Chord suspensions are one way to take a standard progression and add a bit of colour.
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Many songwriters engage in a seemingly endless search for the so-called killer chord progression. As I’ve stated often on this blog, progressions that are basic, uncomplicated and predictable do not usually have a negative effect on music. You can still write music that challenges your audience’s ears while sticking with simple, diatonic chords.
Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with trying to spice up the harmonic sound of your music with more interesting chords. One way to do this is by adding non-chord tones to standard progressions.
While a chord tone, of course, is a note that belongs to a standard 3-note chord, which we call a triad, a non-chord tone is any note that you might add to that chord which doesn’t usually belong.
For example, a G chord is made up of 3 chord tones, G-B-D. In the key of C major, that G chord likes to move to the C chord, like this:
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It’s a standard authentic cadence in C major. You play the C chord, you follow it with a G. Once you’ve played that G chord, you can hear that the next chord “wants” to be C. That’s the so-called dominant function in music. The G chord makes us want to hear a C chord again.
You can replace that B in the G chord with a C. In that case, you’ve changed the G-chord into something else: Gsus (or Gsus4):
You can hear that when you play a suspension, like this Gsus4, that it usually “resolves” first to its pure triad form (G-B-D) before moving on to the C chord, like this:
There are quite a few different kinds of non-chord tones that you can play around with in your music, but certainly the most common type is the 4-3 suspension I’ve just described. You can add suspensions to almost any progression, but keep in mind that you’ll get most musical satisfaction out of them by allowing the chord to resolve to its basic form first before continuing with the progression.
Also keep in mind that a suspension can make music sound a bit trite or corny if they’re used too often. But in the right balance they can be a way to take a standard progression and add a few nice colours.
Two example that demonstrate sus4 chords, both on the V-chord and the I-chord:
- John Lennon: “Woman” (Intro: Ebsus4 Eb Fm7/Eb Eb ||Verse: Eb Fm Gm Fm |Eb Cm Fm Bbsus4 Bb…)
- Tom Petty: “Free Fallin‘” (Intro: F Fsus F C…)
And you can try sus4 on practically any chord within a standard progression. Here are some to experiment with:
The other tone that’s fun to try is the sus2 (or suss):
C Fsus2 F G C
The Fsus2 chord uses the following notes: F-G-A-C. Like the sus4 chord, it’s typically followed by the pure triad version of the chord before moving on.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter