The Best Keyboard Musicians of All Time

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Written By Tanya

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It was difficult to choose the 10 top keyboard players worldwide. There is a risk that your favorite keyboard player won’t be included in our rankings or that you disagree with the order. It’s all part of the fun!

There are so many talented keyboardists with top-level skills. This is the big problem. We had to look at other aspects such as creativity, playing technique, and contributions to music industry. The Best Player in the World was a simpler list to make, as it leans towards classical pianists.

We couldn’t choose ten so we added runners-up and honorable mentions. Keep scrolling if you don’t see your favorite keyboard players. Let’s now move on to the list with the top keyboard players worldwide…

#10 – Keith Emerson

ASSOCIATED ACTS – EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER

Keith Emerson, one of the most respected and accomplished keyboard musicians ever, is perhaps best known for his work as a member of the Nice, which made rock arrangements of classical music. Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), one the most well-known progressive rock bands of the 1970s, was also his part.

Emerson and ELP combined their music with classic pieces that were incorporated into rock music. His solo career was also successful, allowing him to write his own music and compose soundtracks for feature films. He is most well-known for his use of Hammond organs and pipe organs during performances.

Emerson returned to ELP a few times in the 1990s and 2000s for a few more tours and albums, but he ended his career as an independent artist. Emerson is often credited with helping to bring classical music closer to the masses by many critics.

Trivia Facts Emerson was played by Kevin Eldon, a Roman slave who defeated his enemies with the power of progressive music on the UK television series Big Train. A comic strip in Lachesis, a Cambridge student newspaper, features Emerson’s antics on stage.

#9 – Vangelis

ASSOCIATED ACTS JON & VANGELIS. THE FORMINX

Vangelis is to be credited for the Chariots and Fire (1981), Blade Runner (19822), and Alexander (2004) soundtracks. These soundtracks are some of the greatest movie soundtracks! The Chariots and Firetheme, “Titles”, is his most famous score. It was used in the London 2012 Olympics’ medal presentations, movie trailers and TV commercials.

Vangelis started his career with The Forminx in the 1960s. Vangelis is best known for his scores for animal documentaries. This led to him becoming a mainstream composer for film music. His fifty-year career was a long one. He composed and performed over fifty albums.

The American Film Institute even nominated Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner and Chariots Of Fire as part of its top twenty-five most important film scores.

Trivia Facts Vangelis composed and designed the “Handover to Athens” relay portion of the Sydney 2000 Olympics’ closing ceremonies. Vangelis was also promoted to Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by France in 2017 after he was made a Knight of The Order of Arts and Letters by France in 1992.

#8 – Jordan Rudess

ASSOCIATED ACTS – DREAM THEATER, LIQUID TENION EXPERIMENT

Jordan Rudess simplified the art of progressive rock by mapping multiple sounds from multiple keyboards into one unit. These sounds could be arranged in any way that he wanted, and he could cycle through them with a footswitch to each concert. For his concerts, he uses multiple pieces unique technology, including an iPhone and iPad.

After Rudess had established his software company Wizdom Music in 2010, he teamed up with Eyal Amir, Kevin Chartier and other keyboard musicians. They created technology that used tablet computers to enhance sound synthesis and create new ways to record and perform music.

Rudess also uses a custom swiveling keyboard for gigs. He is most well-known for his contributions to progressive rock band Dream Theater. However, he continues to develop new software and technology both for live use and for the general public. He is not only one of the best keyboard players today, but his contributions go beyond his skill.

Trivia Facts Jordan Rudess was nine years old when he was admitted to the Juilliard School of Music. However, he became more interested in progressive music than classical music. Rudess credits Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson as his greatest keyboard influences.

#7 – Jon Lord

ASSOCIATED ACTS – DEEP PURPLE, WHITESNAKE

Jon Lord, like many other incredible keyboard players, merged two music styles into one. Although he was a founding member of the hard rock band Deep Purple, he also played in Whitesnake, Santa Barbara Machine Head, and other bands.

He was an Honorary Fellow of Stevenson College in Scotland, and an Honorary Doctorate of Music from University of Leicester. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016 because he was a member of Deep Purple.

His signature musical style was to drive a Hammond organ through Marshall amplifiers in order to match Richie Blackmore, Deep Purple guitarist. He almost ignored the Moog synthesizer that Keith Emerson, a previous keyboard artist, had used.

Trivia Facts – Jon Lord initially wanted to be a theater director. He even founded the Drama Centre London at Central School of Speech and Drama. To make a living, he played the piano and organ in nightclubs while also playing a small part in the TV show Emergency- Ward 10.

#6 – Ray Manzarek

ASSOCIATED ACTS – THE DOORS

Ray Manzarek, who was part of The Doors from the late 60s to early 70s with Jim Morrison, was an active member. Manzarek was a pianist for the group, but he also sang lead sometimes. Manzarek grew up loving jazz and blues, and he used those sounds to create a unique keyboard sound for The Doors.

Over 100 million albums were sold by The Doors during their tenure. They are known for their dark and stirring music, as well as the recklessness of Jim Morrison (their lead singer). Manzarek worked with many other artists including Iggy Pop, Weird Al Yankovic and Bal. He also wrote several books, including a biography and some fiction.

Trivia Facts Morrison and Manzarek both graduated from the same film school. Manzarek is said to have been so talented that the film school director suggested that he could have gone straight into directing films. He was also a mentor to punk band X, and occasionally worked as a keyboard player and producer.

#5 – Chick corea

ASSOCIATED ACTS : MILES DAVIS, RETURN TO FOREVER

Chick Corea is the creator of many jazz standards including “Spain”, “La Fiesta” and “Windows”. He has won 23 Grammy Awards and been nominated more than 60 times. He and Miles Davis were instrumental in the development of jazz fusion in the late 1960s. He is well-known for his great piano voice, which is shared with Keith Jarrett and McCoy Tyner.

Corea is the only person who uses a ring modulator for processing his electric piano’s output. Corea would reach in and pluck the strings of his electric piano himself. The Return to Forever band featured both acoustic instruments and electronic instrumentation. They were more influenced by Latin American sounds than rock.

Corea has also collaborated with many musicians throughout his career, including pianist Herbie Hancock. Corea and Hancock adopted a dueling-piano format for their duet concerts later on, where they played each other’s music and even improvised together.

Trivia Facts Corea, like many other keyboard players, spent six months at Juilliard School of Music. He then left to pursue his career. Tom Cruise and Corea are among the most well-known Scientologists around the globe. He even credits the practice for most of his creative inspiration.

#4 – Stevie Wonder

ASSOCIATED ACTS MICHAEL JACKSON, PAU MCCARTNEY

Stevie Wonder’s innovative use of synthesizers, and other electronic musical instruments, helped to transform R&B in the 1970s. Wonder, then thirteen years old, was the first artist to reach the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

Wonder is best known for his use of a funky piano style to his music, and for helping to further the concept album’s idea. He is one of the most successful music artists and has sold more than 100 million copies of his music. He is a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and has been inducted into The Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Wonder plays many instruments, including the congas, drums and bongos, harmonica, synthesizer, melodica, synthesizer, as well as the piano. He has been instrumental in the development of many genres such as rhythm and blues, rock, soul, and funk.

Trivia Facts Wonder was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2014. In 2009, he was named United Nations Messenger of Peace. Stevie is blind since birth. It’s so common knowledge that nobody even mentions it anymore.

#3 – Rick Wakeman

ASSOCIATED ACTS – YES, TREVOR RABIN

Rick Wakeman, another progressive rock legend is most well-known for his work with Yes in the 1970s. He also created several concept albums during that period and founded his rock band, The English Rock Ensemble, with which he continues to perform today.

Wakeman can play the Hammon organ, standard grand, electric piano, synthesizer, and Hammon organ. He was once a supporter of the Mellotron. This uses prerecorded tape strips which are activated by keys on its keyboard. David Biro and he developed the Birotron which used an 8-track cassette format in place of tape strips. The Birotron was costly to produce and digital keyboards hindered its success.

Wakeman has made music in many genres, including “Glory Boys”, a minor pop hit from 1985, as well as a few ambient and New Age Christian albums like Country Airs (1986) and Gospels (191987).

Trivia Facts There was once a urban legend that Wakeman got so upset at the Mellotron, he set fire to it with petrol. Before Wakeman confirmed the myth, it was discredited. Wakeman also wrote an autobiography, and two memoirs.

#2 – Lyle Mays

ASSOCIATED ACTS – PAT METHENY GROUP

Lyle Mays is best known for his work as a member of the Pat Metheny Group, where he won 11 Grammy Awards and was nominated 23 times. He was responsible for sound design and the creation of new music for the group. He toured for eight months with Woody Herman’s jazz group Thundering Herds before joining the group.

Mays is an internationally acclaimed innovator in jazz piano music, but he also loved creating classical music with new harmonic aesthetics and structural developments. Kurzweil and Korg taught him computer programming and music synthesizer, which led to his collaboration in the creation of new sounds.

Mays was also a member of the Pat Metheny Group and performed with Marc Johnson, Peter Erskine, and the Lyle Mays Quintet with Eric Hochburg and Bob Sheppard. Lyle Mays would rank at the top of my list of best keyboard players if it were up to me, but I’m only one of these people.

Trivia Facts Mays is not only a musician but also an amateur architect who designed his home and studio in Wisconsin using inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect. He has also composed audiobooks for children.

#1 – Herbie Hancock

ASSOCIATED ACTS – THE HEADHUNTERS, MILE DAVIS QUINTET

Herbie Hancock was a collaborator and inspiration for many other keyboard players. He helped to define post-bop jazz. He joined Miles Davis’ Second Great Quartet in 1963. This brought him to the forefront. During Hancock’s tenure the quartet started to incorporate elements of rock and popular songs. Hancock also learned how to use electric keyboards at Davis’s insistence.

Hancock has been able to quickly adapt to new instruments throughout his entire career. He began to combine the sounds of the electric keyboard with those made by his acoustic instruments after learning it. His music later on reflected a strong improvisational element, as well as an influence of contemporary classical composers with an electronics edge.

Hancock composed several pieces that were jazz-influenced by pop and disco music between 1978 and 1982. His 1983 Grammy-award winning song “Rockit”, which was also the first mainstream song to include scratching, was the first song in jazz hip-hop.

Trivia Facts – Hancock is a professor of music in the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. He has been there since 2012. He was also a performer and actor in the film Round midnight which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. He has acted on many TV series and large-budget films. He has 41 studio albums!

Runners up: Who is almost one of the greatest keyboard players of all time?

Why stop at the top 10, when someone else might have chosen keyboard players to feature there? Below are 4 runners who absolutely merit recognition for their contributions and skill. We also have honorable mentions if you don’t find your favorite.

Elton John

ASSOCIATED ACTS TIM RICE ERIC CLAPTON JOHN LENNON

Elton John has sold more than 300 million copies worldwide of his music. He also had fifty Top 40 hits on the UK Singles Chart. Elton John has received five Grammy Awards and Brit Awards as well as two Academy Awards, two Tony Awards and a Disney Legends Award.

John wrote many songs for his first album, Elton John. This set the stage for his subsequent albums with gospel-chorded rockers as well as emotional ballads. John’s temporary status as a glam rock star was not achieved until 1973 with the Goodbye Yellow Brick Roadalbum.

John is a composer and has credits for Disney’s The Lion King and the stage musicals Billy Elliot, Aida and Lestat, The Musical.

Trivia Facts “Candle in Wind 1997”, a single that was written to honor the memory of Diana Princess of Wales, has been one of the most successful singles in both the US and UK singles charts. To honor Elton Dean, the saxophonist, and Long John Baldry, he changed his name from Elton John.

Rick Wright

ASSOCIATED ACTS : PINK FLLOYD, DAVID GILMOUR, ZEE

Richard Wright, also known as Rick, was a singer, keyboard player, and co-founder of progressive rock band Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd’s distinctive musical style is in large part due to his keyboard playing. He used a Farfisa and Hammond keyboards, as well as a Kurzweil synthesizer.

Wright, like many other great keyboard musicians, composed many songs that allowed him to improvise and think outside of the constraints of jazz or rock. Wright was very interested and passionate about free-form music that didn’t emphasize tempo.

Wright loved Egyptian scales, and each piece was accompanied by an organ, electric piano or synthesizer. Wright mainly used a Farfisa electronic organ. His playing was controlled by a joystick, and the sound was sent through six speakers in an auditorium. Onstage, he also used a Hammond organ as well as a grand piano.

Trivia Facts – Wright was known for being the quietest member of Pink Floyd, similar to George Harrison for the Beatles. Before forming Pink Floyd, Wright briefly studied architecture.

Kitaro

ASSOCIATED ACTS – FAR EAST FAMILY BAN

We’ve seen several British keyboard artists on this list, but the Japanese Kitaro deserves recognition for his electronic-instrumental music and his contributions to new-age music. After falling in love with analog synthesizer sounds, he switched to keyboard and joined the progressive rock band Far East Family Band.

Kitaro’s music is often characterized by a message of peace and spirituality. After 9/11, Kitaro began to record a series of peace-themed albums entitled Sacred Journey Of Ku-Kai. These albums were released in 2003 and 2005 respectively. They also contain samples of Japanese temple bells on every track.

His “Love and Peace World Tour” continued that philosophy. He toured from 2007 to 2009 to spread the message of peace and harmony through his music.

Trivia Facts – Kitaro was on a “Live in Asia Tour” in 1984 from Singapore. However, he had to cancel the tour because of his long hair and the country’s ban on it at that time. He even met Vangelis, a Greek composer, during his “Love and Peace World Tour”.

Geoff Downes

ASSOCIATED ACTS – THE BUGGLES, YES ASIA

Geoff Downes was, like Rick Wakeman, also part of Yes and the new wave band The Buggles. As well as Yes, he was also a member of the supergroup Asia. He was the first person to perform with 28 keyboards onstage at once in the Guinness Book of World Records. Downes even called Rick Wakeman, a fellow Yes member, an inspiration for his work.

Although Downes was not in the Asia band for 2 years, he is still the longest-serving member of the band and appears on every album.

Downes formed the group Chromium with Anne Dudley (a fellow Buggles member) and Trevor Horn (a Buggles member). They recorded the 1978 album Star to Star together.

Trivia Facts – Downes participated in the 1989 remake Deep Purple’s 1972 hit, “Smoke on the Water”, to raise money for the Spitak earthquake victims. He was also a songwriter for ABBA’s Agnetha Faltskog.

Honorable Mentions for the Best Keyboard Players Worldwide

We can’t stop at the keyboard, which is one of the most popular modern instruments. Although your favorite keyboardist might not be mentioned, there are plenty of others that merit at least a brief mention. These are the keyboardists who have the best chance of climbing up the ranks over time.

  • John Evan (Jethro Tull)
  • John Carpenter (Film Soundtracks).
  • Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran)
  • Geddy Lee (Rush).
  • John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)
  • Derek Sherinian (Sons of Apollo).
  • Patrick Moraz (Yes)
  • Bernie Worrell (Parliament-Funkadelic)
  • Tony Banks (Genesis).
  • Jan Hammer (Mahavishnu Orchestr)
  • Ray Charles (Solo Carrer)

Or we’ll keep going on forever about it. This is what makes it so much fun. A slight change in the attributes that we use to rate players could not only rearrange the entire list, but also allow us to swap keyboardists for a completely different set.

You’ve made it this far. I know you’d love our list of the wealthiest rock stars in the world. It’s interesting to see how many of these musicians made it onto that list. Sometimes it is sad to reward the less talented players but sometimes it’s a nice surprise to see some of the top keyboard players making big money!

The Top 10 Most Outstanding Keyboard Players in the Globe

This table lists the top 10 keyboard players of all times. It includes their names as well as the associated acts.

RankKeyboard PlayerActs Associated
1Herbie HancockThe Headhunters, Miles Davis Quintet
2Lyle MaysPat Metheny Group
3Rick WakemanYes, Trevor Rabin
4Stevie WonderMichael Jackson, Paul Mccartney
5Chick CoreaMiles Davis, Return To Forever
6Ray ManzarekThe Doors
7Jon LordDeep Purple, Whitesnake
8Jordan RudessDream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment
9VangelisJon & Vangelis – The Forminx
10Keith EmersonEmerson, Lake, & Palmer

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