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Adding Flavor to Chords - Suspended Chords - Basix

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This post is part of a series called Adding Flavor to Chords.
Adding Flavor to Chords – Sixth Chords – Basix
Adding Flavor to Chords - Altered Dominant 7th - Basix

Today we are going to cover how to add some flavor to your chords and compositions using Sus chords. These are some of those chords where a lot of players can read and play them but they may not understand where they come or how they function. If you have heard of these types of chords but never knew exactly how they were constructed then this tutorial is for you. We will cover everything from basic structure to different voicings of the chords and try to apply them in a creative context. If you want to suspend your old chords for a little while then read on!


What is a Sus Chord?

In order to effectively use a Sus chord we first need to understand what exactly a Sus chord is. A Sus chord is simply a basic chord (three notes) but with the 3rd of the chord replaced with either the 4th or 2nd degree of the chord. Do not confuse the 2nd or 4th degrees of the chord with the 2nd or 4th degree of the scale.

The 2nd scale degree of the C Major scale is D. If we were to play an Fsus2 in the key of C major we would have to omit the 3rd of the F Maj (which is an A) and replace it with the second of the F Maj, which is a G. Notice, how the G and D are not the same 2nd? If you are still having issues visualizing this concept here is a written out example...

Remember, always go to the 2nd or 4th of the chord you are playing no matter what key you are in. If it says C Sus2 then your 2nd is D, if it says Bb Sus4 then your 4th is Eb. End of Story. Also keep in mind that these Sus chords work for both major and minor chords. So you could resolve your Csus4 to either a C Maj or a C min if you wished.


Inversions

When contending with inversions of any chord the rules always seem to change ever so slightly depending on the type of chord and Sus chords are no different. With 7ths we had how to voice them, with 6ths we had to be careful how we interpreted our inversions, and with Sus we will need to be careful of a few traps as well. Lets take a look at what the quirks of inverted Sus chords are...

As we have discussed in the previous articles, an inversion is simply a reorganizing of the notes of a chord so that the root is no longer in the bottom of the chord. Which note is in the bottom of the chord will then determine which inversion of the chord we are using.

Since Sus chords only have three notes, we can only have three different voicings, root position, 1st inversion, and 2nd inversion. So if a Csus4 as the notes C,F,G in root position, then F,G,C will give us a 1st inversion and G,C,F will give us our 2nd inversion.

However take a closer look at that 1st inversion, doesn't that also look like an Fsus2? Just like with the 6th chords, when we invert a Sus chord we can accidently imply another chord if we are not careful. Keep also in mind that a 2nd inversion sus2 is the same as a sus4 for another chord (Csus2 becomes Gsus4).

So then which chord is it? It is whatever chord you decide! The chords that come before and after your suspended chord will usually determine which it actually is. In the final section we will look at how you use the Sus chords and by relation how you determine which Sus you are actually using. For now however, let's add some flair to those Sus chords.


Expanding Sus Chords

Thankfully with Sus chords, extending them to have more notes and have a richer sound is very easy. Traditionally if you want to expand a Sus chord you will add either the minor 7th or the minor 7th and major 9th of the chord. Another way to think of this is to take a Dominant 7th or 9th chord and suspend the 3rd with either a 4th or 2nd. Lets look at an example...

A Csus4 is C,F,G and a C7 is C,E,G,Bb. If we were to turn that into a C7sus4 you would then have C,F,G,Bb. And if you want it to be a C9sus4 then you would have C,F,G,Bb,D. You can of course do the same thing with sus2 chords as well, however a 9sus2 is redundant as it the 9 and the sus2 are the same note, just an octave apart. Here are some examples to listen to...


Using Sus Chords

Now that we have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of Sus chords we can finally start to apply our knowledge. If you have noticed already, Sus chords take on a much different character than basic chords. While these are always open to interpretation here is what I believe best represents the musical quality of the different Sus chords ...

  • Sus4 and Sus2: Strong, Resolute, slight need to move

  • 7Sus4: Strong, Calm, slight need to move

  • 7Sus2: Strong, Sad, might want to move

  • 9Sus4: Strong, Calm, slight need to move

All of these interpretations however are based on if there chords were in closed position. If you were to use alternate inversions and spacings then you would run into other possible feelings behind the chords.

The big thing to keep in mind with these chords are that more often than not you will need to resolve these chords at some point or another. Traditionally we would resolve a Sus2 or Sus4 by moving the 4th or 2nd to the 3rd which was our 'suspended' note (hence the name behind Sus chords).

However in modern day usage anything goes on where you should resolve your Sus chord. It is these resolutions that can help determine if you are in fact using a Sus2 or a 2nd inversion Sus4. If you resolve up to the third then you are more than likely using a Sus2 and if you resolve down you are most likely using a 2nd inversion Sus4.

To stir some musical creativity here is an example of some basic chords I worked out and then expanded into something more. I have included which chords I am using and what inversion they are. Keep in mind this is not the proper way to notate these inversions; it is simply an easier to use reference.

Finally I kept the chords in closed position for simplicity's sake. You could experiment with different more open voicing if you wanted a wider range of sound. Make note of the Gsus4 and that it technically could be called a Csus2. I chose to call it a Gsus4 because I felt it was functioning more like the dominant of C.


Final Thoughts

That about covers the basics for Sus chords my friends. Experiment with different progressions and see how the notes move between one another; sus chords are great for prolonging a feel since they tend to lead into certain chords. With these newfound tools what will you create? What will you suspend? Thanks for reading!

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