What Instruments Did Michael Jackson Play? – A Concise Guide

Michael Jackson, often referred to as the “King of Pop,” was known for his exceptional singing and dancing skills. However, many people may not know his ability to play several musical instruments. Although not highly proficient in any particular instrument, his natural musical talent enabled him to create and compose his hit songs uniquely.

Throughout his career, Michael Jackson experimented with various instruments. Despite not knowing how to read or write music, he was able to use his intuitive understanding of melodies and rhythms to produce his iconic tracks. His unconventional approach to music creation led to a signature sound that remains unparalleled in the music industry.

Michael Jackson’s Musical Background

Formal Composition Training

Michael Jackson, known as the “King of Pop,” was a best-selling American singer, songwriter, and dancer. Although he did not have formal composition training, Jackson developed a unique approach to composing.

Despite not being proficient in any particular instrument, he played keyboard, synthesizer, guitar, drums, and percussion on his “HIStory” album. Instead of traditional notation, Michael often “beatboxed” his melodies and recorded them for later use in the studio.

Influence of His Father

Jackson’s family, especially his father, was paramount to his musical journey. He started his career as the lead singer of the Jackson 5, which was formed by his father, Joe Jackson. This experience, although challenging at times, played a crucial role in shaping Michael’s understanding of the music industry. His father was a strict disciplinarian and a great motivator, which helped shape Jackson as an artist and performer.

As their manager, Joe Jackson was responsible for the group’s distinct sound, enhancing Michael’s natural vocal talent. With his father’s guidance, Michael and his brothers developed their signature harmonies and dance routines, which became a significant factor in the rising popularity of the Jackson 5.

Over time, Michael evolved from a young prodigy in the Jackson 5 to become an iconic and influential solo artist. The knowledge and experience gained during his time in the band, as well as the ever-present impact of his father’s influence, played essential roles throughout his illustrious career.

While his unique talent and dedication to his craft made him the celebrated artist he was, acknowledging the foundation laid by his family, particularly his father, is crucial to understanding Michael Jackson’s musical background.

Instruments Michael Jackson Played


Michael Jackson was known to play piano and keyboards, though not extensively. In his ninth studio album, “HIStory,” released in 1995, he was credited for playing keyboards. Throughout his career, he was surrounded by talented instrumentalists, including his family members, which might have contributed to his familiarity with piano and keyboards.

Another instrument that he played while making the same album was the guitar. While not a virtuoso on guitar, Michael Jackson could play the instrument at a basic level. Similar to his experience with piano and keyboards, he was credited for playing guitar on his “HIStory” album.

Drums and percussion were also among the instruments Michael Jackson played. He had a natural sense of rhythm, which enabled him to grasp the basics of these instruments. On the “HIStory” album, he was credited for playing both drums and percussion.

Although he couldn’t read or write music, Michael had a keen musical understanding. He could create music by relying on his exceptional ability to sing parts of a song to musicians and guide them.

Nevertheless, it is essential to note that he wasn’t exceptionally skilled in playing these instruments, yet he used them to shape his distinct musical style.

Michael Jackson: The Songwriter and Producer

Songwriting Process

Michael Jackson, often referred to as the King of Pop, was a highly skilled singer, songwriter, and producer. He was responsible for writing over 200 songs in his career, many of which became hit singles such as “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Thriller,” “Dirty Diana,” “Bad,” and more.

Jackson’s songwriting process was quite unique, as he often began by first developing the rhythm and chord structure of the song in his head, followed by the lyrics and vocal melody. This led him to create some of the most iconic and memorable soundscapes in the history of popular music.

Interestingly, he often recorded song ideas by beatboxing, vocalizing the instruments, and layering them to create a full-track demo.

Consistently pushing boundaries, Michael Jackson’s compositions were known for their diverse range of genres, including pop, rock, R&B, and funk. Throughout his career, he evolved complexity and innovation in his music while still delivering catchy tunes.

Production Techniques

As a producer, Michael Jackson was actively involved in the production process of his albums, working alongside industry veterans such as Quincy Jones, who produced some of his most successful records, including “Thriller” and “Bad.” Together, they developed cutting-edge production techniques that would contribute to the groundbreaking soundscapes of his hit songs.

One signature production technique used by Jackson was layering multiple vocal tracks to create a richer sound, which could give the listener a sense of being surrounded by his voice. This can be heard in tracks like “Billie Jean” and “Thriller.” Additionally, Michael Jackson’s songs often featured intricate string arrangements, adding depth to his compositions.

Influenced by his love for movies and storytelling, Michael Jackson integrated cinematic quality into his productions to create a more immersive experience. For example, the songs “Smooth Criminal” and “Dirty Diana” vividly evoke images and emotions that are amplified by their innovative sound design.

Overall, Michael Jackson’s prowess as a songwriter and producer played an integral role in shaping his musical legacy. His unique techniques and creative vision have had a lasting impact on the music industry, setting a high standard for fellow artists to follow.

Michael Jackson’s Collaborations

Working with Quincy Jones

Michael Jackson collaborated with the legendary producer Quincy Jones on some of his most iconic albums, including “Off the Wall,” “Thriller,” and “Bad.” Quincy Jones played an essential role in shaping Michael’s sound, blending different genres like pop, rock, and funk.

Their work together resulted in chart-topping hits, innovative production techniques, and memorable tunes that showcased Michael’s incredible vocal range and harmony skills.

Paul McCartney

In the early 1980s, Michael Jackson collaborated with former Beatles member Paul McCartney. Their partnership produced several successful singles, including “The Girl is Mine” from Michael’s “Thriller” album and “Say Say Say” from Paul McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace” album.

Their collaboration is characterized by a unique blend of pop and R&B elements, combining Michael Jackson’s smooth voice with McCartney’s distinctive vocal harmonies.

David Bowie

Although Michael Jackson and David Bowie did not have a direct collaboration, they shared a mutual admiration and influence on each other’s work. It has been noted that the music video for Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” influenced Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” incorporating avant-garde visuals. Jackson admired Bowie’s creativity and innovation throughout his career.

In summary, Michael Jackson’s collaborations with other music legends, such as Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, and his admiration for David Bowie have been essential to his musical legacy. His ability to work with various artists, producers, and genres showcased his exceptional talent as a vocalist and performer.

Famous Performances and Achievements

The Moonwalk

Michael Jackson was an exceptional entertainer, and one of his most iconic performances was the Moonwalk. This dance move, which he first performed during the television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, involved gliding backward without seemingly lifting his feet from the ground.

Jackson’s mastery of rhythm and balance allowed him to execute the Moonwalk flawlessly, mesmerizing audiences with his talent and passion for dance.


As a groundbreaking performer, Michael Jackson played a significant role in shaping the music video landscape. He was one of the first artists to create elaborate, narrative-driven music videos that were showcased on MTV, a move that helped open doors for Black artists on the network.

Some of his most memorable music videos include “Thriller,” “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and “Black or White,” which all demonstrated his immense creativity and vocal performance abilities.

Grammy Awards

Michael Jackson’s exceptional talent as a singer and performer earned him numerous accolades throughout his career. Among these honors were several Grammy Awards, with 13 in total to his name, including 8 that he received for his album Thriller.

His incredible vocal range, ability to convey emotion through his voice, and commitment to each performance made him a standout among his peers and solidified his legendary status in the industry.

John Godfrey

John Godfrey is a music fanatic, as well as the owner of Songpier.com which provides music guides. In high school, he learned how to play the drums which inspired him to learn about rock music. He began to write articles for various music magazines and during this period he realized he had a passion for writing music descriptions. He has a Master's degree in music education from the University of Redlands.