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While reading the D&d 5E Basic Rules, I noticed that under "Other Dexterity Checks", it said "Play a stringed instrument". This led me to wonder what ability is used for playing other types of instruments- specifically, woodwind instruments (it seems that woodwinds and strings make up 80-90% instruments listed in the 'Tools' section of Chapter 5). I searched everywhere, but couldn't find anything.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The things listed under each ability are just examples, not a complete and exhaustive list of the only things possible with ability checks. They're listed to give an idea of what generally falls under each ability, and provide exemplars that DMs can extrapolate from to unlisted situations encountered during play. Based on the things listed under each ability, playing a woodwind—or any kind of instrument—is also a Dexterity check.

I could see an exception for an instrument that required no manual dexterity to play right but did require massive lung capacity, and ruling that a "performance" with that instrument was a Con check. But such unusual circumstances are precisely why the abilities are described using examples, and the exact check required is then left to the DM to decide based on that guidance and their own judgement.

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@Alex I could see requiring a Int check from someone confronted with a foreign woodwind to see if they can figure out how to play it, then a Dex check to do it well. I could also see requiring just an Int check by itself to play a melody that's super-obscure but otherwise trivial to play right once remembered. There is a lot of flexibility in the ability check / skill system of 5e! :D –  SevenSidedDie Jul 24 at 1:47
So no DEX check for didgeridoo, mountain horn or vuvuzela? –  Marcus Wigert Jul 24 at 5:32
@MarcusWigert If you've ever attempted to play one, you know they require considerable oral dexterity. Though I'd maybe require a Cha check to play a vuvuzela right. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 24 at 5:55
@SevenSidedDie there's a right way to play a vuvuzela?! –  ioanwigmore Jul 24 at 11:30
@SevenSidedDie Also, what made me to think that the ability used for playing woodwinds may be different than that used for playing string is because under 'Other Dexterity Checks', the rules said 'play a stringed instrument', not 'play an instrument'. –  Alex Jul 24 at 11:34

Woodwind musical instruments are a tool (page 50 of the Basic D&D Rules (v.01)), and thus are not assigned to any specific Ability to use.

Page 49 of Basic rules (v.01)

Proficiency with a tool allows you to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you make using that tool. Tool use is not tied to a single ability, since proficiency with a tool represents broader knowledge of its use. For example, the DM might ask you to make a Dexterity check to carve a fine detail with your woodcarver’s tools, or a Strength check to make something out of particularly hard wood.

However, even if a woodwind instrument was a skill not tied to any specific tool, you could still use any relevant ability score for related checks.

Page 59 of Basic rules (v.01)

Variant: Skills with Different Abilities
Normally, your proficiency in a skill applies only to a specific kind of ability check. Proficiency in Athletics, for example, usually applies to Strength checks. In some situations, though, your proficiency might reasonably apply to a different kind of check.

That being said, I would advise that woodwind instrument either uses dexterity, charisma, or possibly even constitution depending on what type of song you are trying to perform with the instrument. Trying to play a fantasy version of "peter and the wolf"? That might be dexterity or intelligence if you are reading from sheet music. Are you trying to distract a mob or an angry room in a tavern? You should probably use charisma. Trying to do a contest of who can play the instrument the loudest or longest? I'd go with a constitution check. But in the end, you use the check that makes the most sense to the table.

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