  9. Shawm
  10. Viola

Other supplements, like the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, have other official instruments.

That said, you can also add your own. The best part is that you don’t have to worry about only being able to play an instrument with one hand since almost all of the real ones need both.

Some instruments you might want to use in your game are:

  1. Crumhorn
  2. Cymbals
  3. Gong
  4. Hurdy Gurdy
  5. Jaw Harp
  6. Mandolin
  7. Recorder
  8. Sackbut
  9. Tambourine
  10. Zither
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I think you should learn more about the past of some of these. The recorder is an old instrument that dates back to the 1500s, according to what I’ve read. But duct flutes, on which the recorder is based, have been around since the Neolithic era.

The point is that you can add any Bard instrument you want, as long as it’s not too big and heavy.

How Many Instruments Do Bards Get in 5e?

The bard automatically knows how to play three instruments of their choice. Still, they only get one instrument as part of their starting gear.

As we have already said, on page 52 of the Player’s Handbook, under “Proficiencies,” it says:

Tools: Three musical instruments of your choice

And, under Equipment:

(a) a lute or (b) any other musical instrument

Now, this doesn’t include any skills or gear that your Bard would get from their Background. This is a feature of the Bard class only.

What Skill & Ability Applies to Instruments in 5e?

In 5e, you usually use the Performance skill and your character’s Charisma Ability Score to play an instrument. But it might make more sense to have them roll for how they use their Tool.

Since playing a musical instrument usually involves some kind of performance, it makes sense for characters to use the Performance skill for them.

And since the Performance skill usually uses the Charisma Ability Score, having a high score in that stat gives you a better chance of playing your chosen instrument well.

With all of this in mind, this is the most common way that playing an instrument is seen in 5e.
You could skip the Performance skill and just have a character roll for their Charisma score, with or without their Proficiency Bonus (depending on how well they know the instrument).

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This almost does the same thing, but when the character isn’t good at the Performance skill, it does something different.

They would still get the benefit of their Proficiency Bonus for their chosen instrument without having to use up a skill choice.

You can change the Ability Score you use for specific alien musical instruments if you want to make it weird.

In D&D 5e, Game Masters can swap out Skills for Ability Scores. So, if you have a strange instrument that depends more on the performer’s strength or maybe is magically linked to their ability to do a lot of math, you could link it to the Strength or Intelligence score, depending on which one it was.

Now, this should only be done in very rare circumstances. You don’t want to take away Bard’s unique way of roleplaying by making their Charisma score less useful.

At the end of the day, when playing an instrument in 5e, you’ll probably use either the Performance skill or the Charisma Ability Score.

Or, you can use Charisma and add your proficiency bonus (or not) by treating a musical instrument as a Tool.

Summary 

That’s about it for how instruments work in 5e Bard.

Musical instruments are the class’s default way of making music. As their Spellcasting Focus, bards can use a musical instrument, but it’s not necessary.

The class lets you play three instruments well, but you can only play one well with your starting gear.

Lastly, when you play an instrument, you usually use the Performance Skill with the Charisma Ability Score. However, you can also treat an instrument as a Tool and make the right check for that.