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
So This Is Christmas – John Lennon
A – Asus2 – Asus4 – A (these are the first chords, but there’s lots more in this song)
Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen
D – Dsus4 – D – D – Dsus4 – D – D – Dsus4 – D – D – Dsus4 – D (intro/first chords)
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Free Fallin
E - Asus2- Asus2 - E - Bsus4 (almost entire song… capo 1st fret)
Tell Us What You Think - Please Comment Below!
We would love to hear your comments and questions. What specific things are you struggling with while learning guitar?
Hi! Great tips!! Quick question if you could let me know? I love the sound of the strings you are using! Can you tell me what brand and gauge you are using? I’d really appreciate it! Gets expensive trying to find the right set.
Hi Steve, on the guitar in the video you’re talking about I don’t actually know what strings are on it. It’s a brand-new guitar and I haven’t changed strings yet. I’ll probably replace them with D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings. I’m going to create a post in the next few weeks about guitar strings that will be more help than just recommending one particular brand or style… Here’s to bits of advice that would serve you better. 1st the lesser important but easy to understand: you’re probably just gonna have to experiment with different strings over time. I know… I have that kind of thing a lot and it’s kind of frustrating because frankly I just want to solution to whatever problem of dealing with I can move onto the next thing. The D’Addario strings are a good place to start… Now for the 2nd bit of advice which honestly I couldn’t really take advantage of the 1st 5 to 10 years of playing guitar: as long as you’re using any decent guitar string the actual difference in your sound will be very tiny. The big difference, by far, and I mean like the difference between going around the block or traveling to Thailand from the US, will be your PLAYING TECHNIQUE and the QUALITY OF GUITAR. Oh… And by the way… A mediocre set of strings when brand-new sounds better than the most expensive when they get old. Change your strings more often than you think you need to… I have to keep telling myself that 🙂
Thanks so much for your response Tomas! I have been playing for many years and I have tried many a string. You are SO right about new strings! I have come to play with Elixir and also have liked Martin’s coated. I don’t get a chance to play a lot but when I do, I have noticed that these coated versions DO give you a little longer life. I just really liked the sound coming off your guitar and though I know it’s mostly in the instrument, I thought the string might be playing a part in it too. I look forward to your post on strings, as I do with all your lessons. Thanks again for getting back to me! Much appreciated!!!!!
You’re welcome Steve. My staff has told me recently that the prefer the D’Addario version of the coated strings. I haven’t tried them yet.
Thanks Herb. – Tomas
Great! I will definitely give them a try. Thanks!
This was very helpful! You explain in a clear, fun way. You are easy to listen to. I am not scared of Sus chords anymore! Thank you!!!!
I’m glad to hear that Helen. That was my intention… it worked! – Tomas