“Ventura Highway” is a classic tune from the ’70s and was just one of several big hits by the group America that I want to highlight for several reasons. The goal of this lesson is to stop thinking and play. I’ll put up a warning sign when theory crosses the road, but I want you to make music in this lesson.
The verses’ main progression is just two chords–2 bars of G Maj 7 and 2 bars of D Maj 7.
Goal 1: Relaxed strumming
Strum these chords along with verses until you are feeling the rhythm. Your aim is for a very relaxed feeling but a quick tempo–we’re cruising the Ventura Highway! Play these chords into your looper or software.
Goal 2: Bust out a D major scale
Here is the scale. The first note is D located on the low E string at fret 10.
Please turn off your head and play whatever you want from this scale over the chords. That’s right–free, loose, and musical. No thinking about “right notes” for each chord–stay in the position, shut your eyes, and play.
(If you’re not familiar or haven’t practiced this scale form, go ahead, and do that a few minutes each day). You’re working the scale form and musical ideas into your hands and your ears. Practice shutting off your thinking for this exercise. This is your “cruise control” setting, and it is where high-level musicians are at when performing.
Goal 3: Bust Out a B minor pentatonic
Here it is in the 7th position.
Many teachers, books, and videos refer to this form as the “Box 1” form of the pentatonic scale. I want you to wail over the chords with this form. Get expressive, play with feeling, try some bends, pull-offs, hammer-ons, whatever you want.
Turn around and go back if you were just looking for kicks, but stick with me if you can.
The chords G Maj 7 and D Maj 7 can be derived from one major scale–the D major scale. That means we can also use its relative minor–B minor. It is tempting to think G major scale would be the choice because the first chord is G major–and I’ve tried it, but G major has a C natural, and that note clashes hard in both chords (at least to my ears).
If you’ve come this far, maybe you’re asking about the C# from D Major getting played over a G Major 7.
The C# is the #4 degree of G major. The #4 note is a commonly played tone over a major seven chord. So, D major scale played from G to G over G Maj is called the G Lydian scale 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 or G A B C# D E F#.
This bit of analysis is what music theory nerds do, kids. It’s useful info, but I hope you’ll take some time to just get creative with these ideas and start feeling musical.