This lesson is about sus guitar chords and sus chords in general. Learn the theory and history of suspended chords and how to play sus chords on guitar.
Weekly Lesson #58
*** Free chord chart for practicing sus chord guitar shapes: https://bit.ly/32UF6cQ
If you've looked up song progressions before you've almost certainly seen sus chords with labels like sus2 and sus4.
We tend to think of sus guitar chords as just another chord shape to learn. But historically suspended chords had a very specific function in music.
In this short video I explain the theory and history of sus chords and how I recommend practicing them.
This unique and alluring chord type is a powerful tool for expression and definitely worth adding to your chord vocabulary.
This is part 13 of a series called “How to learn guitar chords”, and it’s a deep dive into understanding the music theory of harmony on the guitar.
In this lesson we’ll cover the theory structure of sus chords, the history of sus chords and how they originally functioned in music, and then how you can start practicing them and start benefiting from these majestic sounding chords in your own playing.
Video Lesson Content Outline with Links:
0:00 - About this lesson
0:32 - Theory structure of sus2 and sus4 chords
1:29 - History & function of suspended chords
3:41 - Sus chord practice option #1: Static
4:36 - Sus chord practice option #2: Traditional
5:42 - Summary & outro
What Are Sus Chords?
What are sus chords, where do they come from, and how can we use them on the guitar?
Today there are two types of sus chords that are commonly used in popular music: sus2 and sus24 chords.
Triad chords have three notes, a root, a 3rd, and 5th.
The 3rd of a triad determines whether the chord is major or minor.
These two types of sus chords (sus4 and sus2) remove the 3rd making them ambiguous and spacious sounding.
A sus4 chord replaces the 3rd with the note above it in the scale, which is the 4.
The most popular way to do this on the guitar is with a D chord shape.
Sus4 is the most common type of sus chord. If you see a chord listed as “sus” it means sus4.
Sus2 means that we replace the 3rd with the 2. This is the note below the 3rd.
History of Sus Chords Explained
Today sus chords can be thought of and used as just static chord types.
You can just hang out and jam on a sus chord.
But originally, in western music during the renaissance era and before, composers used suspended chords as a momentary, overlapping event between chords.
At that time the music of the day in Europe was primarily choral vocal music.
And the idea of a chord was actually a bi-product of multiple voices singing different melodies together at the same time.
Suspending a chord tone meant that you would simply delay the movement of one of the voices when the harmony changed.
So when all the other voices would move to create a new chord, one voice would stay suspended holding the note they were singing from the previous chord, creating an ethereal effect before resolving to the note that actually belongs in the new chord.
Traditional Suspended Chord Guitar Example
To use Dsus4 in this traditional way we could play a C chord first with a G note on top, leave the high G note there as a leftover note when switching to D, then resolve to a normal D major triad by moving that note down after the chord change.
Ideally for that traditional suspension effect you don’t want to re-play the suspended note when the chord changes.
Instead you just want it to ring over like a singer holding a note.
That’s hard to do and hear on the guitar because our notes dies out so quickly, but it’s still really fun to try
Try it out using the diagrams above.
You can hear that cathedral renaissance sound right?
Sus Chords Today
Suspensions are still used in the traditional way today, and you hear them all the time, especially in film scores or orchestral music.
The big difference is that we now also have this concept of the static sus chord that isn’t defined by where it’s coming from or going to.
Other Types of Suspended Chords
Sus4 is short of suspended 4, which is short for suspended 4-3, because the suspension resolves from 4 to 3 like we just showed above.
This is the most common type of suspension but there are several others like 9-8 suspensions, 6-5 suspensions, or 2-3 suspensions.
How to Play Sus Chords on Guitar: Static Approach
I’ll give you two ways to practice sus chords on the guitar.
One is with the modern static approach. And the other is with the traditional classical approach.
For the static chords download my free chord chart called Chords with Color.
In that chart I have all the open string chord shapes listed out in five different keys, and then a bunch of variations of those chords.
The first two variation types are sus2 and sus4 chords, so it shows you, through each key, what are all the chords in that key that you can turn into a sus2 and sus4 chords.
So for the key C all the possible sus2 chord shapes are these
You’ll see all the possible sus4 chords as well.
And in the chart there’s four more keys with the options listed out like that, plus a ton of other chord types as well.
How to Play Sus Chords on Guitar: Classical Approach
To practice the traditional, classical approach for sus chords we’re going to play a string of 4-3 suspensions, so the resolution note of the previous chord becomes the suspended note of the next chord.
This is often used in film scoring because it has such an emotional moving sound.
For this I just created a little etude. You can learn it and practice it if you like.
It does require some fingerstyle technique so if you’re not comfortable with that, don’t worry about it, just do the static chord shape practice instead.
I’ll be covering fingerstyle in the future.
Here’s the etude.
Summary of Sus Guitar Chords Lesson
We covered the theory of static sus guitar chords, the history and function of sus chords, and two different ways to start practicing them.
I’m about half-way done with this series, so stay tuned,
I’m here every week with a new lesson.
The next lesson is about 6th chords.
Can’t wait to see you there, take care, and thanks!
Links Mentioned in this Lesson
- Full chords-theory lesson series playlist: http://bit.ly/37Jenmg
Check out related lessons I've made on similar topics with these tags
- Beginning Guitarist
- How to Learn Guitar Chords Series
- Music Theory
- Classical Guitar
- Solo Guitar & Finger-style
Get any of my FREE PDF downloads that are awesome for guitarists
- Chords with Color, Free Booklet - Amazing chord options chart
- Any Jazz Chord, Free Booklet - Learn just 8 shapes to play any jazz tune
- The Top 3 Pentatonic Scale Patterns PDF - Exercise for more melodic soloing
- Solo Guitar Arrangement Pack - Free Sheet Music with tabs
Resources used to make this video
- Notation and tabs made with Notion ipad app
- Chord diagrams made using Adobe creative suite
Sus guitar chords are so beautiful, they’re worth exploring and understanding deeply, that’s why I made this video. In this video I talk about sus2 and sus4 chords, how to play sus chords on the guitar, and how to use sus chords both in a modern sense and a traditional classical sense on the guitar. Sus chords explained this way should help you understand suspended chords historically and theoretically. Suspended guitar chords can be just the spice you were looking for in a chord progression so I hope you’ll enjoy practicing them in the two ways that I suggest in this video.
I hope you enjoyed this lesson and found it beneficial. Let me know what you thought.
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