We already learned that a suspended chord is the one which doesn’t have third, in other words, it cannot be classified as major or minor.
Another thing is that a chord with fourth (extension note) use to appear as 4sus, because the fourth replaces the third.
But we didn’t talk about the application of this kind of chord yet, because a theory base for this was needed. Now that we are in advanced levels, we will see the most common cases where these chords appear.
How to use suspended chords in practice
We will begin with a common shape of suspended chord: V7sus4.
This kind of chord, known as dominant with a suspended fourth, generally appears replacing IIm7. Observe it in the example bellow:
II V I
| Dm7 | G7 | C7M |
In this progression, we could put the chord G7sus4 in place of Dm7, and then we would have:
| G7sus4 | G7 | C7M |
Let’s understand the reason of it:
- G7sus4 notes: G, C, D, F
- Dm7 notes: D, F, A, C
You can see that these two chords have three notes in common: C, D and F.
As they are really similar, one can do the function of the other. This happens mainly by the fact that the tritone of G7 has disappeared when we took away the third (it was made by the notes F and B, but now we took B away); therefore, G7 mischaracterized its function of dominant being suspended (G7sus). Besides that, it’s interesting to observe that B doesn’t belong to Dm7, so taking it away allowed a similarity even bigger among these chords.
Very well, so it is explained: G7sus4 doesn’t have any triton and has several notes in common with Dm7. We can think in using it as IIm7 when the intention is to keep the bass static in a cadence II – V.
If the resolution chord was C minor instead of C major in the previous example, we would need to add one more extension. You can see the reason bellow, that is a common cadence (already studied) to be solved in minor chords:
II V I
| Dm7(b5) | G7(b9) | Cm |
As the tonality here is C minor, the second cadential has the flatted fifth (Ab, in this case). Therefore, the chord that will replace this Dm7(b5) also needs to have Ab (the G7sus4 used before doesn’t have this note).
In the case of G, this “Ab” is the flatted ninth. Then, we need to add this extension, creating the chord G7sus4(9b). Look how this replacement became:
| G7sus4(9b) | G7(b9) | Cm |
Nice, this was a possible application to this suspended chord (replacing the second degree in a cadence II – V – I).
Suspended chord replacing the relative minor
Another really common application to suspended chord is in the harmonic field of sixth degree. In this context, the sixth degree is the relative minor. When we suspend the relative minor, we feel an interesting impact, because the feeling of “minor chord” is really necessary in this chord, because this is the shape that it has a lot of affinity with the main tonic (I degree).
This “impact” of suspending it, is normally explored when we want to keep the song without rest, giving an idea of “continuation”. For example, see the sequence bellow, which is in E major tonality:
IV V VI
| A | B | C#m |
In this case, B is the fifth degree (dominant) of this tonality.
After it, it is being played a resolution chord (VI degree, relative minor, tonic function).
Leaving C#m suspended, we wouldn’t have this “rest” anymore, check it:
| A | B | C#sus4 |
Generally, when we add the fourth in this case, we use to play, shortly thereafter, the chord C# (in other words, VI major chord), due to the chromatic effect created by the perfect fourth followed by a third major. This C# could enter in this harmony serving as fifth degree to F#m, for example:
| A | B | C#sus4 C# | F#m |
Listen to the file bellow and observe the feeling that it produces:
In this file from Guitar Pro, we put the sequence | A | B | C#m | first, for you to feel “the taste” of natural cadence (with resolution in the relative minor). After that we replaced C#m for C#sus4, followed by C#. We go on with this sequence with F#m and we finished with E/G# (inverted tonic). We chose to put the bass in G# in this ending because the song could return to A, and then we would have the chromatic effect in the bass (G# | A).
There are other possible applications to suspended chords, but basically they summarize themselves to these principles of changing the feeling of a major chord. When a major chord is suspended, the impact is not really strong, passing almost unnoticed in the point of view of “harmonic feeling”.
This is why, when you feel this feeling of “suspension” in a song, try to identify quickly which minor chord is having this change. Generally it will be IIm7 or the relative minor, as we saw now, but it could be another one. Be attentive!
Go to: Disguised Chords
Back to: Module 7