Tonal Trends Pop Music Theory for Songwriters

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"Oh, Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison"

1) The hook slice: they’ve got this riff, but they don’t give you the whole thing at first: just a little teaser trailer like thing that establishes it--this way the rest sounds like extra when it comes in.

-It’s a trick you should try with other know riffs and riffs you make yourself!


2) The chop-a-beats: did you catch? Super slick, you hardly notice them: 4 measures, then 1.5 measures, then 4 more!


2a) Notice the hook slices off the end a note to make way for the next idea.


3) Now a word about this refrain: “Pretty Woman” this and “Pretty Woman” that! You don’t need a ‘chorus’ when you have such an insistent refrain. Try it out sometime: in place of a chorus, have a refrain in all or most sections of a song.

-BTW, The Interlude (P)--or second bridge if you prefer--is the only place in the song where the lyrics don’t include “Pretty woman.

-And, the absence of a bonafide Chorus is also why using A-B-C works too.


4) The ii-V-I modulation (up a minor 3^, from A to C major,) has no traditional mod chords;

-It’s sneaky-slick because they don’t get to the new key’s I(one chord), or tonal center till the third chord in the changes.

-ii-V-I is a classic way to do that. My Old Professor, used to come up to us in the halls and go, “251-251-251” to try and hammer home just how handy and common this chord progression is.


5) In the Next Key Modulation back, A is a Secondary Dominant in C, played instead of Am.


6) They chop a measure in the Interlude, trimming some fat, or some crust, like a kindergartener’s PB&J sandwich: they ‘de-crusted’ the first and last measures of an 8-bar idea, making the section only 6 bars.


7) For the outro, the lyrics stall, and then evaporate. At first I assumed they’d left the words unfinished out of laziness, or because of a deadline, or something of that nature.

-But after I listened back a few times, it smacked me in the face that the genius of this last verse and outro is in the visualization of our narrator’s words failing him.

-His brain turns to glue as he savors his supposed last glimpse of his “Pretty Woman.” Homina Homina Homina; Hubba Hubba.

-And then with the riff coming back it’s like: Here she comes back again too!

-I mean, labeling this last section an ‘outro’ doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s more of an ‘Epilogue’ than an outro.

-Is she walking back towards the singer to say hello, or because she forgot to get a gift receipt? No way to know!

-So, sometimes it’s about what you don’t say as much as what you do--that’s pop art at its finest baby.



-whenever I see a song that employs these chop-a-beat tactics, while also lasting the pop-perfect, radio-exact 3 minutes, I get a little suspicious because I wonder if that was part of the reason for the perfect length…or maybe also whether the extended storytelling Outro was born out of an idea like, “hey we got ten seconds left! What should we put there?”

-Humans really can be that talented and ingenious after all. And I know the pop-perfection 3-minute song isn’t as important these days, but still: Give them chop-a-beats a try sometime anyway.