Sus chords, or suspended chords, are variations to traditional major and minor chords. While the name might seem unfamiliar, you’ve undoubtedly heard them many times and would recognize them immediately in popular songs like “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen and many others. They have multiple uses and really help to add color and movement to chord progressions, particularly around a single chord.
In this lesson we’ll take a look at what suspended chords are, how they’re built, and how they can be used in chord progressions.
What are sus chords?
Suspended chords are when the 3rd of a chord is removed and replaced with either a 2nd or 4th. In the case of a major chord, it will be the major 3rd that’s replaced. For a minor chord, it will be the minor 3rd. Let’s revisit chord building for a moment.
Major chords are built with the root, major 3rd, and perfect 5th.
Minor chords are built with the root, minor 3rd, and perfect 5th.
To build a suspended chord, we remove the 3rd and replace it with either a 2nd or 4th.
If you recall, the 3rd of a chord determines its quality, with major chords have a major 3rd and minor chords having a minor 3rd. With the 3rd removed, sus chords are neither major nor minor. How these chords function largely depends on the chord progression itself. Generally, sus4 chords will resolve down to a major/minor chord while sus2 chords will resolve up to a major/minor chord.
Sus chord notation
When you see suspended chords notated, they use the “sus” abbreviation after the root name of the chord. Sus chords replaced with the second are written as sus2.
Sus chords replaced with the fourth can be written in two ways, using either sus4 or just sus.
- Gsus4 or Gsus
- Csus4 or Csus
- Dsus4 or Dsus
Common sus2 and sus4 chords
Some suspended chords occur in music more frequently than others, particularly those built around the open chord shapes. Open chord shapes in general are easy to use, and the following suspended chords are equally easy to play and allows for simple decoration of the open chords.
Below are diagrams for commonly used sus chords.
Movable sus2 and sus4 chord shapes
From the sus chords in the previous section, the E form and A form chords from the CAGED system lend themselves to movable sus chord shapes that can be played up the neck.
E Form sus chords
The E form chord gives us the following movable sus chord shapes. Note, on the sus2 chord you may have to play the root note on the 6th string with the thumb. If your hands are flexible enough, the middle finger may work as well.
The sus4 can be fingered like a traditional barre chord.
A Form sus chords
From the A form chord we get the following movable sus chord shapes. Both chords in the A form can be played as barre chords.
D Form sus chords
The D form chord gives us the following suspended chords.
Using suspended chords
Suspended chords are pretty flexible in how they can be used. Let’s take a look at a few examples to get an idea.
Creating movement around a single root
One of the more common uses of sus chords is to create movement around a single root note. Take for instance Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
In the intro, you hear a back and forth between the D major chord and Dsus4 chord. If just the D chord was strummed with the same rhythm, it would lose its liveliness.
In Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine”, you see something similar. The opening riff uses both sus2 and sus4 to create movement around the Am chord that leads to the G major chord.
You see this type of use again on the D chord at the end of the opening riff and right before the chorus.
Suspended chords can also be used just as any major/minor chord would be used. Take for instance the following chord progression with an intended use as a chorus: A – B – C#m
We can substitute a Bsus2 chord for the B major chord and get the following: A – Bsus2 – C#m
This progression works just as well, if not better, than the original.
The one caveat to using suspended chords in chord progressions is they can’t always be substituted for any chord in a progression. When you remove the 3rd and replace it with a 2nd or 4th, these notes don’t always fit within the diatonic harmony of a key. For this reason, suspended chords will not work in every instance.
Suspended chords are chords in which the 3rd is replaced with a 2nd (sus2) or 4th (sus4) interval. Without the 3rd, the chords are neither major nor minor. Sus2 chords tend to resolve up to a major/minor chord while the sus4 tends to resolve down to a major/minor chord. Sus chords are versatile and can be a good way to liven up chord progressions, particularly when used to create movement around a single chord.
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