A Guide to Suspended Chords
In previous posts, we’ve looked at major, minor and dominant seventh chords. Today, we’ll take a look at suspended chords.
What does suspended mean?
Musically, when we suspend, we are delaying resolution. You see, music is all about tension and release, and tension can be exaggerated by delaying some inevitable point of finality. This is where the suspended chord came into play in the classical tradition.
Two main types of suspended chords
There are two common suspended chords in contemporary music—sus2 and sus4 chords. The numbers represent the scale degree that is being held instead of the chord tone normally present in a given chord. For example, a Dsus4 chord is composed of the following three notes: D(root)—G(4th scale degree, our suspended notes)—A(5th scale degree. Notice that we do not have a major third in this Dsus4 chord.
Similarly, a Dsus2 chord consists of D (root)—E (our suspended 2nd scale degree)—A perfect 5th.
In both of these instances, we are missing a 3rd. Remember, the 3rd determines whether a chord is major or minor. This is precisely why we call these chords suspended. You could even say they are incomplete, and they will only feel finished when the 4th scale degree resolves down to the 3rd, or in the case of the sus2 chord, when the 2nd scale degree resolves up to the 3rd.
How to use them
In contemporary music, especially on the guitar (lessons here), suspended chords pop up all the time. We’ll often substitute suspended chords in the place of major chords because they can add a bit of flavor.
Generally speaking, you can test them out and use suspended chords wherever they sound good, except as the very last chord in a song. This is because suspended chords are unstable, and the music will sound incomplete until a suspended chord at the end of a piece of music is resolved. Of course, if you are specifically going for an unfinished feel, by all means end with a suspended chord—just know that Bach and Beethoven will be frowning on your decision! That’s all for now—rock on!