Hitting the High Notes
Although Ayana Webb has always loved music, she decided to major in accounting at Rutgers, in part because her mother was an accountant, and also due to her concern that a career in music would not be a lucrative one.
A paid accounting internship during her first year of college, however, helped Webb CCAS’12 realize that the field was not for her. “I did not want to lie to myself any longer, so I decided to go ahead with my music,” Webb says. “It was like a huge weight was lifted from me, and I have been happy with my decision ever since.” Her mother’s reaction to her change in majors? “She told me she had been waiting for me to do that.”
After her mother died during Webb’s junior year of college and she hit a rough patch financially, she decided to capitalize on her proficiency in piano and give lessons. “I realized that I could get paid for something I do well, but I would have to compete with more experienced teachers,” she says. “So, I took the money I had and ordered fliers and spent the summer passing them out, door to door in my neighborhood in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. There were a lot of families with children there, so it was the perfect location. By the fall, I had more than 20 students.”
The rewards of teaching music, though, went beyond the money she could earn from it. “Some of my students really hit the ground running,” Webb says. “By the third or fourth week I could see how motivated they were.”
After graduation, Webb continued to offer private lessons, eventually teaching as many as 40 students. In 2016, Webb started her online business, The Musical Webb, motivated by a desire to move beyond the “hours-for-dollars” model and free up more time for travel and other enjoyable pursuits.
“I developed a model of self-operating, self-paced piano courses and video tutorials that could be taken anywhere,” Webb says. “I followed that up with a membership program that offers daily exercises and techniques.” What makes her online teaching method unique? “Very few musicians have the ability to learn piano by both sight reading and by ear,” she says. “Even fewer musicians have the ability to teach both. My online courses and programs integrate both learning piano via sight reading and learning piano by ear, all in one place.”
Webb recognizes Rutgers’ role in her success. “Just about everything that I teach musically to my online students, I learned initially at Rutgers,” she says. “Working with the instructors at the university, and experiencing their passion for music, cultivated my own craft and ultimately my ability to pass on that passion to students globally.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, Webb began to give private lessons virtually, where she had to contend with spotty internet connections, challenging camera angles, and varying degrees of technical know-how among her students. All the while, enrollment on The Musical Webb continued to grow, and by May she had 3,500 online students and had reached six figures in sales. She now no longer offers private lesson and runs her online business full time.
Webb acknowledges the important role that music has played during the pandemic. “There has been so much stress, particularly for children and parents; music and learning an instrument can maintain a sense of structure,” she says. “It can also help with emotional stress and offer a chance for bonding, especially when family members learn together.”
Her own family continues to be an important source of strength for Webb. However, she knows that is not true for everyone. “Even if you don’t have the support of family,” she says, “you may find mentors who are willing to teach you and whose support will have more of an influence than all the people who tell you that you can’t follow your dreams.”