Learning Suspended Chords: Sus2 and Sus4


Today lesson will be a music theory lesson on suspensions. We’ll discuss the reason for suspensions as well as some examples of common suspensions (sus2 and sus4).

What is a Suspension?

Suspensions are a composition technique that makes for a smooth transistion between chords.  There are three main parts to a suspension: the preparation, the suspension, and the resolution. 

How to correctly use suspensions?

In modern music suspended chords are thrown about fairly often and many times they are not properly prepared or resolved.  This is fine and will sound ok but you might want to learn some of the classical uses as well.  In classical music, suspensions are used as a transistion between two chords.  For example, say we are in C major and we want to use a simple I-V-I progression ( Cmaj to Gmaj to Cmaj).  The notes in Gmaj are [ G B D ].  The notes in C maj are [ C E G ]. To ease the transistion between the first two chords, we might want to use a suspension.  We will start off with the C maj chord [ C E G ] and lower the E down to D. Now we get  [ C D G ].  This is no longer a C maj chord [ C E G ] nor is it yet a G maj chord [ G B D ]. It is in between, or “suspended” between the two chords (hence the name).  Then the suspended chord will resolve the C to B and you’ll get [ B D G ] or [ G B D ], a G maj triad.

 Fig. 1- Classical Suspension

Notice there are three parts to this suspension.  The Ist inversion Cmaj constitutes the preparation, where you are about to suspend the chord.  The next chord is the suspension where it is in between two chords. The final chord is the resolution where the suspension is resolved.

How is suspensions used in today’s music?

In today’s music, people often do not follow the protocol described above.  Instead they will substitute suspended chords in for normal chords.  This can give you an interesting sound.  Modern musicians also use different terminology then classical musicians.  For instance if we look at the suspended chord from Fig. 1 [ G C D ], it is composed of a root, a 4th, and a 5th.  A jazz musician would call this chord a Gsus4.  A Sus4 chord is  made up of a root, 4th and, a 5th.  A Sus2 chord is a  made up of a root, a 2nd, and a 5th.  For example a Csus2 would be [ C D G ].  Be simply changing the third in a major or minor triad to a 2nd or a 4th you can turn a normal triad into a suspended chord.  By doing this you can make substitutions to your chord progessions. 

What is the advantange/disadvantage to using suspended chords?

The main advantage to using suspended chords is that they are ambiguous. Because they contain neither a major or minor third, they are not major or minor in nature.  This give you a lot more freedom if you want to solo over the top of them.  You will be a lot less limited.  But this advantage can also be a disadvantage.  If do not resolve suspension and just use suspended chords as substitutions you can sound a little hollow and not as full as you would be with a major or minor chord instead. 

Got any example?

Of course.  We’ll start off with a great classical example by J.S. Bach.

Ex.1 : “I Kleine Praludien”- J.S. Bach

In this piece there is suspension after suspension.   To get the full effect try playing it on the keyboard or piano or something.

Ex. 2: A Change of Seasons- Dream Theater

Notice the Asus2.

If you got any questions, leave a comment or email me at mdguitarteacher@gmail.com.

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5 Responses

  1. great explanation!
    b

  2. cool lesson sir!

  3. Thank you, all this info is very helpful and well presented. You have a gift in explaining things.

  4. YEAH! u great, thank GOD 4 dat. nw i got d whole ting. more grace

  5. You’re awesome sir!…….thanks for the lesson

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