Northwoods Piano Studio, located in Haymarket, Virginia, was established in 1988 and is convenient to the Haymarket, Gainesville, Bristow, Warrenton, Manassas, Prince William County and Centreville areas. Private piano lessons are taught in studio for beginning, intermediate and advanced students age 7 and older.

Professional instruction is provided by Ellen Nordlof, a classically trained pianist with Bachelor of Music degree and National Certification (NCTM) through Music Teachers' National Association as well as 30 years of experience.

The studio goal is to develop a high level of pianism and musicianship through a carefully-planned, leveled curriculum with strong emphasis on sight reading and rhythm. My hope is that students will graduate from my studio capable of teaching themselves new music, enjoying piano for a lifetime.

It is my philosophy that the parent's positive attitude and tenacity toward the student's practice routine is the most important ingredient in the child's success.

The curriculum for beginners is based on concepts presented in Faber and Faber Piano Adventures series. Supplementary books by pedagogical composers are also used to expand reading skills and provide fun, interesting and motivational music.

The curriculum for intermediate and advanced students is based on traditional classical music from the four historical periods. A wide variety of music is used, including sonatinas, single composer collections and multi-composer collections.

Piano Perspectives series is used as a basis for the Royal Conservatory Music Development Program piano exams. This program represents a national standard of musical achievement for piano students. Students mark their progress by advancing through the levels of this program, studying music from Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary periods and meeting standards in sight reading, ear training and technique.

Students need to have a real acoustic piano or a full-sized 88-key digital piano with fully-weighted graded hammer action and pedals for their home practice.

The piano year includes 38 lessons.

30-minute lessons are appropriate for young beginners only.

45-minute lessons are appropriate for late elementary through late intermediate students.

60-minute lessons are appropriate for advanced students.

Schedule an interview
During the interview a beginning piano student will be introduced to piano lessons. A transfer student will be evaluated on playing, sight reading and rhythmic skills. Parent and teacher will discuss studio program, goals, instruments, curriculum and policies.

  • Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano (NCTM)

  • Bachelor of Music degree

  • 30 years private piano teaching experience

  • Professional Affiliations: Music Teachers National Association

  • NVMTA Adjudicator: Fall Festival, Spring Festival, Bach-Baroque Festival, Concerto Competition

  • Springfield Music Club Adjudicator: Spring Festival, Sonatina Festival, Leestma Scholarship Competition, Mary Smart State Auditions, Composer Competition

  • Springfield Music Club offices held: Vice President, Composer Competition Chairman, Treasurer, Spring Festival Chairman, Publicity Chairman

  1. What type of instrument do I need for piano lessons and where can I find it?

    An acoustic piano or full-sized 88-key digital piano with fully-weighted graded hammer action is needed to start lessons. Fully-weighted graded hammer action means the weight of the keys in the lower register is slightly heavier and becomes progressively lighter as you move to the higher register.

    Learning to read musical notation on an instrument with less than 88 keys is impossible, so keyboards are never appropriate for serious study.

    Lower priced digital pianos are completely different than higher priced models, although they can both be advertised as having "hammer action". Hammer action is a term that is exaggerated by some manufacturers and a person can be tricked into buying an instrument whose keys really have spring action, which the pianist cannot control.

    A lower priced digital piano is not going to respond to repetition or speed nearly as well as a more expensive model. The lifespan of a digital piano is much shorter than that of an acoustic piano. A digital piano can possibly last 10 years but over time they become more noisy and the keys will be clunkier and more loose. Repair can cost half of what you paid originally.

    Yamaha and Kawai are the best digital pianos with the necessary elements for piano study. Most Yamaha and Kawai models have fully-weighted graded-hammer action and good quality, good sized amplifiers and speakers as well as strong construction. The student will be able to control the descent of the key, which is essential for musical expression, tone control and development of finger strength and proper technique. To ensure that you are buying a piano with true fully-weighted graded hammer action, buy only from a piano retailer.

    A digital piano's sound is only as good as its recorded sounds, speakers and amplifiers. Yamaha and Kawai obtain their recorded sounds from 9-foot concert grand pianos. They also have good quality speakers and amplifiers, which will produce a wide range of dynamic levels for sensitive expression. An good quality instrument will have a good crisp staccato response and it will also have damper and una corda pedals.

    You can find Yamaha acoustic pianos and Yamaha full sized digital pianos at Jordan Kitt's Music, 8500 Lee Highway in Fairfax. You can find Kawai acoustic pianos and full sized digital pianos at The Piano Company in Leesburg.

    **It is advisable to stay away from buying a digital piano in a warehouse club, non-piano retailer or online** Piano retailers like Jordan Kitt's and The Piano Company have taken time to test the various brands and have chosen the ones that are good quality and suitable instruments for piano study.

    Jordan Kitt's sponsors piano sales with area universities and these are excellent places to find slightly used pianos. They usually advertise in the Washington Post.

    The Sunday Washington Post classified ads are a good place to check for used acoustic pianos. Newer pianos are going to be the best choice. First visit the seller and determine if you like the look and sound of the piano. It is important to find a piano that has been tuned at least once a year. If the seller says the piano hasn't been tuned in many years, it will be difficult for the piano to hold a tuning. So if you find a used piano you like, which has been tuned yearly, hire a piano technician to go back with you a second time to evaluate the working parts and soundboard inside the piano. A skilled technician can also change the tone of the piano you buy (brighten it or make it less bright) and tune/repair it as well. You can find piano technicians contact info at the piano technicians guild website.

  2. Are private piano lessons the right choice for my child?

    If you want your child to learn to play piano proficiently and read music, developing a lifelong skill, then private lessons would be a great choice for you. Piano is an academic subject which is learned over many years, the same way a foreign language is learned over many years in school. The student will have weekly homework - pieces to be learned by the next lesson - similar to homework that is required for school subjects. Private lessons should not be considered by those looking for a no work/instant gratification/fun-only extracurricular activity or by those who are not willing to buy or rent an appropriate instrument.

    If you want to supplement your child's weekly schedule with a musical or piano-based activity just for fun, enroll him in a group piano class, typically held at a music store or music school. These classes are low-stress, fun based learning with peers. Home practice would be minimal and the investment in a full-sized piano would probably not be required. If you are wondering if your child will like piano or would prefer another instrument, take him to a group class to assess his interest level before enrolling in private lessons.

  3. How do I know when my child is ready to start piano lessons?

    Private piano lessons are perfect for most children age 7 and older, although some may need to wait a year or two if attention span and level of maturity are not yet sufficient. Students must have good reading comprehension, be willing to answer questions, sit still and concentrate for at least 30 minutes. They must also understand the commitment to daily piano practice at home and be willing to follow directions from the parent and teacher.

  4. How long are lessons?

    30, 45 and 60-minute lessons are available. 30 minute lessons are appropriate for elementary school beginners in their first year or two of lessons. After the first few years longer lessons are needed, as the student is playing longer pieces and technique, sight reading and theory are added to the student's curriculum.

  5. How long does it take to learn to play the piano well?

    Learning the basics takes approximately 4 years, but only after 7 to 10 years of study will piano playing become a lifelong skill. Learning to play piano takes dedication and persistence. If you want your child to succeed, support them through the highs and lows of piano lessons. Let them know that taking piano lessons is a privilege and that you will let them continue if they keep up their good work. It is better to approach lessons with positive reinforcement (rewarding the child for good work) rather than with negative reinforcement (you won't be allowed to play video games if you don't practice). If you want your child to become proficient at piano, don't let him quit when lessons become challenging. The parent must be in control of the child's musical destiny. Letting a child jump in and out of lessons, bouncing from one instrument to another, will only result in a loss of money for you and very little knowledge for your child. Musical instruments are not learned in a year or two.

  6. How much practicing is required?

    Daily practice is needed for progress. A set time for piano practice should be established and a practice log should be kept. Piano should be treated as an academic subject and practicing as homework. Piano practice should not be negotiable, just like homework is non-negotiable. If the student doesn't practice, they will not progress.

    Repetition a set number of times on each piece is not the goal; working on trouble spots and learning to play a piece without stumbling is the goal. Students love to play through their pieces from beginning to end at a very fast speed. This is not good practicing! Practicing involves playing one small section repeatedly and thoughtfully, stopping to work on trouble spots, gradually increasing speed until the section is mastered. Students should also be completing the assignments written in their notebooks (counting out loud, practicing with the metronome, naming notes while playing, shaping the phrases, correcting details). The quality of practice is much more important than the quantity; however, a student should practice a daily minimum equal to the number of minutes in his lesson.

    One parent must be designated to attend lessons and learn the notes and rhythm with any student under age 10. This parent will monitor every practice session, making sure assignments are done correctly and learned thoroughly.

  7. What brand of piano should I buy? Are there any books on buying pianos that I can read?

    Kawai, Boston, Yamaha and Steinway are excellent choices. In this area, Kawai pianos are sold by The Piano Company in Leesburg, Boston/Steinway by Steinway Piano Gallery in Tyson's Corner Center and Yamaha by Jordan Kitt's Music in Fairfax. In upright pianos, taller models are the best choice. In grand pianos, longer models are the best choice. If you do not play the piano yourself, take an experienced pianist along or hire a piano technician to help you.

    The Piano Book by Larry Fine is the authoritative source on buying pianos. There is an annual supplement published that lists brand names, models and average retail prices.

  8. How often should I have my piano tuned?

    The minimum is twice a year, ideally at the beginning of the heating and cooling seasons. The longer you wait to have a piano tuned, the more out of tune it has become. The tuner must bring the strings up to pitch. Piano strings always want to return to their learned position. If they have learned to be extremely out of tune, they will revert to that position quickly and it will be difficult for your piano to hold a tuning.

  9. What do I need to consider when choosing a teacher for my child?

    It is important, especially in the first years of lessons where habits are learned, to study with a teacher who has music degrees and certification. There are teachers who have no degrees, have only played for a few years in high school and are teaching students to play by imitation instead of teaching note-reading and rhythm, without using progressive materials, and without goals or direction for their students. An educated piano teacher would typically have Bachelor of Arts degree with major in music or Bachelor of Music degree with major in music education or piano. A Bachelor of Arts degree is a liberal arts degree with course requirements in many subjects and a small concentration of courses in music. A Bachelor of Music degree is a music education/performance degree; most courses are in performance, music theory, music history and music education with only a small amount of courses in other fields. Good teaching is exceptionally critical in the early years of piano study, as this is when habits are learned and technique is developed. A good piano instructor will be well-educated and very focused on piano technique as well as note reading skills and rhythmic skills. A good teacher wants the student to eventually become independent, able to teach himself new music as an adult, and will give him the skills necessary to do so.

  10. What is "NCTM" next to a teacher's name?

    This means "Nationally Certified Teacher of Music". National Certification is a program designed by MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) to help the public identify qualified music instructors in their area. A teacher who is nationally certified has proven competency through testing and college coursework in the following areas: music theory, music history, piano pedagogy, piano performance, music education and business practices.

  11. In what ways will piano study benefit my child?

    • Children learn to persevere when working toward a goal.

    • Children develop courage and self esteem by trying increasingly challenging music.

    • Musicians must simultaneously consider tempo, tone, rhythm, phrasing, pitch and style, which teaches them to become extremely good at organizing and conducting several activities at once.

    • Children learn to solve problems using different techniques.

    • Studies have shown that mathematical skills are improved by music study.

"Ellen has an innate understanding of how to motivate and encourage children. Each child is different, and she tailors her approach and the lessons themselves to best reach each individual student. Because of this - and the respect with which she treats her students - children respond to her and eagerly work to reach the weekly goals that she sets for them. My son has been in Ellen's studio for five years now, and the progress he's made in piano is a beautiful thing to see, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. He has learned that, with hard work, he can accomplish tasks that at first seem impossible to him. I've watched his self-confidence blossom because of that. In turn, as he's realized that applying himself pays off, I've seen his self-discipline grow, too. Despite having had both of my children in piano for years prior, I didn't see any of these benefits. When Ellen looked at them, though, she saw their potential. She saw what they were able to do right then, but she also saw what they were capable of. She challenged them to work toward that potential rather than be content staying where they were in their skill -- and they rose to the occasion. I can't recommend her or her studio enough. If there's an opening in Ellen's studio for a student, snatch it up. Your child will thank you for it. "

Heather G.

"My two daughters wanted to improve their note reading and rhythm skills, so we decided to start lessons with Ms. Nordlof. She has a very professional program and method of teaching that suits our needs! We have been in Ellen's studio for 7 years and are very pleased with the kids' progress. She is kind, patient and knowledgeable and we have had such a wonderful experience with her. My wife and I will definitely recommend her to anyone who is seriously interested in learning how to play the piano."

Ajay Kumar

"My children have been students of Ellen Nordlof for 3 years now and I have seen their piano skills develop tremendously. Ms. Ellen is a Certified piano teacher and she is professional and organized in her class. She works with children very well. My children love playing the piano and I know that having the best piano teacher is a big factor in that. They love her."

Bern Gonzales

"It has been years since my two daughters took piano lessons from Ms. Nordlof, but her exceptional teaching is still fresh in my mind. Ms. Nordlof was different from other music teachers that we had known, from the outset. She informed us of her expectations. If the students are young, as was the case for my younger one, then the parents are expected to attend the lessons and supervise the practices at home as well. For busy parents that we all are, it requires a level of commitment, and it is well worth your time. I recall Ms. Nordlof's teaching to be kind, individualized, thorough and step by step. She was firm yet gentle and clearly explained how to approach each piece as well as how to play it. I also remember how patient and encouraging she was as my daughters learned new skills or pieces, or fixed old bad habits. She provided specific feedback and timely incentives to the girls at weekly lessons. Subsequently, my daughters learned to play the piano well and developed wonderful musicianship too. Seeing the girls develop over the years, I was amazed by what a superb teacher Ms. Nordlof was and by how dedicated she was to her students."

SooJung Kim
McLean, VA