Let's say Bob the Bard is proficient with the lute and the Performance skill. He wants to sway a crowd by playing a melody with his lute. What is the correct roll in this case?

  • Option A. That falls within the purview of the Performance skill, so it should be a Charisma (Performance) check.

  • Option B. He's trying to emotionally affect a crowd, so it's definitely Charisma, but he's using a tool he's proficient with to do so, so it should be a Charisma (lute) check.

  • Option C: Both options A and B are functionally identical—just roll a d20 then add Bob's CHA modifier and his proficiency bonus—so the question of choosing between A or B is moot.

  • Option D: Playing a lute is clearly an act of precision, finesse and hand coordination, so it should be a Dexterity (lute) check. This matches the real world expectation that you don't actually need to be a sociable or charismatic person for a crowd to like your performance, you just need to play your instrument well.

If you chose Option A: It makes sense for the Performance skill to cover acts such as poetry, comedy, acting, storytelling, etc, that don't require tools, but if Performance covers even musical instruments that are tools, when would you ever make a musical instrument check, in the way a rogue makes a thieves' tools check?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Musical performance is a matter of interpretation and expression way more than precision. He is not trying to produce the likeness of a MIDI of his music, he is trying to convey emotion. If he were in a studio, attempting to follow a score to perfect precision, then and only then it would be DEX. So D is out of the table when it comes to sway a crowd. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 4, 2016 at 21:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Did it occur to the player to take the Entertainer background? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5, 2016 at 3:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ A note regarding this question's answers: as of this writing, none of them explicitly choose one of the four options posed in the question. But for almost all of them, from their content it's fairly clear that they endorse Option C. It would really be nice if any of them had actually bothered to say it outright, though. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5, 2016 at 21:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson I thought it was clear my answer supports option A, although it doesn't say "option A." I'll have to change that. \$\endgroup\$
    – PipperChip
    Aug 6, 2016 at 14:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PipperChip yeah, yours is an exception to my second sentence. :) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6, 2016 at 22:17

8 Answers 8


Musical performance is a matter of interpretation and expression way more than precision.

He is not trying to produce the likeness of a MIDI of his music, he is trying to convey emotion.

If he were in a studio, attempting to follow a score to perfect precision, then it would be DEX. So D is out of the table when it comes to sway a crowd.

Since he is proficient with the lute, all other options converge to a CHA+Proficiency test.

A thief using his tools is aiming at fine movement and precision. much different from playing an instrument.

Read this paper: Recognizing Emotion in Music Performance Is an Aspect of Emotional Intelligence

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer since you actually justify why it should be a Charisma check (I specially like the first sentence in the paper's abstract stating that music is a form of non-verbal communication, which definitely falls within Charisma). So my last question to you then is: Let's say Alice the Rogue is proficient with the piano but not the Perform skill. Can she sway a crowd with a Charisma (piano) check (i.e., d20+CHA+proficiency bonus)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Bologna
    Aug 4, 2016 at 21:45

Checks to do with music instruments are all Performance checks. Leading to the total roll being:

D20+CHA Bonus+Proficiency Bonus (since the bard is proficient in the instrument)

To address your last point. All checks to deal with musical based instruments are Performance. Yes they are tools, but you have to know how to play them, and know how to play them well. That's where the concept of being proficient with them comes into play.

A thief who is very good with his hands could have the finesse required to play the piano for example, but was never trained in playing the piano (Not proficient in piano). So chances will be he won't play it well.

Not all tools utilize the same skill in order to accomplish the task they are intended to do.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Proficiency in a tool means you do know how to use it. A rogue who is very good with his hands AND is proficient with the piano should play the piano very well, regardless of how charismatic he is. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bologna
    Aug 4, 2016 at 19:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bologna Good catch, that was my original intent. Updated to better reflect that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Francisco
    Aug 4, 2016 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ The answer is correct except that checks made to use musical instruments are Ability checks that add your Proficiency bonus (they are not Performance checks -- your first sentence says they are). Instruments have their own proficiencies so your Proficiency bonus doesn't come from proficiency in the perform skill but from your proficiency in the tool (instrument). Similarly, there is no lock picking skill proficiency. Instead, the rogue simply rolls his DEX and adds his thieves' tools proficiency bonus. Of course, in the end it really doesn't matter because the roll is the same. :) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 4, 2016 at 21:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ You don't specify which option you're picking; it sounds like you think it's either B or C. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 4, 2016 at 21:43

From the basic rules:

Performance. Your charisma (performance) check determines how well you can delight an audience with music, dance, or some other form of entertainment.

This obviously means that lute-playing is definitely under performance. In a strict reading of the rules, the performance check only measures the "delightfulness" of the playing, but I would be reasonable for the DM to extend this to merely measuring the "influence" of the piece on the audience.

Persuasion. When you attempt to influence someone or a group of people with tact, social graces, or good nature, the DM might ask you to make a Charisma (Persuasion) check. Typically, you use persuasion when acting in good faith, to foster friendships, make cordial requests, or exhibit proper etiquette. Examples of persuading others include convincing a chamberlain to let your party see the king, negotiating peace between warring tribes, or inspiring a crowd of townsfolk.

Since the bard is not using "tact, social graces, or good nature," this cannot be a persuasion check!

Other Charisma Checks. The DM might call for a Charisma check when you try to accomplish tasks like the following:

  • Find the best person to talk to for news, rumors, and gossip
  • Blend into a crowd to get the sense of key topics of conversation

What Bob is doing doesn't really seem to fit into this category.

It seems that, out of the above options, making that particular situation a performance check is appropriate. As an added bonus, this is something that, at least thematically, you would expect a bard to be able to do, but that other classes would have a rough time attempting. In any case, I endorse option A, since the performance check seems to come closest.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, though, the question wasn't between the Performance skill proficiency and the Persuasion skill proficiency, but between the Performance skill proficiency and the Musical Instrument (Lute) tool proficiency. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6, 2016 at 22:26

Option D might be applicable if it were something like a lute-playing competition. However, if the player is swaying the crowd, definitely a charisma roll.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "If you win, you get to keep this lute made of gold. But if you lose, Orcus gets your soul" \$\endgroup\$
    – Adeptus
    Aug 5, 2016 at 0:28

Short Answer: It depends.

Long answer: All three can be correct. I'll elaborate on this starting with Dex (Lute), then a comparison between Cha (Performance) and Cha (Lute).

When considering whether you would use Dex (Lute), it essentially boils down to one question: "Are you playing or creating the piece?" If you are creating the piece (it is unique, you have no sheet music or a good memory to follow from, or you are improvising, for some examples), then it is about the passion of the performance and how the music feels. If you are playing from sheet music, from memory faithfully, or from practice, it is liable to fall under Dex. You are letting the beauty of the piece woo the crowd while you play it perfectly.

To answer whether to use the instrument or Performance proficiency with Charisma, it is best to consider what those proficiencies mean.

A tool proficiency represents great practice with that gear. A violinist may not have the general flair needed to give a magnificent Performance with any instrument, but she knows her violin better than the back of her left hand (since it always faces away from her while playing). She may not be able to blast out a song well while on the piano or the bassoon, but she can play just as well as her friend who has both practiced on the violin and is also able to pick up other instruments and play.

The Performance skill is playing a crowd based on flair and panache, but technical skill is not part of the deal. The violinist's brother may be much more talented naturally than her, able to pick up any instrument and play it passably, but he doesn't have the technical skill to do the task and so has a penalty (probably disadvantage). He may be better than his sister when it comes to picking up a random instrument, but she is superior when it comes to her chosen instruments.

Someone who has both the skill and the tool proficiency may or may not be better than someone who only has the tool proficiency. Being able to combine the general flair of the Performance skill with the technical power of the instrument could give a bonus (probably advantage) to a user. On the other hand, one could well find that there is no bonus. The violinist's friend is just as good as she is at violin, but no better. The advantage he has is still being mediocre in all other instruments as well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "All three can be correct." There were four options offered, though... \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5, 2016 at 21:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Option C was a redundant option, just declaring that both A and B were applicable. I dealt with that in my answer, but I don't think it really justifies being considered as an independent option. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sawyer
    Aug 6, 2016 at 1:21

I'd like to revisit my question. According to the PHB (p. 154), the following applies to musical instruments:

Musical Instrument. Several of the most common types of musical instruments are shown on the table as examples. If you have proficiency with a given musical instrument, you can add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to play music with the instrument. A bard can use a musical instrument as a spellcasting focus, as described in chapter 10. Each type of musical instrument requires a separate proficiency.

If you want to sway a crowd with instrumental music, it should be a Charisma (Performance). That much it's clear; it's said explicitly in the description of the Performance skill. Then there are three possibilities:

  • You are proficient in the Performance skill, but not the instrument. No problem: you add your proficiency bonus to the ability check. Flavorfully, it could be understood that while you don't have mastery over the instrument, the Performace skill covers the basics so you can play it. Combined with your training as an entertainer, that's enough to please the crowd.

  • You are proficient with the instrument, but not the Performance skill. As the PHB says, you get to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you do that involves playing the instrument. So you get to add it to the Charisma (Performance) check. You aren't trained on how to entertain a crowd, but your mastery of the instrument allows you to play beautiful melodies nonetheless.

  • You are proficient with both the instrument and the Performance skill. You still only add the proficiency bonus a single time. (By DM's fiat, you could possibly add twice your proficiency bonus or perhaps gain advantage on the check, but it's not RAW.)

As for lute checks (rather than Performance checks), there are some (but rather specific) situations in which they could apply. Like others have mentioned, a Dexterity (lute) check would make sense if you need to play a song perfectly, rather than pleasing a crowd. An Intelligence (lute) check could act as an ad hoc knowledge skill, for example to remember a specific song for the lute. A Wisdom (lute) check could act as a form of perception, to verify if someone playing the lute isn't making any mistakes.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for answering your own question in a simple and elegant way. This calls in the least amount of extra rule citations compared to the other answers. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 18, 2016 at 2:36

According to Xanthar's Guide re Musical Instrument and Performance:

Your ability to put on a good show is improved when you incorporate an instrument into your act.

So he should roll performance check with advantage.

Again from Xanthar's Guide:

Every tool potentially provides advantage on a check when used in conjunction with certain skills, provided a character is proficient with the tool and the skill.
As DM, you can allow a character to make a check using the indicated skill with advantage.


I'd say Dex is indeed required to play properly, but with enough Cha you can cover for minor disturbances, whether you are creating or covering already existing piece of art

But we come to the point where your Dex is simply too low to play properly, even if you are proficient with given musical instrument there are situations when you just can't do this

You got too drunk, broken your fingers, anything that greatly lowers your Dex would also affect your performance, making you unable to play good enough to make your Cha matter

Unless you go for comic performance

But we can't forget that sometimes rules are oversimplified for a reason: you'd need exact Dex numbers or even rolls with modifiers for every existing instrument to make it a rule. There are rules, there's common sense, there's DM and there are players, who always can suggest even the weirdest rolls if they can justify them


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