Hummel was born in Pressburg (now Bratislava), Slovakia and died in Weimar, Germany. His father, Josef Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music and the conductor of the Theater Orchestra.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart offered Johann music lessons at the age of seven after being impressed with his ability. Hummel was taught by Mozart for two years and made his first concert appearance at the age of nine. He then embarked on a European tour before receiving instruction from Muzio Clementi in London, where he stayed for four years before returning to Vienna. He was then instructed by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri.
In 1804, he succeeded Haydn as Kapellmeister to Prince Esterházy. He held this post for seven years before being dismissed. Following this, he toured Russia and Europe and married the opera singer Elisabeth Röckel. He later held the position of Kapellmeister at Stuttgart and Weimar.
While in Germany, Hummel published A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte. This popular piano method taught a new style of playing. Modern piano music has been influenced by Hummel, through his instruction to Carl Czerny who later taught Franz Liszt. Hummel's influence can also be seen in the early works of Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann.