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.
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…
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.
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
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.
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)