Top 10 Best Keyboard Players of All Time

Keyboard players have always been essential to music. In the 1960s and 1970s, many rock groups highlighted their keyboardists in extended instrumental solos and featured them prominently on album covers. Even some guitar heroes, such as Steve Winwood of Traffic, started as keyboardists.

The keyboard has always been a versatile instrument in all types of music. From the sophisticated chords and melodies of classical music to the funky riffs of jazz, the keyboard has always been a central instrument in all genres. With its broad range of sounds and textures, the keyboard adds depth and complexity to any musical composition.
The Top Ten
1 Nick Rhodes

No one layers soundscapes like Nick. His sounds are original and distinct. He blends his keyboards seamlessly with guitars, which isn't easy. This is one reason why you can't neatly categorize Duran Duran. Their sound is eclectic and unlike anything you've heard before. This is why I consider them not only my favorite band but also the most underappreciated by the music press.

Sure, they were good looking and knew how to market that with their music, but that doesn't mean they lacked substance or talent. The fact that he is self-taught makes him an incredible player and the obvious number 1 choice, without meaning any disrespect to others.

2 Keith Emerson Keith Noel Emerson was an English keyboardist and composer. Emerson played in a number of bands before he found his first commercial success with the Nice.

Without a doubt, Keith Emerson is the greatest keyboard player of the modern era. What else can you say about a guy who taught himself the piano when he was 6? Taking lessons only enhanced his natural abilities. Not to mention his pioneering work with the synthesizer, alongside Bob Moog.

I could go on and on. These points barely even scratch the surface. Anyone who has ever seen him playing live would readily agree. Many other keyboard players came very close, and all deserve respect. But when Keith passed away this year, we lost a true modern music legend, who will be sorely missed.

3 Rick Wakeman Richard Christopher "Rick" Wakeman is an English keyboardist, songwriter, television and radio presenter, and author.

Rick Wakeman began his musical journey with David Bowie, playing the mellotron on Space Oddity and the piano on Changes. He also collaborated with Cat Stevens, providing the piano for Morning Has Broken, and T Rex, where he played the piano on Bang A Gong. Before gaining significant recognition in late 1971 as the keyboardist of Yes, he was a member of Strawbs.

With his contributions to tracks like Roundabout, South Side Of The Sky, Heart Of The Sunrise, and his solo Cans And Brahms, Rick elevated Yes's musicality, all featured on the album Fragile. He further enhanced Yes's repertoire with his work on Close To The Edge, Awaken, The Remembering, and other tracks. Although Yes has seen various keyboardists over the years, Rick Wakeman remains the most prominent.

4 Ray Manzarek Raymond Daniel Manczarek, Jr., better known as Ray Manzarek, was an American musician, singer, producer, film director, and author.

The Doors did not have a dedicated bass player. Ray multitasked, playing bass with his left hand and delivering chords and solos with his right. He, along with Keith Emerson and Jon Lord, are arguably the three best keyboardists ever.

It would have been a dream to see all three of them share a stage. A heartfelt RIP to these legends.

Ray is perhaps the most underrated member of The Doors, even though he contributed significantly with organ, bass, and backing vocals. His classical Bach-influenced organ solos and Rhodes basslines are so intricate that few bassists could hope to replicate them.

And, I must admit, I envy his iconic sideburns!

5 Jordan Rudess Jordan Rudess is an American keyboardist and composer best known as a member of the progressive metal/rock band Dream Theater and the progressive rock supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment.

I understand that this website is based on opinions. However, I personally feel that Jordan Rudess should at least be in the top two. This is coming from someone who almost never comments on lists! Not only is he technically brilliant, but he's also a teacher. He demonstrates his keyboard equipment via YouTube/DVDs and explains them in detail.

He created his own 13/8 challenge, and more. His style of playing is essentially unrivaled as it covers complex time signatures, a multitude of sounds (often combining two), rapid hand movement, excellent coordination between both hands, and the blending of numerous musical genres.

6 Peter Bardens

Peter paved a wonderful path for Camel. He knew how to use the keyboard for the melodic construction of prog-rock.

He's highly underrated. His work with Camel is brilliant.

In my opinion, he's the composer and arranger of the best solos and chords in progressive rock history.

7 Jonathan Cain Jonathan Cain is an American musician, singer and songwriter best known for his work with The Babys, Journey and Bad English.

He's the best keyboard player I'm aware of. His rhythm playing stands out, and nowadays, he incorporates melodies from older songs they don't perform anymore into his solos.

Journey is one of my favorite bands. Jonathan was a fantastic choice as their keyboard player. He's talented wherever he goes.

He wrote the parts for When You Love A Woman, Don't Stop Believin, Open Arms, and Who's Crying Now. What more do you need?

8 Jon Lord Jonathan Douglas "Jon" Lord was an English composer, pianist, and Hammond organ player known for his pioneering work in fusing rock with classical or baroque forms, especially with Deep Purple, as well as Whitesnake, Paice Ashton Lord, The Artwoods, and The Flower Pot Men.

Jon Lord was one of the creators of Hard Rock. All others were either guitarists or singers, so that says a lot about his contribution. He played heavy riffs and classic pieces with equal (some would say unparalleled) virtuosity.

I am a guitarist, and Deep Purple is my favorite band, but Ritchie Blackmore is not my favorite member of the band - it's Jon. I have nothing but respect for each name on this list (especially Wakeman, Wright, and Manzarek), but Jon Lord showed that the Hammond organ is a powerful Hard Rock instrument and that a keyboard can growl, scream, weep, or sing as well as any guitar or vocal.

9 Tuomas Holopainen Tuomas Lauri Johannes Holopainen (born 25 December 1976) is a Finnish songwriter, multi-instrumentalist musician (but mainly keyboardist) and record producer, best known as the founder, leader, keyboardist and songwriter of symphonic metal band Nightwish. He also studied jazz and classical styles.

Tuomas is truly something extraordinary. We get only glimpses into his unique world. He's one of the greatest composers of our time, and his band should be considered one of Finland's national treasures.

As a Finn and a fan, I'm proud of him and his achievements. He lives his dream and shares his talent with us, for which we should be grateful. Maestro Holopainen is certainly one of the most memorable rock icons in Finland, and perhaps the world.

Tuomas is an absolutely incredible man. Not only is he a phenomenal composer who can create magical moments and stir emotions effortlessly with his fantastic melodies, bombastic symphonic rock tracks, and rhythmic solos, but his mastery of the keyboard is also something to behold. Every album, every song, and every moment created by this man is beyond words. I see no reason why his name cannot be mentioned in the same breath as Hans Zimmer.

10 Tony Banks

Inspired by the likes of Rachmaninoff and hailed as the 'chord master' by fellow Genesis member Steve Hackett, Tony Banks has a personal style. Some of his traits, such as adding the 4th on a triad on the 3rd inversion, are now quite popular. He has always done all the keyboard programming himself and has always had a distinctive sound as well as style which singles him out as an outstanding individual.

He is quite sensitive to the needs of each piece of music. The overall soundscape has been a top priority, and virtuosity has been just one of many devices, along with his unique method of using the cross-hand technique. Yes, others can play 'faster', but Tony's passion for his music supersedes technique for the sake of showing off. The music is all that matters to Tony. All in all, he stands at number 1 in my chart and always will.

The Contenders
11 Yoshiki Hayashi Yoshiki Hayashi is a Japanese musician, songwriter, composer and record producer. Better known by his stage name Yoshiki, he is best known as the leader and a co-founder of the heavy metal band X Japan, for which he is the drummer, pianist and main songwriter. The band achieved breakthrough success... read more

The greatest keyboard player of all time!

Yoshiki Hayashi, you are the best keyboardist. Yoshiki Hayashi makes playing the keyboard look so easy. But in reality, it's not an easy task. Yoshiki Hayashi, you're the best.

I really love Yoshiki! I think he is the best pianist, drummer, and composer. Yoshiki is also generous and humble. Yoshiki and X Japan are the best band in the world!

Yoshiki Hayashi is the greatest pianist, drummer, and composer of all time. His creations range from classic, orchestral pieces to heavy metal songs.

12 Richard Wright Richard William "Rick" Wright was an English musician, composer, singer and songwriter. He was the main keyboardist and a backup vocalist for the psychedelic and progressive English rock band, Pink Floyd .

He definitely should be number one. He mastered keyboards with samplers during Floyd's early days, such as "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and "Meddle", and then explored new territory with the Synthi A on albums considered their masterpieces: "The Dark Side of the Moon", "Wish You Were Here", and "Animals". Additionally, he had his own successful solo career.

I'm saying this not just as a Pink Floyd fan, but as a keyboard player myself with many other influences, including Billy Preston, Miles Davis, and Brian Wilson. As mentioned in other comments, his modesty is the other half of what makes him a legend.

P.S. This might seem like an exaggeration, but I'm just a really big fan.

13 Freddie Mercury Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara, 5th September 1946 - 24th November 1991) was a Zanzibari-born British singer of Indian descent, songwriter and record producer, known as the lead vocalist and songwriter of the British rock band Queen. He also became known for his flamboyant stage persona and four-octave... read more

Freddie should be higher on this list! Take me to The Seven Seas of Rhye!

14 Eddie Van Halen Edward Lodewijk "Eddie" Van Halen (January 26, 1955 – October 6, 2020) was a Dutch-American musician, songwriter, producer, and inventor. He was best known as the lead guitarist, occasional keyboardist and co-founder of the hard rock band Van Halen.

What? He's a fantastic guitar player, but not so much on the keyboard.

He should be number 1. Van Halen for Life, baby!

15 Nick Oosterhuis

Throughout his multi-faceted career, Nick Oosterhuis has been regarded as a gifted performer, a musical virtuoso, and an inspired songwriter. After completing Philhelmon's first solo project in 1985, he moved to Germany. Through this venture, Nick has had the fortune to participate in countless records, both performing and/or writing for many major artists.

He collaborated with Philhelmon again in 2012 and in 2018 on the new album 'Perpetual Immobile'. Nick currently resides and works near Hamburg, Germany, as a musician, engineer, producer, and songwriter. (Philhelmon)

16 Jurgen Fritz

Incredible player with a unique flair and the ability to gracefully dance his fingers around his equipment. Fritz has often been criticized for his admiration for Keith Emerson. However, there are differences, emotions that are uniquely his. Technically speaking, Jürgen always used string ensembles and Mellotrons as part of his rig, instruments that Keith never adopted.

Works like Spartacus and Pompeii are must-listens.

He's the keyboard player from the German band Triumvirate. If he had been born in England instead of Germany, he'd be on everyone's top 10 list.

17 Billy Joel William Martin Joel is an American singer-songwriter, composer and pianist. Commonly nicknamed the "Piano Man", he has been making music since the 1960s, releasing popular albums throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s.

Top 2...Billy and Rick Wakeman. They have different styles, so I'd call it a tie. But if I had to pick, it's Billy. Once you see him in concert and experience the range, clarity, and accuracy, you'll never be the same, and you'll never miss any of his shows.

He truly embodies The Piano Man.

How is Billy Joel not in the top 5?

Come on, this is crazy.

Too many hits to list. Jon Cain at #2? Give me a break. This is the strangest keyboard list of all time.

Scenes From An Italian Restaurant and Angry Young Man, as well as hits like Moving Out, Allentown, and My Life. Need more reasons why he's great?

18 Patrick Moraz

People have mentioned Yes, Refugee, and his solo work, but what about the Moody Blues? One can't forget his keyboard playing in that iconic band. He was also in a band called Mainhorse.

He played on only one Yes album, but it was a remarkable one. I also recommend people check out his collaborative album with Bill Bruford titled "Music for Piano and Drums" as well as "Long Distance Voyager" by the Moody Blues.

Moraz is best known for his work with Yes. However, in Refugee, alongside Lee Jackson and Brian Davison of the Nice, he was phenomenal.

19 Geoff Downes

His New Dance Orchestra album from 1986 is a tour de force.

His record speaks for itself. Listen to Asia!

20 Paul McCartney Sir James Paul McCartney (born 18 June 1942) is an English singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer. With John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, he gained worldwide fame with the rock band the Beatles, one of the most popular and influential groups in the history of pop and rock... read more
21 John Paul Jones John Baldwin, better known by his stage name John Paul Jones, is an English multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer, arranger and record producer. He is best known as the bassist for the English rock band Led Zeppelin... read more

He is a very talented musician and deserves to be higher on this list.

A top ten keyboardist for a top two band. Very underrated.

This man is awesome. Just listen to No Quarter.

22 Geddy Lee Gary Lee Weinrib, known professionally as Geddy Lee, is a Canadian musician, singer and songwriter best known as the lead vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist for the Canadian rock group Rush.

Come on! Why is Geddy missing from this list?

23 Vince Clarke

Vince Clarke has created the soundtrack to my life for nearly 40 years. He has been innovative and original throughout. The album Chorus might be the best synth music ever.

He's an icon and legend. Master Vince was the essential piece of DM in their beginning, and then with Yazoo. And how can I forget Erasure? Vince, you're a genius and creative force.

If it were up to me, I'd place you in the top 5.

How do I take back my vote and vote for Vince?

24 Alan Wilder

Alan Wilder has an unlimited creative imagination in constructing soundscapes. He is original and natural in capturing everyday sounds and converting them into musical pieces using sampling methods. He excels in rhythm management, repeating a piece until it reaches perfection.

His mastery in triads is the soul of DM. Having been classically trained, his performance of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata in Cm is one of the best I have ever heard. It combines power and sensitivity in a way that is indescribable.

Alan Wilder, a classically trained and experimental composer, is a master of sampling. Whether it's a piano, synthesizers, or keyboards, Alan Wilder tops my list. Over the years, he has set the standard.

To this day, both Alan Wilder and Depeche Mode have been influential to a vast majority of successful groups and musicians.

25 Elton John Sir Elton Hercules John (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight; 25 March 1947) is an English singer, pianist and composer. Collaborating with lyricist Bernie Taupin since 1967 on more than 30 albums, John has sold over 300 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He has... read more

Elton John is simply the best keyboard player ever - better than all the rest by far!

What is Elton John doing at #44? There's no better keyboard player EVER than Elton John!

Elton John is by far the greatest keyboard player of all time.

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