Learn what sus chords are, how to play them, and how to use them in songwriting.
In this lesson we’ll go into three aspects of suspended guitar chords.
First we’ll see what they are made of, from a theoretical point of view, and what makes their sound so distinct from other chord types.
Secondly I’ll give you the guitar chord diagrams for open and barre sus4 and sus2 chords.
Thirdly, we’ll explore how you can use suspended chords to create your own music.
Suspended chord theory
If you don’t know the basic theory behind guitar chords, I suggest you go through this lesson before continuing.
Major and minor chords are built from the first, third and fifth note of the respective scale.
Most other chords like 7th chords, or extended chords are built by stacking more thirds over the fifth – 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th.
The common factor among these chords is that the major or the minor third note of the scale is present.
This third note is very consonant with the root and gives the chord stability (though 7th and extended chords still sound unstable because of the added notes, major and minor triad chords are very stable).
Suspended chords simply replace the third with either the 2nd note or the 4th, making the chord sound unstable, dissonant.
Which is great for us songwriters because dissonance resolving into consonance is exactly what the human ear loves to hear!
Let’s recap then.
The C major triad is made of the first, third and fifth note of the C major scale: C, E and G.
Csus4 is made of the first, fourth and fifth note of the C major scale: C, F and G.
While Csus2 is made of the first, second and fifth note of the C major scale: C, D and G.
Suspended guitar chord diagrams
While suspended guitar chords can include 7ths and other extensions (ex: C7sus4 or G9sus4) we’ll stick to sus2 and sus4 chords where the third is replaced by a second or a fourth of a major or minor triad, with no added notes.
Sus4 chords in open position
Playing chords in open position is easier since they don’t require your finger to form a barre.
Open chords are the ones you should learn first, though you will definitely need to learn barre chords since open chords come with their limits.
For instance the diagram of the chord Bsus4 is not in this chart since there isn’t any practical way to play it as an open chord.
Sus2 chords in open position
Next are the chord diagrams for open suspended 2 chords.
Once again, Bsus2 and Fsus2 are not in the chart. It’s only practical to play these two chords as barre chords.
Barre sus4 chords
Barre chords do require some effort to learn but they also have some cool advantages over open chords.
One of them is that you need to learn less chord patterns.
You don’t need to learn a different pattern for, say, Asus4 and Bsus4. All you have to do is to move the barre up two frets, keeping the same pattern.
Finding where barre chords should be played is very easy if you know the name of the notes on the guitar fretboard.
The following are three barre chord shapes for suspended 4 chords – one starting on the low E string, one on the A string and one on the D string. All chord patterns have the root note on the fifth fret of each respective string.
Barre sus2 chords
The following are the barre chord diagrams for suspended 2 chords, once again starting on the fifth fret of the E, A and D string. (Note that in the first two examples, though the root note is on the fifth fret, the barre is on the third fret)
Using suspended guitar chords
In this section we’ll explore some practical uses of suspended chords.
As stated above, suspended chords are usually resolved into major or minor chords.
This is not a rule and a chord progression of suspended chords is sometimes used to create an eerie, unresolved feeling.
Most of the time they’re not used on their own though, as you’ll see in the following examples.
In the first example, we start on a D major chord, tension is created by the Dsus4 and Dsus2 chords, which is then resolved into the D major triad once again.
Suspended chords are used this way quite often, the most notable example being the song “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen.
In the next chord progression, the Dsus4 chord resolves into D minor while the Asus4 chord resolves into A major.
In both examples above, the suspended chord is resolved into a major or a minor chord of the same root.
Suspended chords can also be resolved on a different root as you’ll see in the next example.
Note: In this chord progression I’m using broken chords, that is, the notes of a chord being struck one at a time. The term broken chord is sometimes used interchangeably with arpeggio. The difference between the two is that while both involve playing the notes of a chord one at a time, in arpeggios the notes of the chord are played in a linear manner. While in a broken chord, the order of the notes depends on the chord pattern being used.
Conclusion: Where to go from here
By now you should have noticed that the secret to using suspended guitar chords creatively is to experiment with creating tension and then resolving it.
Academically, your next step would be to learn suspended 7th chords as well as suspended chords with extensions.
Before you do that though, I suggest that you use the suspended 2 and 4 chords you’ve learned in this lesson and write your own songs with them.
Writing songs is not hard if you can play a few chords on the guitar. I show you from where to start here in a step by step process to writing your first song.
As you keep growing your guitar chord vocabulary, make sure that you aren’t just able to play the chords from memory, but that you also know how to use them in real musical situations.
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