On the 'tube

Basic Introduction to Suspended Chords


Hi there!

I thought you might appreciate a short tutorial on how suspended chords are formed and a basic shape to get you started.

Suspended chords sound lovely if you haven't played them before; they can help spice up a chord progression, or you can form a whole song idea around one. They go nicely with some fingerpicking playing, too.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy


Well that was entertaining .


The term sus2 is used for that structure, but it is not a suspension. A more appropriate chord symbol is simply 2, as in A2. It represents a chord with the root, fifth and 2nd, without the 3rd. In this case, the 2 is just a color tone.

A suspension occurs when one harmonic function is placed over the root of another. For example, in the key of C maj., Fmaj.7 or Dm7 (both functioning as subdominants in this key) with or without their color tones, when placed over the root V (dominant) will yield G7 sus. Even though the chord is on the dominant degree of the scale, its function is subdominant. The function tone C, with its tendency to resolve down a semitone to B, creates the suspension. As soon as the C falls to B, the chord changes from G7sus to G7; the harmonic function changes from subdominant to dominant.

For a suspension on the tonic, place Fmaj. or Dmin. over the root C. This will yield Csus. In this case, it is the function tone F, with its tendency to resolve down a semitone to E that creates the subdominant function on the tonic of the scale. When the F falls to the E, the chord changes from Csus to Cmaj.; the harmonic function changes from subdominant to tonic. This is sometimes referred to as a 'self resolving chord.'

In a minor key, the 4th of the tonic is no longer a function tone because it is not in a semitone relationship to the 3rd. In Cmin. for example the 3rd is Eb; the F is a whole tone away so it doesn't create a demand for resolution. In minor, the b6 becomes the subdominant function tone, with a tendency to fall to the 5th. So one example of a suspension on the dominant scale degree of Cmin. would be Amaj7b5/G. (G7susb9) A typical guitar voicing is, from the 4th string up, Ab, C, D, G; then grab the root G on the 6th string. A typical voicing sequence on the tonic Cm (tonic-subdom.-tonic) is C (6th string) G (4th string) D (3rd string) G (2nd string) Move the G on the 4th string up a semitone to Ab, creating Cmb6, and then back down to the G. You can hear the cadence. Cmb6 in this key is not called a suspension, but it is in fact, a subdominant function on the tonic, therefore, a suspension.

The idea that there are only three harmonic functions, regardless of scale degree, was illustrated in a book called, "Harmony Simplified" by Dr. Hugo Riemann, Dr. of Musical Sciences at Leipzig University back in the 1800's. I hope you'll excuse what is no doubt a boring post; I guess the chap in the video just pushed a button this morning. Play on!


This is enlightening. Thanks for your post


What Journeyman said!


Suspended chords are an interesting thing to know. They were really popular with folk/folk rockers in the '60s/'70s.

For notation, sus2 means to replace the 3rd (whether minor or major) in the chord with the 2nd note of the scale. The notation sus4 means to replace the 3rd note of the scale with the 4th note of the scale. If you see sus only that usually means sus4.

Suspended chords are dissonant and just beg to be resolved into a major or minor chord which may (or not) happen.

In real life, here are some examples:

The Seekers - Needles and Pins

Easy to see in the intro.

CSN - Helplessly Hoping

At the end of the verse phrases there's a sus2 quietly picked out of the D chord. In the bridge there's pull off from C to B in the G chord.

Willis Alan Ramsey - Satin Sheets

Lots of C to B pull offs on the G chord in the verses.

At the end of the bridge talking about the calliope, there's a Csus2 and a Bbsus2 to show what a calliope sounds like.

Suspended chords can be your friend but use them carefully.


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