Suspended Chords


You can add texture and interest to a chord progression by using different types of chords. It's easy enough to move beyond simple major and minor chords by adding seventh notes, and you can also extend chords further to come up with 9th's, 11th's, etc. One of my favourite chord types, and one that's often overlooked, is the suspended chord.

Basically, a suspended chord has a root and fifth degrees, but instead of a third, there is either a second or a fourth 'suspended' between the other two notes. Because the usual pattern of thirds between the notes isn't present, the resulting chord has a very interesting sound. Also, there's no third (or flattened third) in there, so the chord has no 'major' or 'minor' characteristics.

Sus4 Chords

These chords have the formula 1-4-5. For example, if you take the C major scale (C-D-E-F-G-A-B) and take the first, fouth and fifth degrees of the scale (C-F-G) you get the notes that make up the Csus4 chord.


If you're playing this chord on the guitar, the following is a useful fingering for Csus4. It's in the third position (your index finger is situated at the third fret):

You could play this using your 2nd and 3rd fingers for the middle two strings, instead of the partial barre with your 3rd finger. Personally, I prefer to use the patial barre because as well as using the 4th finger to form the sus4 chrod (as per this example) it's also free to for other chords based around the basic major chord shape (such as 4th finger on the top E string at the 6th fret to form a C7 chord).

The root note is on the fifth string, so you can easily move this shape around the neck to play it in different keys.


Another really common shape for the sus4 chord is shown below. This one is Dsus4, and it's the shape that Brian May uses in the famous D/Dsus4 combination in for Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love".

  This is built on a very familiar major chord shape, with the fourth finger placed on to provide the suspended 4th note in place of the major third.

Alternating between the basic major chord and the sus4 chord with the same root note is quite a common technique. As well as the Queen example mentioned just before, check out the intro for "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones, or (if you prefer something with a bit more overdrive) it also crops up in Gun's version of "Word Up" (F#/F#sus4 to E/Esus4).


Sus2 Chords

These chords are a little less common, but they have a great sound. As the name implies, they include the 2nd degree of a scale, which is 'suspended' between the root and fifth. The formula for this type of chord is 1-2-5, so if we use the C major scale as an example again, the first, second and fifth degrees of that scale would give us C-D-G.

A useful fingering for this chord is shown below - this is Csus2, played at the third position:

  This is another moveable chord shape, with the root on the fifth string.

The sus2 chord is used to very good effect at the start of "Don't Dream It's Over" by Crowded House. The intro starts on an Esus4 chord and uses this same chord shape, but played four frets higher.

There are a number of different ways of playing sus2 and sus4 chords - experiment with chord shapes that you know, but move the third (or flattened third, in the case of minor chords) up to a second, or down to a fourth. Experiment with different inversions, and try to incorporate them into your own playing.

Remember: suspended chords never include a third (or flattened third) degree - if they do then they cannot be suspended chords. For example, the notes C-E-F-G would be called C add 4, because it is a C major triad with an added fourth (some people might also call it C add 11, but it comes down to the same thing).

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