What Makes Suspended Chords Suspended?
I know I'm taking a chance here.
I know that when I start talking about the theory of suspended chords that some people's eyes will gloss over. If this is you just skip this part... no problem. The most important thing is to learn how to play and use these chords properly (see below).
For those who want to know more… read on.
Just Replace The 3rd With A 4th
A suspended chord is created by replacing the 3rd of the chord with a 4th. You might be thinking a 3rd of what! Let me continue…
Every major and minor chord consists of 3 notes that can be labeled in relationship to the scale that the chord is built from. For example let's talk about the D major chord, and let's say we’re using the notes from the D major scale to create this chord.
We can say that the D note is 1, E would be 2, F# would be 3, and so on…
Here's the D major scale along with the scale degrees (numbers) for each note in the scale. The letter names are written inside the note. I know... it's small. The D major chord would be the D - F# - A (1 - 3 - 5). The D suspended 4 chord would be D - G - A (1 - 4 - 5).
So now that you understand what I mean when I talk about numbers, let’s go back to the chord. The D major chord is made up of 1 (D), 3 (F#) and 5 (A). Don’t overthink this now. It's just the 1st note, the 3rd note and the 5th note right out of the scale.
Instead of the 3 note (also called the 3rd, or F# in this case) we substitute a 4 note (G)... one half step higher than the 3rd. Kazaam! We have a Dsus4, also known as a D suspended 4.
We should include the number 4 because it's possible to have a suspended 2 also. That's for another discussion.
Most Common Suspended 4 Chords
Every major chord can be converted into a suspended 4 chord, and they all are useful at some point. The most common suspended 4 chords on the guitar are the Dsus4, Asus4 and the Esus4.
This is probably because they are the easiest to play.
One more thing… Or maybe Two
- Sus4 chords are commonly referred to just as "sus" or "suspended", though technically that doesn't tell you whether it's a suspended 4 or the suspended 2. I guess because the suspended 4 chord is the most common we usually just assume that's what it is.
- Suspended chords have a feeling of something hanging or unresolved. It's not the type of chord you'd want to use at the very end of a song usually. It is great to spice up a song that uses a lot of basic major and minor chords.
What's The Most Important Thing?
I think understanding the theory can be very helpful, but I’ve found as a professional musician that by far it's more important to identify the sound of these chords and use them effectively. Here are some tips on the best way to do that:
1. Practice the chord forms in some type of progression (like my Suspended Chord Exercise) so you hear the relationship between the chords.
2. Listen to music and try to identify when the guitar or the piano is playing a suspended chord. It can help to follow along with the sheet music at first if your ears are not that developed yet.
3. Play around with different suspended chords on your guitar and see what sounds good to you. I'd recommend writing down simple progressions and keep tweaking them until it sounds as good as you think it can.
4. Learn some songs that have the suspended chord included. Pay particular attention to what chords come after the suspended 4 chord. Does it sound like it resolves?
5. Try playing a song that uses basic major and minor chords and substitute the suspended 4 now and then. See what sounds good and what doesn't. Also try playing a suspended 4 and then resolving to the major chord (i.e. Dsus4 to D). That should help release the tension created by the suspended note.
Examples Of Suspended Chords In Popular Music
A – Asus2 – Asus4 – A (these are the first chords, but there’s lots more in this song)
D – Dsus4 – D – D – Dsus4 – D – D – Dsus4 – D – D – Dsus4 – D (intro/first chords)
E - Asus2- Asus2 - E - Bsus4 (almost entire song… capo 1st fret)
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