Ukulele Video Lesson - Ventura Highway

Ventura Highway by America, featured in this ukulele video lesson, is one of their most well-known hits. The song is, from front to back, a collection of very singable, very memorable hooks. Many of them are built upon and develop throughout the entire song, making this a rather complex piece that can be a bit demanding for players.

Folk Music Structure

Ventura Highway has a relatively complex structure for a pop song. The intro starts off very light, introducing a musical phrase that will be used as the underpinning for one of the catchiest hooks later on in the song.

The song makes use of Gmaj7, F#m, G, and A chords heavily throughout. This is interspersed with a great deal of strumming, some of which is relatively complex. The ukulele player can opt to perform the guitar strumming in a way that works well on a ukulele or can stick with keeping the rhythm, which gets very energetic at times.

The two main hooks in the song are established at the first point where the words “Ventura Highway” are actually sung, where the line “’Cause the free wind is blowing through your hair” is sung and where the “Do do do” passage begins. These are emphasized in the original recording, effectively creating one of the most memorable collection of earworms among all the pop hits of the 1970s.

Ventura Highway makes heavy use of folk guitar style strumming, with quick flourishes, pull offs, hammer ons and other ornaments being used to emphasize chord changes, introduce new themes within the song and, during the softer passages, to provide a rather lush underpinning for singing.

Imitating this may be challenging, but doing so will also provide a good lesson in more advanced playing techniques for the ukulele and, as the enduring quality of the song demonstrates, how one goes about structuring a pop song and how one goes about writing a hook.

Ukulele Video Lesson History - Ventura Highway

Ventura Highway would end up making it to number eight on the Billboard Hot Top 100 list in 1972. America would end up becoming very popular among the soft rock bands of the time, which was just starting to emerge as a genre. Like many songs in that genre, Ventura Highway is nostalgic, the melody sticks to a very singable line and the instruments, while they do get energetic, never really have any aggression behind how they are played.

There is actually no Ventura Highway, but the song writer, Dewey Bunnell said the name did come from a real road trip. According to Bunnell in the Los Angeles Times, he said that he got the name for the song from an instance where he was stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire and a highway sign that read Ventura was close by. The song is about moving away to another place, and some of the more psychedelic sounding lyrics come from memories of watching clouds by the highway. The phrase purple rain notably appears in the song, as well, though it’s not established whether or not Prince took the name of his movie and album from this America song.

Ventura Highway should provide quite a challenge for anybody looking to try more difficult techniques on their ukulele. It can also be played more casually and, for beginning players, simply holding down the rhythm and keeping up with the chord changes should be very gratifying. The dynamics in the song will be important to keeping the original feel, so pay close attention to them when you’re learning the song.

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