A DnD musical instruments guide is something all Bards will need at some point. For most Bards, music is the window to the soul and part of the best strategy for combat, making friends, and more.
But you don’t have to be a Bard to play a musical instrument at your Dungeons and Dragons session. Anyone can play an instrument; it may take more time and DM smooth-talking to get your hands on an instrument and your fingers to become proficient.
What to Expect in This DnD Musical Instruments Guide
In this guide, I will list the most common instruments found in Dungeons & Dragons. Some are mentioned in the playbooks while others are real instruments that fit in this fantasy world.
The four types of instruments I categorize are woodwind instruments, string instruments, brass instruments, and percussion. I also brush up on what musical instruments are used for and how you can make them a huge asset for your party.
If you want to play it safe, choose a lute or flute. But if you want to choose a wildcard instrument, I suggest the hurdy-gurdy or bagpipes. Find the instrument that suits your playstyle.
What are Musical Instruments in D&D 5e?
- Number of Instruments – Endless
- Classes That Use Instruments – Bard (any casually)
- How to Boost Skill – Get Proficiency Bonus, Add A Supportive Background, Use Charisma
Musical instruments are tools or weapons in Dungeons & Dragons. Something that I do like about musical instruments in DnD is that there are very few rules – or even references to them – in the Player’s Handbook or the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
This means that if you want to ensure they reach their fullest potential, you have to put your real-life Bard skills to the test. Your limits lie within your ability to convince your DM to let you make your instruments a weapon.
How are Musical Instruments Useful in DnD?
Musical instruments are more straightforward than you may think. While they really are just crafted items just like anything else, the magic behind them doesn’t mean they have to be infused with sorcery.
Many of Bard’s spells, such as Bardic Inspiration and Song of Rest, require an instrument to cast. While the higher-level spells don’t generally need an instrument, a Bard would be lost without his trusty musical friend.
Now, you don’t technically need an instrument to use Bard spells, but it can help you get into character. It may also be challenging to get the DM to allow you to use a few spells without one.
Entertaining Your Party
Entertaining your party at the end of a long mission can be the drive that keeps you honing your musical skills. Even when I’m not a Bard, I love playing my party a song each night around the campfire.
If you want, you can spend the evening writing a new song. Some DMs may let you use the new song for specific reasons, such as healing or persuading shopkeepers.
If you’re not a Bard and are a Wizard, Sorcerer, or Warlock, you can still use an instrument as your Arcane Focus. This will allow you to get creative when you cast your spells. A homebrew Bard, if you will.
While you don’t have to call it manipulating, you will have to roll quite a few Performance, Persuasion, or other Charisma-based checks to do this. If you want to seduce, intimidate, or delight an NPC, then a good song can help.
Street musicians are a thing in DnD. So if you want to spend your free time busking in each city you pass through, then you may be able to make a good living. The better you are, the more money you’ll make.
Musical Instruments Available in Dungeons and Dragons 5e
There are dozens – or maybe hundreds – of instruments that exist in the realms of Dungeons and Dragons. The basic instruments are not infused with magic and don’t do anything on their own. These are simply ideas for the types of instruments you can buy or even start the game with.
Below you will find some of my favorite instruments in the game. I have left a simple note regarding who I believe would like them – to help you follow your heart – along with a straightforward description of the instrument.
Woodwind instruments are simple and charming. They are typically the easiest to make and the least offensive while you are learning. I love woodwind instruments, with the ocarina being my favorite choice.
- Pan Flute – for the traditional sprite – a pan flute is a small instrument typically made from bamboo or reeds. The ends are closed on one end and open on the other, with each reed being a different length. The sound is similar to Satyr music.
- Bag Pipes – for those who want to march into battle – Bagpipes are an instrument that is also made of reeds that are attached to a reservoir bag. The sound is Celtic.
- Flute – for those who crave familiarity – the flute covers a wide variety of instruments and is a wonderful instrument for beginner crafters to attempt to craft. You can make one out of anything from reeds to vegetables.
- Shawm – for woodwind beginners – another reeded instrument that Gnomes love, the Shawm is simple and slightly resembles the modern-day recorder. The difference is that the mouthpiece is long and thin.
- Hulusi – for players who love decorating their possessions – this instrument consists of three reeds or bamboo pieces attached to an empty gourd. The gourd is often decorated, and the center bamboo is full of holes like you’d see on a flute.
- Ocarina – for those who return the light of peace – my favorite classic game is Ocarina of Time, so I always try to find an ocarina in-game, if possible. You can make the ocarina out of clay, metal, or ceramic.
Percussion instruments are known for being loud and less than precise. But I find them dedicated to the free spirits in the world. Although I don’t play percussion instruments, I want nothing more than to be a free spirit.
- Simple Drum – a starter percussion – you can make a simple drum by using any round, hollow wood frame and stretching hide over it. However, this is highly customizable and not a specific type of instrument.
- Tantan – for the sitting drummer – A tantan is a drum that is oblong and narrow compared to the classic drum. It is held on the knee and hit with the hand from the side.
- Udu – for self-starters – this is a unique instrument as it is made of clay. It resembles a simple pot with a hole in the side. The instrument is traditionally played by females and requires a light touch.
- Maracas – a wonderful accompaniment to dancing – Maracas are better played as a pair. They can be made with gourdes or wood and filled with anything the size of a bean or smaller.
- Gong – best for grabbing attention – A gong is usually a large instrument that stays in one place. It is traditionally used in ceremonies, but it is possible to make your own small version for musical reasons.
String instruments are far from basic, despite them being the most popular instrument in Dungeons and Dragons. They are extremely versatile and pleasing to listen to. This is my favorite category.
- Dulcimer – versatile and charming – I first heard the dulcimer played live when I was a teenager. The instrument is gorgeous inside and out. Thre are two types of dulcimers. The plucked dulcimer and the hammered dulcimer. I prefer the hammered sound, but they are both wonderful.
- Lute – for everyone – the lute is a favorite of Bards everywhere. In fact, the Bard from my usual party was so inspired that he has a lute in real life and has become quite adept. I guess he is now proficient in real life.
- Lyre – for playing to or by angels – the lyre is another popular choice for fantasy and anime fans. It may be one of the oldest instruments that still exists today, and the angelic sound belongs in the D&D world. Alternatively, a harp is acceptable.
- Viol – beauty and grace – the viol, viola, or gamba, is a mini-cello. If you have a miniature version of the viol, you can also use it as a violin, wowing the other adventures who may have never seen anything like it.
- Hurdy-Gurdy – you love a challenge and don’t mind if people stare – others may laugh at the name, but that only fuels the Bard. This instrument – originally a two-person instrument – needs to be cranked while playing. The look of the instrument is unique and beautiful.
- Erhu – your motto is to keep it simple, and make lemonade – this instrument doesn’t take many materials to make. It is a spike fiddle that only has two strings. It is simple, but it sounds like a gorgeous singing voice when played proficiently.
- Psaltery – you will adjust your instrument to your own taste – the psaltery is a zither instrument that has a very sharp sound, so it’s very important that it is played correctly. Otherwise, you’ll see more winces than smiles.
Brass instruments are for those who like to make an entrance. I love it when I see someone play a brass instrument – in real life or in the game – because they generally ooze confidence and personality.
- Trumpet – you’re loud, yet cooler than everyone around you – most people know what a trumpet is, and yes, it is possible to make one in DnD. The trumpet is considered the oldest brass instrument in the real world, and it is perfectly viable in the fantasy world.
- Sackbut – for people who walk into battle with their eyes closed, and still dominate – another strange name for a not so peculiar instrument. Before the trombone existed, something called a sackbut made a similar sound. As far as brass instruments go, if you can learn to make swords, then you can learn to make these.
Creating a Custom Musical Instrument for 5e
If your DM is flexible, you may be able to start the game with an instrument that isn’t listed here. After all, not all of these instruments are mentioned in The Player’s Handbook.
The guide books make it clear that players aren’t limited with which instruments they may play. There are a few ways to acquire instruments in the game.
Find a Music Store
Music stores exist in Dungeons and Dragons. You may have to go to a town with a Bard college to find one, but chances are, you can ask NPCs if they know of any towns nearby.
Make Your Own Instrument
If you can raise your musical proficiency and your carpentry or blacksmithing skills, then you can make your own instrument. The type of instrument you want to make will affect which skills you need.
Steal One (Please Don’t)
As someone who mains Rogue and only steals from the bad guys, I don’t condone stealing in-game. When I played Skyrim, it was nearly impossible for me to stray from what was right and good. I don’t fit the Rogue stereotype as I can be a killjoy, but if you’re about that life, then it is an excellent way to get a pricey instrument for free.
Infuse Your Instrument with Magic
If your DM hasn’t already allowed you to loot a magic-infused instrument after a boss fight, then you may be on your own. If you have a party member that can enchant and infuse spells into your instrument, then that’s perfect.
However, not everyone is so lucky. If you have to spend your life savings on an NPC that can, then that’s a sacrifice you’d have to be willing to make. More often than not, your DM will allow you to run into one eventually. Just know that the longer you have to wait, the more powerful it will be.
Critical Role Bards Who Play Instruments
Although there may be many characters who play instruments in Critical Role, I think of two particular characters whenever I imagine the performances.
Dorian Storm is a Bard played by Robbie Daymond. Recently, Robbie released a song he wrote for another player character named Bertrand Bell, a Fighter. The two are close, and so whenever Bertrand died, Robbie (or Dorian) was heartbroken and wrote this song.
Robbie’s Dorian Storm is one of the best Bard representations I’ve seen. He’s gorgeous, he’s dodgy, he’s charismatic, and most importantly, he is an amazing performer.
Scanlan Shorthalt is probably the most famous Bard in Critical Role. He is played by Sam Riegel (notorious for spouting off in song) and appears in many episodes. While he is an intelligent and Charismatic character, all he ever wanted was to find a Gnomish love.
It appeared that Matt Mercer nearly allowed this to happen whenever bard Gnome Kaylie was introduced. But it turns out that Kaylie is Scanlan’s long-lost daughter.
Question: What Do I Do if My Bard Instrument Breaks?
Answer: Bards don’t channel their magic through a single instrument alone. They can use any performance. If you are charming someone, try dancing instead. If you are healing, perhaps recite some poetry or singing with your own words.
Question: Are Musical Instruments Tools in 5e?
Answer: Although it’s controversial outside of DnD to call instruments tools, it is on the tool list in the book. So yes, a musical instrument is a tool in D&D 5e, despite what controversy arises because of it.
Question: Can Any Class Play Instruments in 5e?
Answer: Yes. Since there is free will in the Dungeons and Dragons world, you can pick up an instrument and attempt to play it. However, you may have to practice a lot or even take lessons if you want to become proficient (depending on the DM.)
Question: Can I Invent My Own Instrument?
Answer: Yes, if the DM says you can, then inventing your own instrument is a wonderful way to roleplay a Bard. Use other instruments as inspiration and go from there.
The Power of Music in DnD 5e
Music is just as powerful in the tabletop world as in the real world. The main class that will play an instrument in Dungeons and Dragons is the Bard. The Bard almost always uses music as a tool.
However, anyone can play a musical instrument and benefit from it. As a Rogue main, I always keep my Charisma up and thus can learn to play instruments quite naturally. Music is everything in real life, and it can be everything in Dungeons & Dragons.
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