Choosing the top ten keyboard players in the world was extremely difficult. There is a high risk that your favorite will not be listed or you will disagree with our ranking. That's part of the fun!
The big problem is that there are so many good keyboardists out there with excellent skills. So we had to deal with other aspects like creativity, playing techniques and contribution to the music industry. Making a list easier wasThe best pianists in the world, because of his fondness for classical musicians.
Again, picking just ten was difficult, so we expanded the list to include runners-up and then an honorable mention list. So if you don't see your favorite keyboard player, just keep scrolling. We'll continue with thatList of the best keyboardists in the world...
#10 – Vangelis
Selected Artists: Jon & Vangelis, The Forminx
We have Vangelis to thank for the famous oneschariot of fire(1981),Blade Runner(1982),Aleksandar(2004) Soundtracks (some of themthe best movie soundtrack of all time!). More than any other result of his careerchariot of fireThe headlines theme is a staple of pop culture, used at the London 2012 Olympic Games medal ceremony, in movie trailers, and in TV commercials.
Vangelis began working with Forminx and Aphrodite's Child in the 1960s. He is best known for composing music for wildlife documentaries, which brought him into the film music mainstream. His career spanned more than fifty years during which he composed and performed more than fifty acclaimed albums.
The American Film Institute even nominated Vangelis' score forBlade RunnerIchariot of fireas part of the Top 25 Greatest Movie Songs of All Time.
Sightseeing attractions:Vangelis composed the music and designed the relay section of Surrender to Athena at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. France also made Vangelis a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1992 and promoted him to Commander of the Order in 2017.
#9 – Keith Emerson
Associated artists: Emerson, Lake and Palmer
One of the most acclaimed and successful keyboardists of all time, Keith Emerson is probably best known for his collaboration with Nico, who created rock arrangements of classical music. He was also part of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), one of the most famous progressive rock groups of the 1970s.
Emerson, and with it the music of ELP, combined their compositions with classical works that were adopted into rock music. He also achieved great success in his solo career, writing his own music and composing soundtracks for feature films. He is best known for using a Hammond organ, and occasionally even an organ, in his performances.
Throughout the '90s and early 2000s, Emerson returned to ELP several times for several more albums and tours, although Emerson ended his career as a solo artist. Many critics describe it as a contribution to bringing classical music closer to the masses.
Sightseeing attractions:Actor Kevin Eldon starred in the British TV series Emerson as a Roman slave who defeats his enemies with the power of progressive rockbig trainA comic strip in the Cambridge student newspaper Lachesis introduces a character based on Emerson's stage antics.
#8 – Jordan Rudess
Associated acts: Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment
Jordan Rudess simplified progressive rock performance by combining multiple sounds from multiple keyboards into a single unit. He could then arrange these sounds however he wanted and switch between them with a footswitch at each concert. He also uses a variety of unique technologies for his concerts, including an iPad and even an iPhone.
After founding his software company Wizdom Music in 2010, Rudess teamed up with other keyboard artists like Eyal Amir and Kevin Chartier. Together they developed technology that uses tablet computers to improve sound synthesis and find new ways of performing and recording music.
Rudess even uses a special rotary keyboard and synthesizer for his performances. Although best known for his contributions to progressive rock group Dream Theater, he continues to introduce new software and technology for live and public use. Not only is he one of the finest modern keyboard players, his contributions are beyond his ability.
Sightseeing attractions:Jordan Rudess was accepted into the Juilliard School of Music at the age of nine, but over time he became more interested in progressive rock than classical music. Rudess counts Patrick Moraz, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Tony Banks among his biggest influences on keyboards.
#7 – Jon Lord
Associated groups: Deep Purple, Whitesnake
Like many other great keyboard players before him, Jon Lord combined two different styles of music, such as rock with classical or baroque, into something incredible. He co-founded the hard rock band Deep Purple in 1968, but has also spent time in other bands including Whitesnake and the Santa Barbara Machine Head.
He has received several awards throughout his career, including appointment as an Honorary Fellow of Stevenson College in Scotland and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Leicester. In 2016, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Deep Purple.
His signature musical style included running a Hammond organ through Marshall amps to match Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore's volume levels. He almost ignored the Moog synthesizer used by earlier keyboardists like Keith Emerson.
Sightseeing attractions:Jon Lord originally wanted to do theatre, and even founded the Drama Center London at the Central School of Speech and Drama. He played the piano and organ in nightclubs to earn a living with a small role on a television showEmergency service - Ward 10.
#6 - Ray Manzarek
Verwandte Acts: The Doors
Ray Manzarek was a member of The Doors, a band he formed with friend Jim Morrison, in the late '60s and early '70s. Manzarek not only played the piano for the group, but sometimes sang. He grew up fond of jazz and blues and channeled those sounds into creating a signature keyboard sound for The Doors.
The Doors sold over 100 million records over their lifetime and were known for their dark, haunting sounds and the ruthlessness of their lead singer Jim Morrison. Manzarek has collaborated with several other artists including Weird Al Yankovic, Iggy Pop and Bal. He even wrote several books throughout his career, including a biography and several novels.
Sightseeing attractions:Manzarek and Morrison graduated from the same film school. Manzarek was reportedly so talented that the head of the film program said he could direct films right after graduating. He also mentored the punk band X, working with them at times as a producer and keyboardist.
#5 – Chick Corea
Associate Artists: Miles Davis, Return to Forever
Chick Corea created several jazz standards including "Spain", "La Fiesta" and "Windows" to name a few. He has won 23 Grammy Awards but has been nominated over sixty times. In the late '60s, the jazz fusion to which he and Miles Davis contributed was born. Along with artists like McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock, he is considered a great piano voice in jazz.
Corea is unique in that it uses a ring modulator to process the output from its electric piano. Sometimes he would even reach out and pluck the piano strings himself. His band Return to Forever used both acoustic and electronic instruments and relied more on Latin American sounds than rock.
Corea also collaborated several times throughout his career, most notably with pianist Herbie Hancock. They later adopted the format of a duet piano in their duet concerts, playing each other's compositions and even improvising the music.
Sightseeing attractions:Like several other well-known keyboard players, Corea spent six months at the Juilliard School of Music before dropping out to pursue his career. He and Tom Cruise are also among the most celebrated Scientologists in the world, and in fact owe much of their creative inspiration to the practice.
#4 – Stevie Wonder
Associated Artists: Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney
Stevie Wonder's unique use of synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments helped reshape the R&B genre in the 1970s. In 1963, his single "Fingertips" hit number one on the chartsHere"Hot 100" when Wonder was only thirteen, and he is the youngest artist to ever receive that honor.
Wonder is best known for using a funky piano style in his music and promoting the idea of a concept album. One ofthe best-selling music artists of all timeHe has also sold more than 100 million copies of his music. In addition to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he has been inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Wonder's repertoire of instruments includes piano, congas, drums, bongos, melodica, synthesizers and harmonica, among others. As a result, he was involved in the emergence of various genres such as rock, soul, funk and rhythm and blues.
Sightseeing attractions:In 2014, Wonder received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. He was also named a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2009. It's so common knowledge that nobody mentions it anymore, but Stevie has been blind since birth.
#3 – Rick Wakeman
Associate Artists: Yes, Trevor Rabin
Another progressive rock legend, Rick Wakeman is best known for his performances with the band Yes in the '70s. During this time he recorded several concept albums and formed his own rock band, the English Rock Ensemble, with which he still performs to this day.
Wakeman plays standard grand and electric piano, Hammon organ and synthesizer. For a time he was a proponent of the Mellotron, which uses a series of pre-recorded tapes activated by various keys on the keyboard. He and David Biro developed the Birotron, which used an 8-track cassette format instead of tape. The birotron was expensive to manufacture and digital keyboards prevented the instrument's success.
Wakeman has produced music in a variety of genres, including "Glory Boys" (1985), a minor pop hit, and several ambient, new age, and Christian albums, includingCountry Airs(1986) igospels(1987).
Sightseeing attractions:For a time, there was an urban myth that Wakeman got so mad at the Mellotron that he doused it in gasoline and set it on fire. The myth was debunked before Wakeman himself confirmed it. He also wrote an autobiography and two memoirs.
#2 – Lyle Mays
Associated cast: Pat Metheny Group
Lyle Mays is best known for his work with the Pat Metheny Group, where he won eleven Grammy Awards and was nominated twenty-three times. He was mainly responsible for the sound design and the development of new compositions for the group. Before joining the group, he toured with Woody Herman's jazz band, the Thundering Herds, for about eight months.
Although Mays is a highly respected innovator in jazz piano, he loved composing classical music, utilizing new, advanced harmonic aesthetics and structural developments. He taught himself computer programming and music synthesis, which led him to work with Kurzweil and Korg to create new sounds.
Outside of the Pat Metheny Group, Mays has performed with Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine and formed the Lyle Mays Quartet with Bob Sheppard, Eric Hochburg and Mark Walker. If I had my way, Lyle Mays would be at the top of the list of best keyboard players, but unfortunately I'm just a participant in this discussion.
Sightseeing attractions:In addition to being a musician, Mays was also an amateur architect and designed his own house and home studio in Wisconsin, drawing heavily on inspiration from the famous American architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright. He also recorded and composed audio books for children.
#1 – Herbie Hancock
Associated Artists: The Headhunters, Miles Davis Quintet
As an inspiration and collaborator with several other keyboardists, Herbie Hancock helped define the post-bop sound in jazz. In 1963 he joined Miles Davis' quartet, the Second Great Quartet, which launched him into the limelight. During Hancock's tenure, the quartet began using elements of rock and pop music, and Hancock learned to use more electric keyboards at Davis's urging.
Over the course of his career, Hancock quickly became accustomed to new instruments. After learning to play the electric keyboard, he began combining these sounds with acoustic ones. His later music showed a strong improvisational aspect as well as the influence of contemporary classical composers with an electronic touch.
Between 1978 and 1982, Hancock created several works of jazz-influenced disco and pop music. His 1983 Grammy-winning song "Rockit" was the first jazz hip-hop song and mainstream single to feature scratching.
Sightseeing attractions:Hancock has been a professor of music at UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music since 2012. He also appeared and starred in the film.Around midnightand won the Oscar for Best Original Music. He starred in various big budget TV shows and films. He has released 41 studio albums!
Second place: Who is almost one of the best keyboard players of all time?
What's the fun of stopping at the top 10 when you or someone else may have chosen other keyboard players to be featured there? We've added four more runners below who definitely deserve recognition for their skill and contribution. If you don't see your favorite there, keep scrolling because we also have a list of honorable mentions.
Associated Artists: Tim Rice, Eric Clapton, John Lennon
With more than 300 million copies of his music sold worldwide, Elton John is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, including fifty Top 40 hits in the UK and US Singles ChartHereHot 100. His accolades include five Grammy and Brit Awards, two Academy Awards, a Tony Award and a Disney Legends Award.
John initially wrote a few songs for his aptly titled debut albumElton John, which set the formula for his subsequent albums of gospel-tinged rockers and soulful ballads. The album was not released until 1973Zbogom Yellow Brick Roadthe album that gave John his passing image as a glam rock star.
As a composer, John worked for Disney, among othersLion King, both in film, on stage and in musicalsBilly Elliot: Das Musical,Aida,ILestat: Das Musical.
Sightseeing attractions:"Candle in the Wind 1997", a single commemorating Diana, Princess of Wales, is one of the best selling singles in UK and US Singles Chart history. He also changed his name to Elton John in honor of saxophonist Elton Dean and singer Long John Baldry.
Associated Artists: Far East Family Band
We've seen several British keyboardists on this list, but Japan's Kitaro deserves credit for his electronic instrumental music and contribution to new age music. He quickly fell in love with the sound of analog synths before turning to keyboards and joining the progressive rock group Far East Family Band.
Much of Kitar's music has an underlying message of peace and attention to spirituality. After 9/11, he began recording a series of albums entitled Peace.The sacred journey of the Ku-Kai, released in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2011, all with samples of Japanese temple bells in each song.
His "Love and Peace World Tour" continued this philosophy and toured from 2007 to 2009 to convey a message of world peace through his music.
Sightseeing attractions:Kitaro went on a Live in Asia tour in Singapore in 1984 but had to cancel because he had long hair and the country had a policy against it at the time. During his "Love and Peace World Tour" in Greece he even met the Greek composer Vangelis.
Associate Artists: Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, Zee
Richard "Rick" Wright was the singer, keyboardist and even co-founder of the progressive rock band Pink Floyd. His jazz-influenced keyboard playing is a big part of Pink Floyd's distinctive musical style. Most commonly he used the Farfisa and Hammond organs and the Kurzweil synthesizer.
Like many great keyboardists, Wright composed many songs by improvising and thinking beyond the mainstream boundaries of jazz and rock. He was very interested in free music, which did not attach great importance to tempo.
Wright liked to use Egyptian scales and would add an organ, electric piano or synthesizer to each work to support it all. He played primarily on the Farfis electric organ, with his playing transmitted via a joystick that sent the sound through up to six loudspeakers in the hall. He also used a Hammond organ and grand piano together on stage.
Sightseeing attractions:Wright had a reputation for being the "quiet" member of Pink Floyd, much like George Harrison was for the Beatles. He also briefly studied architecture before founding Pink Floyd with a few friends including Roger Waters.
Associated Artists: The Buggles, Yes, Asia
Geoff Downes was also part of the band Yes, like our friend Rick Wakeman, as well as the new wave group The Buggles. He also joined the supergroup Asia, with whom he continues to tour to this day, and Yesu. He entered theGuinness Book of Recordsfor a performance with 28 keyboards on stage in one performance. Downes even credited his Yes colleague Rick Wakeman as an inspiration for his work.
Although Downes has been away from Asia for two years, he is the band's longest serving member and appears on every album they have released.
In the 1970s, Downes formed the group Chromium with fellow Buggles Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley and the great film composer Hans Zimmer. They recorded an album togetherFrom star to starin 1978.
Sightseeing attractions:Downes was involved in the 1989 remake of Deep Purple's 1972 hit "Smoke on the Water" to raise funds for victims of the Spitak earthquake. He also worked as a songwriter for ABBA's Agnetha Fältski.
Awards of honor for the best keyboard players in the world
Since the keyboard is one of the most popular modern instruments, we just can't stop with the list above. Your favorite keyboard player may not have been mentioned yet, but there are many who deserve at least a brief mention. Here are the ones that have great chances of climbing the leaderboard over time.
- John Evan (Jethro Tull)
- Geddy Lee (Rush)
- John Carpenter (film music)
- Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran)
- Derek Sherinian (Apolonovi sinovi)
- Bernie Worrell (Parlament-Funkadelic)
- John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)
- Jan Hammer (Mahavishnu Orchestra)
- Patrick Moraz (da)
- Tony Banks (Genesis)
- Ray Charles (solo career)
We have to stop here, otherwise we'll talk about it forever. What makes this all so entertaining is that a small change in the attributes we used to rate the above players could not only rearrange the entire list, but also swap out all the keyboard players for an entirely different group.
Since you've made it this far, I'm sure you would enjoy our listthe richest rock stars in the worldand see how many of those players made it onto this list too. Sometimes it's sad how we reward some of the weaker players, but sometimes it's a pleasant surprise to see that the best keyboard players in the world make big bucks too!
The 10 Best Keyboard Players in the World (Update 2023)
This is a table of the 10 best keyboardists of all time. Includes their names and related works.
|1||Herbie Hancock||The Headhunters, Miles Davis Quintett|
|2||Lyle Mays||The Pat Metheny Group|
|3||Rick Wakeman||And, Trevor Rabin|
|4||Stevie Wonder||Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney|
|5||Chick Corea||Miles Davis, Back Forever|
|7||Jon Lord||Tiefviolett, Whitesnake|
|8||Jordan Rudess||Theater of dreams, an experiment in fluid tension|
|9||Keith Emerson||Emerson, Lake i Palmer|
|10||Vangelis||Jon & Vangelis, The Forminx|