Sussing Out the Symmetry of Suspended Chords

A one-page guide to the other kind of triad, sus chords.

Ultimate Guitar
Suspended chords are used in lots of different styles of music, from classic to modern.

Many of our favourite songs rely on them to add dimension to an otherwise repetitive progression.

They are just slightly modified triads, but, that slight deviation opens the door to new harmonic possibilities within the same general chord progression.

In chord formulas, suspended is abbreviated to: sus. The implications will vary from application to application, but all you really need to know is that a sus chord will modify the third interval in a three-note triad. While the implications will vary from application to application, both the sus2 and sus4 chords will remove the variable from the pre-existing chord formula which determined it as being either major or minor.

Sus chords, by themselves, are neither major nor minor. They are a symmetrical harmonic structure in which the root note, is not always the root of the chord. When you begin to peel the onion back, sus chords are begging the question of what the root note really is. Does the root, the one - as we know and perceive it now - really exist?
    I               IV


C Maj: C – E – G (1 – 3 – 5)
C sus2: C – G – D (1 – 5 – 2)
C sus4: C – G – F (1 – 5 – 4)

A min: A – C – E (1 – m3 – 5)
A sus2: A – E – B (1 – 5 – 2)
A sus4: A – E – D (1 – 5 – 4)

About the Author:
Dealey is a Vancouver, Canada based guitarist, songwriter, recording engineer and producer. He is the author of the forthcoming independent book, "The Relative Nature of Chords: A Street-Smart Field Guide for Guitar." Watch for exclusive excerpts on Ultimate-Guitar! You can support his music here - or talk to him about collaborating on your project by email to: info(a.t.)

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

    A suspended chord is neither major nor minor, so it can replace either one in a progression. Also, one way to spice up chords, especially acoustic ones, is to hammer-on and pull-off between a regular triad and a suspended one (for instance, in Aqualung by Jethro Tull, the guitarist hammers on from a D shape to a Dsus4 shape during the acoustic breaks). Also, the question about the root note isn't really answered, unless you count a hilariously complex and unexplained chart as an answer. Incidentally: If one has a sus2 chord of a given root note, it will have the same notes as a sus4 chord of a root note 7 semitones higher. So, Bsus2 is B-C#-F#, and F#sus4 is F#-B-C#.
    The Harvest
    "begging the question" is a figure of speech for circular logic. You even answered the question by saying Bsus2 = F#sus4. The chart is pretty simple. In the middle is the root note, to the left are sus2 tones, to the right are sus4 tones. See which ones are the same?
    It's not simple if people don't understand it. It may be simple to you, but not for everybody. A good teacher knows how to explain things simply. Learn from your mistakes. Try thinking why people don't understand what you are talking about. Try keeping it as simple as possible. If somebody doesn't understand it, try finding a way to make them understand it. You can only get better as a teacher if you listen to the feedback and change the methods that don't work. It would help if you explained the chart. I did understand it, but it may be too much for somebody who's never heard of a suspended chord. You need to find a way to explain it to somebody who doesn't already know about it.
    I spy a typo--a Csus2 is not C G and B. But I have no doubt you meant to write D. It happens Very interesting article!
    And why wouldn't he write them in the same order as the C and A minor triads? Csus2: C-D-G (1-2-5) Csus4: C-F-G (1-4-5) Asus2: A-B-E (1-2-5) Asus4: A-D-E (1-4-5)
    The Harvest
    The interval structure is more aptly described by putting the suspended tone after the fifth. 1 - 5 - 2 is two, consecutive fifths, and 1 - 5 - 4 is a fourth in either direction from the root.
    Kind of a bare article, could have gone a lot more in depth or at least answer the root note question you brought up, or explain what you mean by it. The chart also needs explaining. Going into how to apply sus chords would have been nice as well.
    Definitely. As someone who is pretty bad at writing chord progressions, more information on function is exactly what I am looking for!
    The Harvest
    For example, ii-sus2 can be used in place of ii-m9 chords; iii-sus4 can be used in place of IV-Maj7 chords. Sus4 is commonly used in minor blues as a passing tone just before the turnaround. The Thrill Is Gone, by BB King, is a familiar example of the sus4 as a passing tone.