Suspended chords are slightly altered versions of standard chords that sound colourful and interesting. In this lesson, we’re going to look at what suspended chords are, how they’re used, and how to play them.

This is the third lesson in the series of lessons on chords. In the first lesson, we looked at open chords, as well as a bit of theory relating to what chords are and how they are constructed. In the second lesson, we explored barre chords.

In this lesson we’re going to look at ‘suspended’ chords, or ‘Sus’ chords, for short.

‘Sus’ chords are (mostly) Major chords that have an extra note of the scale ‘suspended’ in the chord. There are two main types of Suspended chords:

  • Sus 2
  • Sus 4

We’re going to look at how to play these chords shortly. If you’re not interested in the theory that gets us there, simply scroll down and observe the chord diagrams. If you’re interested in knowing about the theory, read on.

Let’s start with the Sus 4 chord. As mentioned before, Sus is short for suspended. When we say “Sus 4”, we actually mean “Suspended 4”, which means that the 4th note of the scale is suspended in the chord.

To understand this, you need to understand the fundamental makeup of a Major chord. We covered this in the first lesson of the chord series. Here is a brief recap:

The Major chord contains the 1st note, 3rd note and 5th note of the Major scale (chord tones):

  • 1 – 3 – 5

For example, the notes in the C Major scale are:

  • C – D – E – F – G – A – B

Therefore, the notes (chord tones) in the C major chord are:

  • C – E – G

When we suspend a note in a chord, we take away the ‘3rd’ and replace it with the note that we want to include. As the name suggests, the Sus 4 chord has the 4th note of the scale included. Therefore, the Sus 4 chord has the following chord tones:

  • 1 – 4 – 5

The C sus 4 chord (for example) would therefore contain the following notes

  • C – F – G

How Do We Use Sus 4 Chords?

It is helpful to understand the theory behind suspended chords. However, above all else, you should be able to hear that they have a specific sound. When we talk about the ‘sound’ that particular chords have, there is a certain amount of subjectivity at play (keep that in mind!), yet there is a commonality to how most people perceive the sound of chords. For example, most people associate Major chords with a happy sound and minor chords with a sad sound.

Have a listen to the following Sus 4 chords (Bsus4, Dsus4, Esus4, Gsus4):

There is a kind of uplifting tension to the sound of Sus 4 chords. They sound somewhat unresolved, yet bold and interesting at the same time.

Although Sus 4 chords sound interesting (and can be played) in isolation, they are very often used in combination with standard Major chords. So far, in this series of lessons on chords, I have deliberately avoided focusing on the function of chords, or in which musical contexts they should be used. The focus has instead been placed on how to play them, and how the chords are built.

I’m making an exception for Sus 4 chords, because of the frequency in which they’re used in combination with Major chords. It would feel like an incomplete lesson, without this inclusion.

As I mentioned, Sus 4 chords sound like they want to resolve somewhere. What this means specifically, is that by omitting the 3rd note of the scale, and replacing it with the 4th note, a tension is created, which sounds resolved when the 4th note of the scale is in turn replaced by the 3rd.

This is probably best represented visually:

Major Suspended 4 Transition

Here are a few examples of how this actually sounds when played.

Asus4 to AMaj 1000

Esus4 to EMaj 1000

As you can hear, this very common progression of the Sus 4 chord moving to the Major chord of the same root note has a feeling of completion and resolution.

We’re going to look at how to play these Suspended 4 chords shortly, but first we need to explore a few more chords.

Suspended 2 Chords

With Sus 4 chords, we replace the 3rd note of the scale with the 4th.

With Sus 2 chords (Suspended 2), as you can probably figure out, we replace the 3rd note of the scale with the 2nd.Suspended 2 Chord Circled Chord Tones 1000

 

Again, let’s do an example using the C Major scale:

  • C – D – E – F – G – A – B

The C Major chord (1 – 3 – 5) contains the following notes:

  • C – E – G

The C Sus 2 chord (1 – 2 – 5) contains the following notes:

  • C – D – G

Just like the Sus 4 chord, the Sus 2 chord can be resolved to the Major chord of the same root. For example, D Sus 2 can be resolved to D Major. Here are a few examples:

Asus2 to AMaj 1000

Dsus2 to DMaj 1000

Keeping in mind the subjective nature of these sounds, it’s worth pointing out that the Sus 2 chords do not sound like they’re packed with as much tension as the Sus 4 chords. They sound a little more stable on their own. As a result, Sus 2 chords are often used in isolation, without being resolved to the Major chord. In fact, they are quite often used as a substitute for Major chords.

Listen to the following chord progression, which uses A Major, D Major and G Major:

Major Chord Progression Example 1000

Now listen to the same chord progression, only this time, the Major chords have been substituted with Sus 2 chords:

Sus 2 Chord Progression Example 1000

As you can hear, while both chord progressions sound similar, the Sus 2 version has an almost dreamy, lush superimposition.

Now that we’ve explored what suspended chords are – how they’re constructed and how they can be used – let’s look at how to actually play them on the guitar.

Open Suspended Chords

Playing suspended chords as open chords is very common on the guitar. In fact, they are easier to play than barre chords. In this series of lessons, we started with basic open chords, then moved on to barre chords, and now we’re looking at suspended chords. We could have easily looked at Sus chords before barre chords, based purely on technical difficulty, but because barre chords are such an essential part of chord playing, they were introduced first.

Let’s look at the main Sus 2 and Sus 4 chords that can be played as open chords. Some of these are actually add 2/9 chords, but we’ll explain that difference shortly.

A Sus 2

A Sus 2 Chord

A Sus 4

A Sus 4 Chord

D Sus 2

D Sus 2 Chord

D Sus 4

D Sus 4 Chord

F Sus 2

F Sus 2 Chord

F Sus 4

F Sus 4 Chord

G Add 9

G Add 9 Chord

F Sus 4

G Sus 4 Chord

 Experiment with these chords and get used to their sounds. There will be a song included at the end of the lesson that you can use for practising some of the above chords, but it’s very easy to jump right in and experiment with these chords yourself. You should always practise suspended chords with regular Major chords, as they are often used in combination (as already discussed). For example, play A Sus 2, then A Major, then A Sus 4, then back to A Major etc. Try different combinations.

Suspended Chords Played As Barre Chords

Suspended chords are also often played as moveable barre chords. In the previous lesson we covered Root 6 and Root 5 versions of different barre chord types, so let’s do the same thing for our suspended chord types.

Sus 4 Barre Chord (Root 6)

Root 6 Sus 4 Barre Chord

Sus 4 Barre Chord (Root 5)

Root 5 Sus 4 Barre Chord

Sus 2 Barre Chord (Root 5)

Root 5 Sus 9 Barre Chord

Here we have only three shapes. You might be asking, where is the Root 6 version of the Sus 2 chord? The simple answer is that some chords just don’t fit into nice barre chord formations. The guitar is set out in such a way that we are often restricted by the notes we have in any given position. Sometimes, awkward fingerings prevent certain combinations of notes from being formed comfortably. This also presents endlessly unique and interesting possibilities, but just because (for example) there is an easy Root 5 version of a particular chord, doesn’t mean that there is an easy Root 6 version of the same chord.

Just like with the open chords that we just looked at, experiment with playing the suspended barre chords and resolving to Major barre chords.

Dominant 7 Sus 4

Another common suspended chord is the Dominant 7 Sus 4 chord. This is particularly common as a barre chord and sounds quite similar to the regular Sus 4 chord. In fact, they are often used interchangeably. The Dominant 7 Sus 4 chord has one extra note, compared to the regular Sus 4 chord:

  • Sus 4 chord = 1 – 4 – 5
  • Dominant 7 Sus 4 = 1 – 4 – 5 – b7

Here’s how to play it (root 6 and root 5)

Dominant 7 (Root 6)

Root 6 Dominant 7 Sus 4 Barre Chord

Minor 7 (Root 6)

Root 5 Dominant 7 Sus 4 Barre Chord

Here are some open chord versions of the Dominant 7 Sus 4 chord:

A7 Sus4

A7 Sus4 Chord

D7 Sus4

D7 Sus4 Chord

What Are ‘Add’ Chords?

In a lesson on suspended chords, it’s worth exploring ‘Add’. Why? Because they are often used interchangeably with Suspended chords. In fact, many people often assume they’re the same thing.

We’re going to jump into some theory here. If that’s not your thing, you can skip to the chord shapes at the end of this lesson.

When we play suspended chords, we take away the 3rd and include other notes (2nd or 4th). With ‘add’ chords, we don’t take anything away, we simply add notes (such as 2 or 9).

Therefore, the Sus 2 chord contains the following scale tones:

  • 1 – 2 – 5

The ‘add’ 2 chord contains the following chord tones:

  • 1 – 2 – 3 – 5

Add 2 Vs Suspended 2 1000

 

Here’s where things get a little confusing. The Sus 2 is often referred to as Add 2. Why? In part because guitarists are lazy. The more accurate reason though, is that because of the way the guitar is set out, we rarely play the ‘textbook’ version of any chord.

Let me explain.

If a piano player were to play the A Major chord, they could very easily play the basic chord as it exists on a piece of paper:

  • A – C# – E (1 – 3 – 5)

A Major Triad Piano 500

Guitarist, however, are limited by the notes that are available in any given position. What this means is that in order to fit the right notes in, we change things around and double up on notes. Let’s have a look at a typical version of the A Major chord (open position), with annotations:

A Major Chord for Annotations 500

As you can see, instead of the notes falling in a nice logical order, they are in a seemingly illogical order, with some notes doubled up. Again, this is mainly because of the restrictive nature of fitting notes on to the fretboard when forming chords. We are often limited by the notes available in a given position, as well as physical fingering considerations.

In summary, when we form chords on the guitar, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • We often change the order of notes.
  • We often double up on notes (different octaves).
  • Sometimes we leave notes out.

This last point is the most crucial for understanding why Sus 2 and Add 2 chords are often referred to as the same thing, even though technically, they’re not. We sometimes leave notes out of chords, because of the restrictions that we’ve just talked about. Therefore, given that the Add 2 chord is really the same as the Sus 2 chord, but with one fewer note, it’s easy to see why the line can be a little bit blurry when referring to Add 2 vs Sus 2.

In a nutshell, if we want to play a Sus 2 chord, but have to leave out the 3rd, is it still a Sus 2, or an Add 2?

I know that this can seem like an unsatisfactory explanation. How are you supposed to learn chords when the labels are vague and not specific? This is a valid question. At the end of the day, you just have to accept that there are grey areas. You should aim to become familiar with chords and their labels, and remember where the grey areas are.

To make things just a little more confusing, the Sus 2 chord is often referred to as Sus 9, and the Add 2 chord is often referred to as Add 9. This is because the 2nd note and the 9th note of the Major scale are the same note, one octave apart. To understand this, observe the following Major scale:

C Major Scale 2 Octaves 2 1000

The above image shows the C Major scale played over two octaves. That means that after the 7th note of the scale is played, the 1st note (root) is played again, but one octave higher than the original root note. This is referred to as the 8th note of the scale. The 9th note of the scale is the same as the 2nd note. The 3rd note is the same as the 10th and so on.

Often, these ‘ upper octave notes’ are included in the chord labels, instead of their equivalent lower octave notes. For example, 2 and 9 are often used interchangeably. Why? This is because of the same factors that we looked at before. Because we rarely play chord tones in a logical order, it makes the distinction between the ‘2’ and the ‘9’ kind of fuzzy. The chord labels themselves probably originated from logical, textbook voicings that could be demonstrated on a piano. In that instance, the ‘2’ and ‘9’ would refer to specific octaves when playing a chord. With the guitar though, these lines are a lot more blurry, and as a result, the labels are very much interchangeable.

Here are a few examples of Add 2/Add 9 open chords. All of the following shapes have the 3rd of the chord included:

G Add 9

G Add 9 Chord

Here are a few Add 9 barre chords. I call these the purple rain chords, because Prince plays them on the iconic track ‘Purple Rain’. Play them yourself. If you know the song, the chords should sound familiar.

Add 9 (Root 6)

Root 6 Add 9 Barre Chord

Add 9 (Root 5)

Root 5 Add 9 Barre Chord

What About Add 4 Chords?

We started with Sus 2 and Sus 4 chords. Then we looked at Add 2/A dd 9 chords. So you might be thinking, what about Add 4 chords? While this is theoretically possible, it is much less common than any of the other chords we have looked at. Including both the 3rd and 4th in the same chord creates a clash (which can be desirable), so for this reason, whenever the 4th is included, the 3rd is usually omitted. However, the 3rd and 4th are sometimes both included, which creates a very distinct sound. These chords are often referred to as Major 11 chords. Interestingly, these chords are usually formed by including open notes:

F# Major 11

F#11 Chord

D Major 11

D Major 11 Chord

 

Can you Have Suspended Minor Chords?

You might have wondered, ‘what about Sus chords for minors?’. Good question. Remember, that technically when we play a suspended chord, the 3rd is omitted. Since the 3rd note of the scale is what gives us the Major or minor properties, it could be argued that they are neither major or minor chords. Because Suspended chords are used so frequently in combination with other chords, the thing that gives them the Major or minor quality is the context in which they are used. Playing a B Major chord followed by a B Sus 4 chord will give the B Sus 4 chord a Major flavour, whereas playing a B minor chord followed by a B Sus 4 chord will give the B Sus 4 chord a minor flavour

Summary

Here is a list of all the chords we’ve looked at in this lesson. Please note that this is by no means a comprehensive list of Suspended chords, but it contains most of the ‘common’ suspended chords (and a few kind of obscure ones too).

A Sus 2

A Sus 2 Chord

A Add 2

A Add 2 Chord

A Sus 4

A Sus 4 Chord

A7 Sus 4

A7 Sus4 Chord

D Sus 2

D Sus 2 Chord

D Sus4

D Sus 4 Chord

D Major 11

D Major 11 Chord

D7 Sus 4

D7 Sus4 Chord

Sus 4 Barre (Root 6)

Root 6 Sus 4 Barre Chord

Sus 4 Barre (Root 5)

Root 5 Sus 4 Barre Chord

Dominant 7 Barre (Root 6)

Root 6 Dominant 7 Sus 4 Barre Chord

Dominant 7 Barre (Root 5)

Root 5 Dominant 7 Sus 4 Barre Chord

A Sus Song To Finish

We’re going to finish with a song from the book Open Chords Made Easy. This song contains a lot of open Suspended chords.

Chord Chart Only The Beginning

Strumming Chart Only The Beginning

If the above chord chart is a bit confusing, you may want to read the lessons from the book, which explain how to read the chord charts such as the one above.

In the next lesson, we’re going to look at eight essential jazz chords.


Genaaron Diamente
Genaaron Diamente

I play guitar. I teach guitar. I like making music. I'm trying to build this site up to be a valuable resource for guitar students and teachers.