How to use Suspended Chords

We have already learned that a suspended chord is the one that does not have the third, that is, it cannot be classified as a major or minor chord.

Another thing we’ve seen is that a chord with a fourth (tension note) usually appears as 4sus, as the fourth ends up replacing the third.

However, we have not yet talked about the application of this type of chord, since we needed a theoretical base for this. Now that we are more advanced, we will see the most common cases where these chords appear.

Replacing the II chord in a II-V-I Progression

We will start with a common suspended chord format: the V7sus4 chord. This type of chord, known as dominant with a suspended fourth, usually appears replacing the second degree. See the example below:

ii v i progression

In this progression, we could put the G7sus4 chord in place of Dm7, with:

| G7sus4 | G7 | Cmaj7 |

Let’s understand why:

  • Notes of G7sus4: G, C, D, F
  • Notes of Dm7: D, F, A, C

Note that these two chords have 3 notes in common: C, D, and F. Since they are very similar, one can perform the function of the other. This is mainly due to the fact that the tritone of the G7 chord disappeared when we removed its third (it was formed by the F and B notes, but now we removed the B); therefore, the G7 chord decharacterized its dominant function by becoming suspended (G7sus). In addition, it is interesting to notice that the B note does not belong to the Dm7 chord, so its withdrawal allowed an even greater similarity between these chords.

Great, then it is explained: the G7sus4 chord has no tritone and has many notes in common with the Dm7 chord. We can think of using it as a second degree when the intention is to keep the bass stationary (pedal point) in a II – V cadence.

If the resolution were C minor instead of C major in the previous example, we would need to add one more tension note. See the reason for this in the example below, which is a very common cadence (already studied) to resolve in minor chords:

ii v i minor chord progression

As the key here is that of C minor, the second degree has the flat fifth (Ab note, in this case). Therefore, the chord that will replace this Dm7(b5) must also have the Ab note (the previously used G7sus4 chord does not have this note).

In the case of G, this “Ab” note is the flat ninth. So, we need to add this extension, forming the G7sus4(b9) chord. Notice how this replacement looks:

| G7sus4(9b) | G7(b9) | Cm |

Great, this was a possible application for the suspended chord (replacing the second degree).

Replacing the relative minor chord

Another very common use for the suspended chord is over the sixth degree chord of the major key. In this context, the sixth degree is the relative minor. When we suspend the relative minor, we feel an interesting impact, because the sensation of “minor chord” is very necessary in this chord, after all it is in this format that it has a lot of affinity with the main tonic (1st degree).

This “impact” of suspending it is usually explored when you want to keep the song without resting, giving an idea of “continuity”. For example, look at the sequence below, which is in the E major key:

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Read the continuation of this article and many other full articles in the Simplifying Theory PDF Booklet.

Go to: Disguised Chords

Back to: Module 8