The Sensitive Female Chord Progression

You’ve heard variations of The Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression of course, but did you know about The Sensitive Female Chord Progression?

Here’s an easy way to see if a song uses the Sensitive Female Chord Progression: Just sing Joan Osborne’s lyrics: ‘What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?’ over the suspect four chords.

That’s right, and Boston Globe columnist Marc Hirsh, quoted above, has an entire blog devoted to the SFCP, including an ever growing list of songs that use this particular chord progression, by artists as diverse as The Doors, Alice Cooper, Britney Spears, Toto and Guns ‘n Roses.

So what’s the secret of the SFCP? Jack Perricone, chair of Berklee College’s songwriting department, says:

The mixture of chords gives the progression emotional heft. It starts on a sense of maybe disquiet. In a sense, it’s three-quarters major and one-quarter, but a very important quarter, being minor. And I think that has to do with credibility, what people experience in life… I mean, that’s not a bad mixture, one-quarter sadness or darkness and three-quarters light.

How about Zappa? I can’t think of an FZ tune that goes Am-F-C-G right this very minute, but I’m sure you will.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have tickets to book for next year’s Lilith Fair!

11 thoughts on “The Sensitive Female Chord Progression”

  1. Maybe the chord progression under the Flying Burrito Wah-Wah solo on “it might just be a one shot deal” ? It surely has that same sense of relief… but I can’t say, I’m not female !

    (that probably is C G Am F)

  2. The pedal steel solo in ‘One Shot Deal’ is I, V, ll, V. so…no match.

    The closest thing I can think of is the first part of ‘Project X’ on Uncle Meat (the part with the strummy guitar). And, speaking of relief, ‘Blessed Relief’ has a bit of that flavor too. But I can’t think of any Zappa song with that exact set of changes.

    I think calling that progression ‘female’ is kind of a slander. I don’t see what’s feminine about it. What distinguishes it, for me, is its humorlessness/earnestness, which is one reason you don’t find it in Frank’s work.

  3. I agree Jonny – it’s stereotyping all women to enjoy that kind of pop music. Just like they coined “lilith fair” to be a style of music, not just an event, thinking whatever it sounded similar to had a built in female audience.

    I don’t think you’ll find it in FZ, since he hardly did anything conventional musically (unless he was making fun of it).

  4. Yeah, I would’ve been shocked if that Joan Osborne song *wasn’t* written by a guy. When I think of the adjectives ‘sensitive’, ‘humorless’, ‘earnest’, or even ‘romantic’, I think of guys much more than gals. Women may buy ‘romantic product’, but men *invented* and *promulgated* the very concept.

    As far as the Lillith Fair, ‘chick flicks’, etc. etc. go, I think that sort of stuff has a lot more to do with ‘lifestyle validation’ than with the values of the product itself. I am by no means hostile to feminism the way Frank seemed to be, but, especially here in the US – where EVERYTHING is commodified in nanoseconds – what a lot of women, particularly younger, think of as ‘feminism’ is really just a big marketing campaign; once retailers really groked the fact that women make 80% of the buying decisions, they set out on a multi-decade pander to women – men are pigs, women are wonderful; men are stupid, women are smart; women must have their own ____(fill in the blank: music, art, cigarettes, etc. etc. etc.). The whole thing is, as I think Frank actually said himself, insulting to both men and women. Revenge isn’t liberation. It somehow escapes notice that all that prattling-on about ’empowerment’ and ‘strong women’, and all the grotesque flattery, is monumentally condescending to women.

    And Smiling In His Office/Is The Creep Who Makes The…

  5. Surprisingly (to me), Zappa wasn’t really into chord progressions much at all, for a rock musician. His music tends to either be very complicated or rely on a simple repeated chord progression. It makes songs that actually have a fair amount of harmonic movement (three examples that come to mind are America Drinks & Goes Home, Let’s Make The Water Turn Black, and Dancin’ Fool) really stand out from his regular repertoire.

  6. dfan, like your story, and one could add additional material to it as camarillo brillo and what not else.
    and also a almost a must say, felt sentimental playing out those chords just right now on the old acoustic. -im eighteen!

  7. FZ says:
    “If it’s an augmented chord, it’s a mysterious climate. If it’s a diminished chord, its a little tenser. If it’s minor, it’s serious. If it’s major, it’s happy, I fits major 7th, you’re falling in love. If it’s augmented 11th, it’s bebop.”

  8. I woke up this morning with one thought in mind: It finally occurred to me which Zappa music uses something like the aforementioned progression – great problems are often solved during sleep, no?

    It’s in Dynamo Hum – the part with the lyrics, ”Cause I have to get out of it before I get into it; And I have to get into it to get myself out of it..’ etc. (right before ‘She looked over at me with a glazed eye and some bovine perspiration on her upper lip area..’

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