suspended fourth ( sus 4 ) chords
The suspended 4th or "sus 4" chords are an integral color for all of the musical styles we love. From folk songs to the weirdest of the atonal jazz polytonal beboppers and the Eurocats, we can hear this essential color working it's magic. Cool with the numbers / theory dynamic?
From a theory perspective, the "sus 4" chord is as it's name implies, that we are suspending the 4th degree of the scale within either the major or minor triad, the principle harmony structure of western music. Thus, we "sus" the 3rd into the 4th within the triad. Example 1.
|C maj triad||C sus 4||C maj triad||C sus 4|
Cool sound eh? It's very important to so many players. Same approach with the minor triad? Yep Example 2.
|C minor||C sus 4||C min triad||C sus 4|
Sound epic ...? The rockers love this sort of motion. Can we flip the chords the other way, resolving the 4th to the 3rd? Absolutely ... we do all the theory here. Example 3.
|C sus 4||C major||C sus 4||C maj triad|
Do any of these chord sounds / motions remind you of any songs you love? Not surprising at all eh? So ... minor color also? Example 4.
|C sus 4||C minor||C sus 4||C min triad|
Getting kind of dark huh? Tis is indeed ... these are very powerful colors for the musical artist. In traditional European theory, the 3rd of the triad, either major or minor, is said to be more "consonant" sounding to our ears. Thus we think of suspending the 3rd up to the 4th. Often termed a "4 / 3" suspension, the "sus 4" is slang and the way the chord is often notated in sheet music, especially in the lead sheet format popular with Jazz musicians and in real books.
So ... can we "sus 4" any chord? Pretty much yes. Especially the three principle chord types that are most common in the American sounds. Dig the sus 4 in the following cadential motion of dominant to tonic in the major tonality. Example 5.
|G 7 sus 4||G 7||C triad||F major|
Sound pretty common? It should, 95% of the suspended chords we hear in the American sounds move this way. Sus 4 to V 7 to One. So common but yet so cool eh? oh, are ya cool with the numbers yet? Ok with the softened chordal colors by adding in a few color tones?
So any way to "sus out" a Two chord? Of course, but the sound is often labeled a wee bit differently. Thinking Two / Five / One in C major, hear is the "Two sus 4" chord in action. Example 6.
|D min 11||G 7||C 6||F major 7|
That there is a 7th and 9th underneath the "sus 4" pitch bumps the numerical value up an octave, from 4 to 11. Here is the arpeggio and numbers. Example 6a.
So the scale in thirds becomes an arpeggio from which we build our chords? Scale / arpeggio / chord. Yep. Do the numbers ever go past 15? Not too often no ... but they can.
Other common harmonic motions with the "sus 4" sounds? Tons. Here are a few. Rockers love the epic sus 4 feel by simply doing the same thing over and over. Here the pairings move down by whole step then half step. Example 7.
|E sus 4 E maj||D sus4 Dmaj||C sus4 Cmaj||B sus 4 B maj|
The world changed a wee bit back in the late 60's when The Who used this motion for the lead tune in the rock opera "Tommy." Ya hip ...?
Here we change directions and ascend the sus 4 color by minor third. Example 8.
|G sus 4||G sus 4||Bb sus 4||Bb sus 4|
So simply moving the "sus 4" color around in different parallel ways often creates some exciting possibilities. Explore and experiment? Yep. So ... where to next?
|Where to next?|
The greatest discovery of my generation is that you can change your circumstances by changing your attitudes of mind. William James