A chord suspension involves playing one of the tones of a chord higher than is usually found in the basic version of the chord. Suspensions are found in all genres of music, from classical to folk to good ol’ rock & roll. And you can theoretically create them using any chord of your song. Here’s how suspensions work:
A normal 3-note chord is called a triad, and most of the chords you’ll use in your chord progressions will be primarily simple triads. For these simple triads, the three notes are called the root, the 3rd and the 5th. A song in A major will use the A major triad often. The notes found in an A major triad are: A-C#-E, where A is the root, C# is the 3rd, and E is the 5th. Let’s modify it to make it a suspension.
The most common suspension is the 4-3 suspension. A 4-3 suspension means that instead of playing the 3rd (C# in our example), you “hold it up” (quite literally “suspend” it) so that you play one note “too high.” That gives us the note D. Now instead of playing a simple A-C#-E triad, you’re actually playing A-D-E. If you ever see the simple indication “sus” after a chord, it’s implying a 4-3 suspension. Here’s what it sounds like:
A simple A-major triad (A-C#-E): (see “Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website for sound samples.
An Asus chord (A-D-E):
The common way to follow a suspended chord is to play the simple version afterward, so here’s an example of that, using an Esus:
A D Esus E A
You can suspend any note in a chord, not just the 3rd. A chord that suspends the root is called a 2-1 suspension, or 9-8 suspension:
A D E Asus9 A
Suspensions are a great way to add some beauty to chord progressions. But be careful using them. The problem is that a suspension is a musical “decoration.” And like someone who wears too much jewelry, too many suspensions can make your song a bit corny or trite. Suspensions draw a lot of attention to themselves, so use them sparingly.