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

Brian Robison brian.c.robison at gmail.com
Mon Apr 28 06:22:24 PDT 2014

Hi, all--

I agree that the sooner the world can shake the label "SFCP," the better.
Chris's "zombie" label represents a clear improvement, by virtue of
pinpointing the first use as a loop (and one cannot overemphasize the
importance of that looping to the cycle's exploding popularity).

I've proposed the descriptive label "Gravitas loop," because although there
are some good-time party anthems that use this cycle, it seems to me that
songwriters employ it more often to reinforce a serious lyric tone; the
examples Hirsh cites in his *Boston Globe *article tend to feature
religious themes and imagery. I believe the underlying semiotic mechanism
is the loop's efficient use of classical harmonic syntax without committing
anything so square as an authentic resolution of the dominant (viz., V
resolves always deceptively, and I is always approached via IV).

I've argued that the fundamental sonic reference is to antebellum hymnody,
rather than classical concert music. The article saw print earlier this

Robison, Brian. “ ‘A prayer from your secret God’: The ‘Sensitive Female
Chord Progression’ as a veiled symbol of religiosity.”

In *Music: Function and value. Proceedings of the 11th International
Congress on Musical Signification, 27 Sept – 2 Oct 2010, Kraków,
Poland,*ed. by Teresa Malecka and Małgorzata Pawłowska (Kraków:
Akademia Muzyczna w
Krakówie, 2013), pp. 656–666.

All best,

Brian Robison
Assistant Academic Specialist
Department of Music
Northeastern University
Boston MA 02115

b.robison at neu.edu
brian.c.robison at gmail.com

On Sun, Apr 27, 2014 at 8:29 PM, Walter Everett <weverett at umich.edu> wrote:

> 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>*
> *voice: 734-763-2039 <734-763-2039>*
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Brian Robison

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