More on Chords: How to Play Suspended Chords

page0123

Today we’re going to head back into the world of chords, and learn how to play suspended chords.

We’ve done several chord videos in the past, like how to play major and minor chords, diminished chords, all kinds of 7 chords, and inverting chords. Definitely check out the links if you need a refresher.

All of those chords, plus today’s video on how to play suspended chords, will play a role in the next video (just a head’s up!)

How to Play Suspended Chords

I don’t want to create expectations, but I find suspended chords fairly simple to learn and play. They’re usually just 3-note chords, and require only one note change from your average major or minor chord.

The two most common chords are your “suspended 2”, written “sus2”, and “suspended 4”, written “sus4”.

So let’s take a really easy, basic chord like C major chord, which you’re probably all familiar with. C major chord has a C, E and G. If we were to give each of these letters a number, we would number them 1, 3 and 5.

Why? Because if you were to play those notes in order, like a scale – CDEFG – C would be the first note, E would be the third note, and G would be the fifth note.

C E G
1 3 5

With a suspended 2nd and 4th, you move the middle note – the 3rd – in this case, E.

So if your chord is Csus2, instead of playing C-E-G, you would move that third note, and play the 2nd note (D) instead. So a Csus2 would be C-D-G.

C D G
1 2 5

To play a Csus4, you just move the 3rd note in the other direction. Instead of playing C-E-G, you play the 1st, 4th and 5th note instead – C-F-G.

C F G
1 4 5

That’s not too bad, right?

Let’s do one more example. How about G minor.

A G minor chord is: G Bb D. We would label those as 1, 3 and 5.

G Bb D
1 3 5

So a Gm sus2 would be: G-A-D. Right? Because instead of playing the 3, we play the 2nd note instead.

G A D
1 2 5

A Gm sus4 would be G-C-D. We play 1-4-5.

G C D
1 4 5

scale printout PDF

Here’s our handy list of scales, which is useful for chord building. You can print this off as a reference for building all kinds of chords.

Major Scale Cheat Sheet
Minor Scale Cheat Sheet

The formula for a suspended chord is simple:

Sus2: 1 2 5

Sus4: 1 4 5

So using this PDF, we could plug in those numbers and figure out suspended chords for any of these.

The sound and effect of suspended chords

So why are they called suspended chords, and what do they sound like?

I think suspensions are extremely beautiful chords. Since they don’t have a third, they have a more open and indistinct sound.

You can only tell if a chord is major or minor by that third note. A C major chord would be C-E-G, and a C minor chord would be C-Eb-G. So when you remove that third note entirely – and just play the 1 and 5 – it has a very open sound.

And even if we go add the 2nd, like in a sus2, or add the 4th like in a sus4, the chord is still going to have that very open sound. It’s a little ambiguous. Is it happy? Is it sad? That’s what I love about it.

Suspended chords always have a sense of leaning. When I play CFG on the piano, it sounds really unresolved, like that 4th note desperately wants to move to the 3rd. The sus4 is tense, but when we move to the 3rd and play a regular C chord, it feels very relaxing. Even if we move from a sus4 to a C minor chord, it still feels like tension and release, even though the release chord is more somber.

Same thing with the suspended 2nd. If I play CDG on the piano, it sounds like that D desperately wants to lean into the third, and resolve to an E.

That’s why they’re called “suspension” chords. I like to think it’s because they leave you in suspense.

The “add” chord

Another chord we’ll take a quick moment to look at is the “add” chord, which is very similar to the “sus” chord, except it doesn’t really feel tense.

This is also a really easy one to interpret!

Say you have something that says “Cadd2”. All you do is play a C chord, and then add the 2nd note in there too. So a Cadd2 would be C-D-E-G. Easy peasy.

Conclusion

Hopefully you found this video on how to play suspended chords helpful – they’re generally significantly easier to figure out than 4-note chords, like major and minor 7 chords. They add more texture and interest to a song by breaking up the monotony of straight major and minor chords.

Thanks for watching/reading, and I’ll catch you next time!

xo,
Allysia

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.