Learning to play hymns by ear is actually something you can learn quite easily once you have given respect to a few basic musical fundamentals. Firstly, you want to learn some basic chords on the piano – for playing hymns, especially, your concentration should be on major and minor triad. Triads, by the way, are chords that consist of three notes. Perhaps the easiest way for the beginner piano player to quickly get a handle on playing triads is a popular piano chord program called Piano Chords 101 which assumes nothing in terms of what you know. You can succeed with that effective (and very inexpensive) program even if you have never played piano before.
Once you are feeling a bit comfortable with playing a few major and minor chords, you can actually start having some fun putting those ears to work! That’s right, you have enough at that point to learn to play hymns by ear. For example if you have a favorite hymn like Amazing Grace, for example, you are already able to hear this hymn in your head. You are likely to be able to easily sing or hum the melody. Now this becomes easy once you know the chords to this hymn (you can hear them at the bottom of that link), playing them in your left hand will be conducive to your picking out that melody with your right hand. It may seem like a bit of a slow process at first, but you truly will be “amazing yourself” as you proceed with enthusiasm. Rule of thumb: keep it fun.
There are only three chords that you will need to play this hymn: C Major, F Major, and G Major. Here’s an interesting point: once you start hearing each of these chords progress to the next, and eventually get involved with learning other hymns, you will start recognizing patterns of movement among these chords. These patterns are known as chord progressions. Becoming familiar with these is an exciting and rewarding part of learning how to play piano by ear!
Learning to play hymns by ear as well as training your musical ear to play music of all styles involves desire on your part, an openness to obtaining the right guidance (there are resources that can help you play by ear such as that previous link), and playing consistently. Just remember to not “force” the process. Allow your ears to be open. Do not judge yourself or your results at all. Give yourself plenty of permission for error. After all, learning to play music by ear really is a “process of elimination” – you find the correct notes by eliminating the ones that are not so correct.
A terrific resource to stay in touch with, and which offers you an entire collection of free online piano lessons, is available at the following link. Sign up for those free lessons, perhaps even take advantage of the “Coach Me!” program you’ll find there, and you’ll know how to play hymns by ear quicker than you ever imagined possible.