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The 10 Best Keyboard Players in the World (2023 Update)

Choosing the top 10 keyboardists in the world was tough. With so many talented players, we had to dig into other aspects like creativity, playing techniques, and contributions to the music industry. An easier list to compile was the Best Piano Players in the World, with a heavy reliance on classically trained performers. In terms of modern music, however…

As usual, we couldn’t limit our list to just 10 so we have included a set of runners-up and then a list of honorable mentions. So if you don’t see your favorite keyboard player, just keep scrolling. With that, let’s move into the list of the best keyboard players in the world…

#10 – Vangelis

Vangelis is one of the best keyboard players of all time, who is focused on the New Age music genre and has been hired for many movie soundtracks.

Associated Acts: Jon & Vangelis, The Forminx

We have Vangelis to thank for the famous Chariots of Fire (1981) “Titles” theme. More than mere film music, it is a staple of pop culture, used during the London 2012 Olympics’ medal presentations, movie trailers, and TV ads.

Had Vangelis’s career been limited to that one piece of music, he would still go down in the annals of music and film. Instead, he composed the scores for Blade Runner (1982) and Alexander (2004) (some of the best movie soundtracks of all time!), among many others, and has been praised by the American Film Institute as producing some of the best film scores ever.

Vangelis didn’t start in film, though. He began working with the Forminx and Aphrodite’s Child in the 1960s. He started composing scores for animal documentaries, which eventually led to mainstream films. His career spanned over 50 years, and he composed and performed more than 50 acclaimed albums at that time.

Trivia: Vangelis composed the music and designed the “Handover to Athens” relay portion in the Sydney 2000 Olympics’ closing ceremonies. France also made Vangelis a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1992, promoting him to Commander of that order in 2017.

#9 – Jordan Rudess

Jordan Rudess is one of the best keyboardists in the world, known for his progressive rock work with Dream Theater.

Associated Acts: Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment

Jordan Rudess simplified progressive rock performances by mapping multiple sounds from multiple keyboards to a single unit. He could then arrange these sounds in any way he liked, cycling through them using a foot switch for each concert. Not wanting to limit himself to just keyboards, Rudess soon incorporated new technology (think iPads and iPhones) into his concerts so that he could deliver the sound he wanted when he wanted.

In 2010, after Rudess created his software company Wizdom Music, he paired with other keyboard artists like Eyal Amir and Kevin Chartier. Together, they created technology that uses tablet computers to improve sound synthesis and find new ways to perform and record music.

Rudess even uses a customized swiveling keyboard and synthesizer for gigs. Although he is best known for his contributions to the progressive rock group Dream Theater, he continues to introduce new software and technology for both live shows and the public. Not only is he one of the best modern keyboard players, his contributions to the art will persist and inform future generations of instrumentalists.

Trivia: Jordan Rudess was accepted into the Juilliard School of Music at nine years old but eventually became more interested in progressive rock than classical music. Rudess credits Patrick Moraz, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, and Tony Banks as his top keyboard influences.

#8 – Jon Lord

Jon Lord is one of the best keyboardists of all time, known for his work with Deep Purple and White Snake.

Associated Acts: Deep Purple, Whitesnake

Like many other amazing keyboard players before him, Jon Lord fused two different music styles, like rock with classical or baroque, into something that new generations of listeners could groove to. He co-founded the hard rock band Deep Purple in 1968, although you may know his work with other groups, including Whitesnake and Santa Barbara Machine Head.

He has such renown that educational institutions have credited him. He was granted an Honorary Fellow of Stevenson College in Scotland and an honorary doctorate of Music from the University of Leicester. In 2016, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him as a member of Deep Purple.

Lord was known for plugging his Hammond organ in Marshall amplifiers to match Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore’s volume. He ignored the Moog synthesizer—a bold choice given the popularity of the instrument among such notable artists as Keith Emerson.

Trivia: Jon Lord intended to go into theater, even founding the Drama Centre London at the Central School of Speech and Drama. He played piano and organ at nightclubs to earn a living while playing a small role in the TV program Emergency – Ward 10.

#7 – Keith Emerson

Keith Emerson, of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer (ELP) is one of the best keyboard players in the world easily.

Associated Acts: Emerson, Lake, & Palmer

One of the most acclaimed and accomplished keyboard artists ever, Keith Emerson is probably best known for his work with the Nice, which created rock arrangements of classical music pieces. He was also part of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), one of the most famous progressive rock groups of the 1970s.

Emerson, and consequently ELP’s music, combined their rock compositions with classical pieces. He also found success with a solo career, writing his own music and composing soundtracks for feature films. He is best known for using Hammond organs, and even pipe organs on occasion, during his performances.

During the ’90s and early 2000s, Emerson rejoined ELP for a few more albums and tours, though Emerson finished his career as a solo artist. Many critics cite him for helping to bring classical music to the masses.

Trivia: Actor Kevin Eldon played Emerson as a Roman slave who defeats his enemies using the power of progressive rock on the UK television series Big Train.

#6 – Chick Corea

Chick Corea is known for his work with Return to Forever and Miles Davis and is easily one of the greatest jazz keyboardists ever.

Associated Acts: Miles Davis, Return to Forever

Chick Corea has composed several jazz standards, including “Spain”, “La Fiesta”, and “Windows”, to name a few. He has won 23 Grammy Awards but has been nominated over 60 times. The late ’60s saw the birth of jazz fusion, which he and Miles Davis contributed to. Along with artists like McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, and Herbie Hancock, he is considered a great piano voice in jazz.

Corea is unique for using a ring modulator to process the output of his electric piano. He would sometimes even reach in and pluck the piano strings himself. His Return to Forever band used both acoustic and electronic instrumentation and drew more on Latin American sounds than rock.

Corea has collaborated with many artists throughout his career, most notably with pianist Herbie Hancock. Later on, they adopted a dueling-piano format when performing together, playing each other’s compositions and even improvising music.

Trivia: Like a few other popular keyboard players, Corea spent time—six months, to be exact—at the Juilliard School of Music before dropping out to pursue his career. He and Tom Cruise are also among the most famous Scientologists in the world, even crediting the practice with most of his creative inspiration.

#5 – Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek wrote some of the most amazing melodies with The Doors and goes down as one of the best keyboard players ever.

Associated Acts: The Doors

Ray Manzarek was, along with friend Jim Morrison, a founding member of the Doors. Active during the late ’60s and early ’70s, the band sold over 100 million records, and were known for their dark, stirring sounds, and the recklessness of Morrison as their lead singer. Manzarek played piano for the most part, though he did occasionally lend his efforts as lead vocals. Influencing his sound was his love of jazz and blues, which he carried over from childhood. The result was a rock-jazz fusion that defined the Doors’ music.

Since his time with the Doors, Manzarek has collaborated with several other artists, including Weird Al Yankovic, Iggy Pop, and Bal. He also became a mentor to the punk band X, producing their debut LP. He even wrote a few books throughout his career, including a biography and a few works of fiction.

Trivia: Manzarek and Morrison graduated from the same film school. Supposedly, Manzarek was so talented that the film program director said he could have gone straight to directing films after graduation.

#4 – Stevie Wonder

Some may not like this but Stevie Wonder is our 4th best keyboardist of all time. He's a mature player that doesn't show off his full skill levels all the time, but when he does it's amazing.

Associated Acts: Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney

Stevie Wonder’s impact on R&B cannot be understated. Thanks to his unique use of synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments in the ’70s, he evolved the sound of the genre, remodeling it for a new generation. More than a sound innovator, Wonder is a hit machine. Even as a 13-year-old, he managed to deliver #1s, such as “Fingertips” which reached the summit of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, making him the youngest artist ever to win that honor.

While a mainstay in R&B music, Wonder utilized a funky piano style and wasn’t afraid to use congas, drums, bongos, melodica, synthesizer, and harmonica, among other instruments as part of his repertoire. He also furthered the idea of the concept album. One of the bestselling music artists ever, he has also sold over 100 million copies of his music. Besides a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he has been inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

All of this is to say that Wonder didn’t subscribe to any one genre or sound. This disregard for musical delineation can be heard in his piano playing and is why he is on this list.

Trivia: 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 such common knowledge nobody even mentions it anymore, but Stevie has been blind since birth.

#3 – Rick Wakeman

Rick Wakeman, called the Wizard of the Keyboards, is easily one of the most talented keyboard players, known for his work in the band Yes.

Associated Acts: Yes, Trevor Rabin

Another progressive rock legend, Rick Wakeman is best known for performing with the band Yes throughout the ’70s. He also released a few concept albums throughout that time and formed his rock band, the English Rock Ensemble, which still performs today.

Wakeman plays the standard grand and electric piano, Hammond organ, and synthesizer. For a time, he was a proponent of the Mellotron, which uses a bank of pre-recorded tape strips that get activated by different keys on its keyboard. He and David Biro developed the Birotron, which used the 8-track cassette format instead of tape strips. 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 a few ambient, New Age, and Christian albums, including Country Airs (1986) and The Gospels (1987).

Trivia: Rumours had spread that Wakeman, so frustrated with one particular Mellotron, poured fuel over it and set it on fire. Long held as myth, it was nevertheless confirmed by Wakeman himself. He has also written an autobiography and two memoirs.

#2 – Lyle Mays

Lyle Mays is one of the most incredible jazz keyboard players in the world, known for his work in the Pat Metheny Group.

Associated Acts: Pat Metheny Group

Lyle Mays is primarily known for his work with the Pat Metheny Group, with whom he won 11 Grammy Awards and 23 nominations. He was primarily responsible for sound design and new compositions. Earlier in his career, Mays toured with Woody Herman’s jazz band, Thundering Herds, for about eight months.

Although Mays is a highly regarded innovator in jazz piano, he loved composing classical music using new advanced harmonic aesthetics and structural development. He taught himself computer programming and music synthesis, eventually collaborating with keyboard manufacturers Kurzweil and Korg to develop new sounds.

Outside of the Pat Metheny Group, Mays performed with Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine and formed the Lyle Mays Quartet with Bob Sheppard, Eric Hochburg, and Mark Walker. If it were my call, Lyle Mays would be at the top of the best keyboard players list, but alas, I am but one member of this discussion.

Trivia: Besides a musician, Mays was an amateur architect and designed his own house and home studio in Wisconsin, taking much inspiration from famous American architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright. He’s also recorded and composed children’s audiobooks.

#1 – Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock is our pick for the best keyboard player of all time, without a doubt.

Associated Acts: The Headhunters, Miles Davis Quintet

Herbie Hancock helped define the post-bop sound in jazz. In 1963, he joined Miles Davis’s quartet, the Second Great Quartet, which brought him into the spotlight. The quartet began using elements of rock and popular music during Hancock’s tenure, and Hancock learned to use more electric keyboards at Davis’s insistence.

Throughout his career Hancock was always able to adapt easily to new instruments. After learning how to play the electric keyboard, he began combining those sounds with acoustic ones. His later music was given to improvisation, bearing influences from contemporary classical composers with an electronic edge.

Between 1978 and 1982, Hancock created several pieces with jazz-influenced disco and pop music. In 1983, his Grammy Award–winning song “Rockit” was the first jazz hip-hop song, and the first mainstream single to feature scratching.

Trivia: Hancock has been a professor of music at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music since 2012. He also performed and acted in the film ‘Round Midnight, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Score. He’s acted in various TV shows and big budget films. He’s released 41 studio albums!

Runners-Up: Who’s Almost One of the Best Keyboard Players of All Time?

Elton John

Elton John doesn't make it obvious how good of a keyboard player he is, but he's a master keyboardist.

Associated Acts: Tim Rice, Eric Clapton, John Lennon

Having sold over 300 million copies of his music worldwide, Elton John is one of the bestselling music artists ever, with fifty Top 40 hits in the UK Singles Chart and US Billboard Hot 100. A quick mention of only some of his accolades includes five Grammy Awards and Brit Awards, two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, and a Disney Legends Award.

John wrote several songs for his self-titled first album that set the formula for his next albums, with gospel-chorded rockers and emotional ballads. It wasn’t until Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in 1973 that John donned his glam rock-star image.

As a composer, some of John’s credits include Disney’s The Lion King, both in film and onstage, and the stage musicals Billy Elliot: The Musical, Aida, and Lestat: The Musical.

Trivia: “Candle in the Wind 1997”, a single written to commemorate the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, is one of the bestselling singles in the history of UK and US singles charts. He also changed his name to Elton John to honor the saxophonist Elton Dean and the singer Long John Baldry.


Kitaro is like Vangelis, working in the New Age music genre as one of the best keyboard players in the industry.

Associated Acts: Far East Family Band

Japanese player Kitaro deserves recognition for his contributions to new age music and his use of electronic instruments. He quickly fell in love with the analog synthesizer sound before switching to the keyboard and joining the progressive rock group, the Far East Family Band.

Much of Kitaro’s music has an underlying message of peace and attention to spirituality. After 9/11, he recorded a series of peace-themed albums titled Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai, released in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2011, all of which contain samples from Japanese temple bells in every track.

His “Love and Peace” world tour furthered that philosophy, touring in 2007-2009 to inspire a message of world harmony through his music.

Trivia: Kitaro went on a “Live in Asia” tour in 1984 but had to cancel the stop in Singapore, due to the country’s ban on long hair.

Rick Wright

Rick Wright is an amazing keyboardist known for his work with Pink Floyd.

Associated Acts: Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, Zee

Richard “Rick” Wright was a vocalist, keyboard artist, and even co-founder for the progressive rock band Pink Floyd. His jazz-influenced keyboard playing is a huge part of Pink Floyd’s distinct musical style. Most often, he used Farfisa and Hammond organs and a Kurzweil synthesizer.

Wright composed many songs with improvising and thinking outside the mainstream constraints of jazz and rock. He was very interested in free-form music, which did not put much emphasis on tempo.

Wright enjoyed using Egyptian scales and complemented each piece with an organ, electric piano, or synthesizer. He would routinely play a Farfisa electric organ, the sound would be fed through a joystick control and up to six speakers in an auditorium. He also used a Hammond organ and a grand piano together onstage.

Trivia: Wright had the reputation for being the “quiet” Pink Floyd member, much like George Harrison was for the Beatles. He also briefly studied architecture before forming Pink Floyd with some friends, including Roger Waters.

Geoff Downes

Geoff Downes is another keyboard alumni of the band Yes, Asia, and The Buggles.

Associated Acts: The Buggles, Yes, Asia

Geoff Downes, like our friend Rick Wakeman, was a part of the band Yes but was by no means limited to that one group. He would go on to be a part of new wave group the Buggles, and join the supergroup Asia. Downes still tours with Asia, as well as Yes. He has entered the Guinness Book of World Records for performing with 28 keyboards onstage in a single performance. Downes has even called fellow Yes member Rick Wakeman an inspiration for his work.

Although Downes was out of the Asia band for two years, he is the longest-serving band member and appears on every single album they’ve released.

In the 1970s, Downes teamed up with fellow Buggles member Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, and the great film composer Hans Zimmer to form the group Chromium. Together they recorded the album Star to Star in 1978.

Trivia: Downes was involved in the 1989 remake of Deep Purple’s 1972 hit “Smoke on the Water” to help raise funds for victims of the Spitak earthquake. He has also worked as a songwriter for ABBA’s Agnetha Fältskog.

Honorable Mentions for Best Keyboard Players in the World

With keyboard being one of the more popular modern instruments, we just can’t stop with the list above. Your favorite keyboardist may not have been mentioned yet, and there’s plenty that deserve at least a quick shoutout. So here are those that have a huge chance of climbing the rankings over time.

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

We’ll have to stop here or we’ll end up talking about this forever. What makes this so fun is that a slight tweak in the attributes we used to rate the players above could not only rearrange the whole list but could swap out all of the keyboardists for a whole different set.

Since you made it this far, I’m certain you’d enjoy our list of the richest rock stars in the world and see how many of these players made it to that list, too. Sometimes it’s sad how we reward some of the less-skilled players, but other times it’s a pleasant surprise to see the best keyboard players in the world also making big bank!

Top 10 Best Keyboard Players in the World (2023 Update)

This is the table for the top 10 best keyboard players of all time. It contains their names and associated acts.

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