Suspended chord

A suspended chord (or sus chord) is a musical chord in which the (major or minor) third is omitted, replaced usually with either a perfect fourth or a major second[1] although the fourth is far more common. The lack of a minor or a major third in the chord creates an open sound, while the dissonance between the fourth and fifth or second and root creates tension. When using popular-music symbols, they are indicated by the symbols "sus4" and "sus2".[2] For example, the suspended fourth and second chords built on C, written as Csus4 and Csus2, have pitches C–F–G and C–D–G, respectively.

suspended fourth chord
Component intervals from root
perfect fifth
perfect fourth
Forte no. / Complement
3-9 / 9-9
suspended second chord
Component intervals from root
perfect fifth
major second
Forte no. / Complement
3-9 / 9-9

Suspended fourth and second chords can be represented by the integer notation {0, 5, 7} and {0, 2, 7}, respectively.


The term is borrowed from the contrapuntal technique of suspension, where a note from a previous chord is carried over to the next chord, and then resolved down to the third or tonic, suspending a note from the previous chord. However, in modern usage, the term concerns only the notes played at a given time; in a suspended chord, the added tone does not necessarily resolve and is not necessarily "prepared" (i.e., held over) from the prior chord. As such, in C–F–G, F would resolve to E (or E), but in rock and popular music, "the term is used to indicate only the harmonic structure, with no implications about what comes before or after," though preparation of the fourth occurs about half the time and traditional resolution of the fourth occurs usually.[3] In modern jazz, a third can be added to the chord voicing, as long as it is above the fourth.[4]

Each suspended chord has two inversions. Suspended second chords are inversions of suspended fourth chords, and vice versa. For example, Gsus2 (G–A–D) is the first inversion of Dsus4 (D–G–A) which is the second inversion of Gsus2 (G–A–D). The sus2 and sus4 chords both have an inversion that creates a quartal chord (A–D–G) with two stacked perfect fourths.

Sevenths on suspended chords are "virtually always minor sevenths", while the 9sus4 chord is similar to an eleventh chord and may be notated as such.[3] For example, C9sus4 (C–F–G–B–D) may be notated C11 (C–G–B–D–F).

Jazz sus chord

A jazz sus chord[4][5] or dominant 9sus4 chord is a seventh chord on the fifth scale degree of the key with a suspended fourth and an added ninth. Functionally, it can be written as V9sus4 or V7sus9. For example, the jazz sus chord built on C, written as C9sus4 has pitches C–F–G–B–D.

A dominant seventh chord with added fourth (which can also be written as a slash chord), followed by the tonic major seventh chord.[4]

Usually, the dominant 9sus4 chord has a perfect fourth rather than a major third and is called a sus4 chord rather than an 11th, though it may also be thought of as a slash chord (G9sus4 = F/G).[6] [G9sus4 = GCDFA = F/G = GFAC] It may even be written Dm7/G, which shows the merging of ii7 and V7.[4] Chord factors include 1–7–9–11 or 1–4–7–9, not 1–4–5 (a sus4 chord with no third).[7] Although the suspended fourth is not always resolved down to a third, the note is still not usually notated as an eleventh because of the chord's function as a cadence point to the tonic.

It is also possible to have the third with a sus chord, the third being generally voiced above the fourth (i.e. as a tenth), though this is not absolutely necessary. For example, a G7sus9 chord could have its root doubled above and below middle C (C4), using G2 and G3, played with the left hand, and using the right hand (from the bottom up) middle C (suspended 4th), F, A, and B (the third).[8]

Red Garland's piano introduction to "Bye Bye Blackbird" on the Miles Davis' album 'Round About Midnight features suspended 9th chords. (Chuck Sher has published a transcription of this passage in The New Real Book, Volume 2.) [9] In his book Thinking in Jazz, Paul Berliner writes at length and in detail about how the improvisation unfolds from this opening.[10]

With the advent of modal jazz in the 1960s, suspended chords were to feature with increasing regularity. For example, they dominate the structure of Herbie Hancock's 1965 composition "Maiden Voyage". In his book, What to Listen For in Jazz, Barry Kernfeld cites Hancock's own explanation of how the harmony works: "You start with a 7th chord with the 11th on the bottom—a 7th chord with a suspended 4th—and then that chord moves up a minor third. ... It doesn't have any cadences; it just keeps moving around in a circle."[11] Kernfeld comments: "Thus in addition to a slow-paced harmonic rhythm, this composition features chords that individually and collectively avoid a strong sense of tonal function." Kernfeld admires the way that "Hancock's cleverly ambiguous chords intentionally obscure the identity" of a particular key.[12] Philosopher and expert on musical aesthetics, Roger Scruton sees the jazz sus chord in "Maiden Voyage" as opening "a completely new harmonic perspective... as we come to understand sus chords on the tonic as supporting improvisations on the dominant."[13]

Suspended chords are commonly found in folk music and popular music. Ian MacDonald writes of the "heartbreaking suspensions" that characterise the harmony of "The Long and Winding Road" from the Beatles' final album Let It Be (1970).[14] Ian MacDonald describes another Beatles song "Yes It Is" as having "rich and unusual harmonic motion" through its use of suspensions.[15] Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love" in the arrangement performed by Dusty Springfield (1967) opens with a clearly audible Dm7 suspension.[16] Carole King's song "I Feel the Earth Move" from her album Tapestry (1971) features a striking Bsus9 chord at the end of the phrase "mellow as the month of May". [17] Two songs that use of suspended chords prominently are the introduction of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over", where the first chord is an Esus2, and the acoustic introduction to Rush's "Natural Science" utilizes a sequence of four suspended chords (Bsus2 – Asus2 – Csus2 – Dsus2). The last chord of the first bridge of The Police's "Every Breath You Take" is an unresolved suspended chord, the introduction and chorus of Shocking Blue's "Venus" each contain an unresolved suspended chord, and the introduction of Chicago's "Make Me Smile" has two different suspended chords without traditional resolution.[3] Michael Jackson's "Black or White" uses both sus4 and sus2 chords (Esus4 – E – Esus2 – E), and so does Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" (F – Fsus4 – F – Fsus2). Much of The Pointer Sisters' song "Automatic" uses suspended chords. The album Loveless by My Bloody Valentine also uses suspended chords extensively.

Examples in classical music

Examples of suspended chords can be found in the pieces below (usually in connection with pedal points).

Debussy’s "Golliwogg’s Cake Walk" from his Children’s Corner suite for piano (1908):

The piano postlude to the song "Ich Grolle Nicht" from Robert Schumann's 1844 song cycle Dichterliebe.

The concluding bars of the Prelude to Wagner's final opera Parsifal (1882):

The first movement of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7:

See also


  1. Ellis, Andy (October 2006). "EZ Street: Sus-Chord Mojo". Guitar Player.
  2. Benward & Saker (2003), p.77.
  3. Stephenson, Ken (2002). What to Listen for in Rock: A Stylistic Analysis. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-300-09239-4.
  4. Humphries, Carl (2002). The Piano Handbook. p. 129. ISBN 0-87930-727-7.
  5. Levine, Mark (1989). The Jazz Piano Book. Sher Music. p. 23. ISBN 0-9614701-5-1. Dm7/G describes the function of the sus chord, because a sus chord is like a ii–V progression contained in one chord. The ii–V progression in the key of C is Dm7, G7.
  6. Buckingham, Bruce; Paschal, Eric (1997). Rhythm Guitar: The Complete Guide. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-7935-8184-9. "(A9sus4 = G/A)."
  7. Coryell, Larry (1998). Jazz Guitar. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-87930-550-5.
  8. Levine, Mark. The Jazz Piano Book. p. 24. ISBN 0-9614701-5-1. A persistent myth about sus chords is that 'the fourth takes the place of the third.'
  9. Sher, C (1991, p.35). The New Real Book, Volume 2. Petaluma, Sher Music.
  10. Berliner, P. (1994, p.678-688), Thinking in Jazz. University of Chicago Press.
  11. Kernfeld, B. (1995, p. 68) What to Listen For in Jazz. Yale University Press
  12. Kernfeld, B. (1995, p. 68) What to Listen For in Jazz. Yale University Press
  13. Scruton, R. (2009, p.17) Understanding Music. London and new York, Continuum.
  14. MacDonald, Ian. (1994, p. 341) Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. London, Fourth Estate.
  15. MacDonald. I. (1994, p. 147) Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. London, Fourth Estate.
  16. Bacharach, B. and David, H. (1967, p9) "The Look of Love" in Burt Bacharach Anthology(1989). Miami, Warner Brothers.
  17. King. C. (1971, p.4) "I feel the earth move" in Tapestry. Milwaukee, Hal Leonard
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