From Pomeroy in Co. Tyrone, Ryan began his musical life on the fiddle, taught by Bríd Harper. The piano soon followed in his teenage years and it is in this instrument that Ryan now specialises. Described by the Irish Times as "...the funkiest piano this side of Dr John" and a "...secret weapon on rhythm" by the Irish Echo, Ryan has recorded on many critically acclaimed albums, amongst them Humdinger, with noted musicians Paul Brock and Enda Scahill, and By Heck and Tight Squeeze as a member of the Dave Munnelly Band. Ryan has performed in major international concert venues such as Tanglewood (U.S.A.), Lucerne Hall, KKL (Switzerland), Kölner Philharmonie (Germany), Holywell Music Room (England) and Waterfront Hall (N. Ireland).
Aside from international performance work, Ryan is currently studying for a PhD in composition with Simon Mawhinney at Queen's University, Belfast. Ryan is also a performance tutor at Queen’s and an experienced peripatetic tutor, teaching at workshops and adjudicating at festivals both locally and internationally and is a regular visiting tutor in masterclasses at the University of Limerick. His recent compositions include Sætre Brygge for piano, Mise Éire for eight solo voices (praised highly by Michael Finnissy and Judith Weir and to be performed by Exaudi in October 2011) and a community music piece for a large ensemble consisting of a pipe band and accordion band for the commemoration of the Flight of the Earls performed at several events in 2008 and 2011, including a performance for the Irish President. Ryan is also currently involved in a commission for the Czech ensemble Konvergence for performance at the Wien Modern festival in November 2011. Ryan's string quartet Third Epistle to Timothy was one of three winners of the West Cork Composition Competition and premiered in the West Cork Chamber Festival in June 2010.
Ryan’s work attempts to bridge the divide between traditional Irish music and contemporary Irish art music by incorporating elements of traditional music in his composition, such as microtonal modality in seán-nós (old style) singing and complex ornamentation frameworks, embedded in polymodal harmonies influenced by Messiaen, Bartók, Ravel, and Perotin and the traditional musicians of his youth.