You have your guitar out one day playing a new song and all the sudden you come across a sus2 or sus4 chord?
Maybe you cringe and think not more music theory but have no fear they are incredibly easy to play. And once you know the notes these chords are made of and how to use them in a song, you will wish you had discovered them long ago!
Suspended chords create dissonance and tension and are found in many popular songs.
The basic definition of the suspended chord is taking away the 3rd and adding the 2nd or 4th.
Remember the major chords are made up of the 1st (or root) note, 3rd, and 5th. And when we build on those chords we generally stick to the same structure. We may lower or raise the pitch, but we usually keep the 1, 3, 5 base for 6th and 7th chords.
C D G
C F G
C F G Bb
However in this case we break from the normal triad and take that 3rd note of the scale away. When we add the 2nd note instead we get a sus2 chord (C, D, G). Or if we add the 4th note we get a sus4 (C,F,G).
When those notes get closer (to the root on sus2 and fifth on sus4) they create tension in the chord.
Play the Csus2 and you will immediately recognize the sound from plenty of songs that have a rising tension point.
And if you play the Csus4 back and forth with a Cmaj, that is a staple of folk and chill rock.
Anytime you see the sus2 or sus4 you can be sure that the chord is telling you to drop that 3rd note and add the appropriate one.
Even in seventh chords like C7sus4. No matter how complex our chords get we always know what to do with the sus.
And if you happen to see a song chord labeled only "sus" it is a good chance that it means the 4th note change. But you will be able to tell by how it sounds. Once you know the suspended sound it is hard to miss. (As you advance in reading music suspended and extended chords will often be left up to you.)
It is the resolution of these suspended chords that makes them sound so great and you usually see the sus4 more often than the sus2. The sus4 is sometimes used within the same major chord (like Csus4 and Cmaj above) but the sus2 often precedes a different chord and root note.
For example, try Csus2 to G.
In some cases they are used in a one-time moment of tension and others the songwriter will move back and forth.
Either way one thing you can always be sure of is that they will usually be resolved. If you are writing a song and want to create a moment of suspense you drop the 3rd note of the scale and add the 2nd or 4th depending on your sonic goals.
Suspended chords have a pretty straightforward use which is why they are so common.
"Pinball Wizard." - The Who
There are many great examples of the suspended chord, and one of the best is The Who song "Pinball Wizard." That particular song is often used to teach sus chords as there are so many in it. However you will usually see smaller amounts peppered in like the Queen song "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" where they switch back and forth from Dmaj to Dsus4.
"What I Am" - Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians
"What I Am" by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians uses an Asus2, Dsus2, and Bsus2. The Police do the same thing in "Message in a Bottle.".
This movement back and forth of suspended chords is common in modern pop, which creates a feeling between major and minor just stuck in between! As we mentioned you will see sus2 less, but when it is used you might see it along with the sus4.
"Free Falling" - Tom Petty
Tom Petty's "Free Fallin" and Michael Jackson’s "Black and White" are both great examples of using sus2 and sus4 chords. The progressions are sus4-maj-sus2-maj.
"Happy Xmas (War is Over)" - John Lennon
These are all chords that make you realize you have heard them often.
Suspended Chords - Further resources
Now that you know how to use suspended chords you will jump at the chance to play the next song you see them in.
They are actually great chords to find when learning a new song because they are so distinct sounding. Their dissonance will mark a part in the song that you know is a chord change, helping you find your place.
And as you advance and look into complex chords you will always at least know what to do with the sus2 and sus4!
Be sure to download our free chord ebook, it contains tons of shapes for playing suspendend and other types of chords all along the fretboard.
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