[Smt-talk] Raised Issues with the so-called "Sensitive Female Chord Progression"

Walter Everett weverett at umich.edu
Sun Apr 27 17:29:57 PDT 2014

Devin, Chris and List,
Note that the Axis of Awesome rotates their progression midway through.  No
time here now to track the details down but you should be able to figure it
out easily.  best, walt everett

On Sun, Apr 27, 2014 at 7:57 PM, Christopher Doll <dollchristopher at yahoo.com
> wrote:

> Hi Devin,
> Yes, it is a terrible name, for too many obvious reasons (Hirsh himself
> admits as much). "Axis of Awesome progression" is also a tad cumbersome, in
> my opinion. I refer to it as the "zombie" in my upcoming book, because it
> seems never to die (or is already undead) and because of its use in The
> Cranberries' "Zombie," which might be the first hit to loop the progression
> for an entire song. The zombie refers to a (say) Am-FM-CM-GM progression
> only when it is centered on A (but regardless of which chord it starts on).When that same progression is centered on C (again, regardless of the
> rotation), I call it the "journey," named after the band Journey, who may
> have been the first people to loop it for an entire hit song, in "Any Way
> You Want It." Of course, the progression is often centrically ambiguous, so
> the zombie and journey interpretations are often heard simultaneously.
> (Other centric orientations are not common.) I spend quite a bit of time in
> the book tracing the history of these, and many other, popular-music
> progressions; hopefully the book will come out later this year.
> Best,
> Chris
> --
> Christopher Doll, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor
> Department of Music
> Mason Gross School of the Arts
> Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
>   ------------------------------
>  *From:* Devin Chaloux <devin.chaloux at gmail.com>
> *To:* smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
> *Sent:* Sunday, April 27, 2014 7:13 PM
> *Subject:* [Smt-talk] Raised Issues with the so-called "Sensitive Female
> Chord Progression"
> Greetings list,
> I had a wonderful time at Music Theory Midwest this weekend, meeting old
> friends and colleagues while forming new relationships. I was fortunate
> enough to present a paper on Elliott Smith's music. I write today because
> of what occurred during the question session of my paper because it would
> be unfortunate if this discussion only remained in the confines of Harper
> Hall in Lawrence University. This is a topic we need to discuss for many
> reasons.
> During the question session, someone raised the point that one of the
> chord progressions used in the piece I was discussing was similar to the
> SFCP (which I then came to learn stood for the "Sensitive Female Chord
> Progression"). I'm certainly familiar with this chord progression in the
> abstract (specifically, vi-IV-I-V, but sometimes reoriented to I-V-vi-IV).
> It's ubiquitous in popular music.
> How did such a gendered expression come to describe such a common chord
> progression? It's not a term derived from any academic theorist--but rather
> it comes from Marc Hirsh's article in the Boston Globe from December 31,
> 2008. I don't want to link the article, because at this time, I think it
> should get no more publicity--however, Hirsh's term comes from his
> experience that this chord progression "seemed to be the exclusive province
> of Lilith Fair types baring their souls for all to see." (And then he goes
> on to note how it is in tons of pop songs that do not qualify under this
> observation.)
> Why bring this up? Several people during my question session raised strong
> objections to this terminology. I don't think we need to explicate the
> reasons why...I hope it is obvious. However, some of those in the audience
> suggested that since it is being used, it is a useful term. While the term
> may be used (and yes, googling the phrase "sensitive female chord
> progression" will bring up several websites devoted purely for the cause of
> finding all I-V-vi-IV chord songs), it is not appropriate. We, as persons
> of higher education, however have an even more important moral obligation
> to make sure that this type of terminology does not become standardized.
> The way we can start doing that is to stop using it ourselves.
> Certainly, this type of progression seems worthy of a name. One response
> was to call this progression the "Axis of Awesome" progression, named after
> the viral video by the parody band "Axis of Awesome" where they play
> several songs utilizing this progression in one major mashup. (
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOlDewpCfZQ - this version is the
> "official" version, though there is a tape of a concert that has over 30
> million views).
> In the recent years, there have been several independent writers that have
> submitted to high volume daily publications (Boston Globe, Slate, etc.) on
> music theory topics. It is important to remember that while this is
> exciting in some ways (maybe in a fond reminiscence of public lectures by
> Leonard Bernstein or widely circulated books by the likes of Charles Rosen
> and Leonard Meyer), we still have the obligation to be critical when it is
> deserved.
> Hirsh's terminology should have in no way made it anywhere in our toolbox
> of music-theoretical language. And while there still may be amateur
> musicians and theorists who might still appropriate this term, we should be
> active in dismissing this term. Frankly, I hate writing this post because
> it shouldn't have to exist.
> Anyway, this productive discussion happened only in a matter of minutes
> where all of maybe 40 or 50 people witnessed this important discussion. I
> hope that I have provided a useful summary of this discussion as well as
> reasons why we should not even consider this type of terminology again.
> Sincerely,
> *Devin Chaloux*
> Indiana University
> Ph.D. in Music Theory
> University of Cincinnati - College-Conservatory of Music
> M.M. in Music Theory '12
> University of Connecticut
> B.M. in Music Theory '10
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*Walter Everett*
*Professor of Music*
*Department of Music Theory*
*The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance*
*1100 Baits Dr.*
*Ann Arbor, MI  48109-2085*

*weverett at umich.edu <weverett at umich.edu>*
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