Playing suspended, or sus, chords on the guitar is an easy, yet interesting, and effective way to spice up your riffs and chord progressions. In this article, I will teach you all about suspended chords, and how you can make the most out of them by providing you the theory behind them as well as give you tablature so you can learn their shapes.
Table of Contents
What Are Suspended Chords?
Before we begin, I should mention that a basic knowledge of scales, chords, and intervals is recommended before continuing; however, if you want to simply learn the shapes, and be able to play sus2 and sus4 chords, feel free to skip ahead to that part of the article.
This section is primarily aimed at the theory behind suspended chords and how you can make them based on notes, not necessarily the shapes.
Suspended chords are a three-note chord used in countless forms of music. The components used to make them involve these intervals:
- Major 2nd or Perfect 4th
- Perfect 5th
Playing the major 2nd instead of the perfect 4th, you will create a sus2 chord, whereas if you choose the 4th, you will have a sus4 one.
If you are familiar with how most chords are made, you may have noticed that the major or minor third is missing here.
This is something that it shares in common with power chords, which only consist of a root and perfect 5th.
They are also almost as easy as power chords to play, and they have somewhat similar shapes that you can apply all over the fretboard.
The reason why they are called suspended chords is that the notes that make them generally sound like they are unresolved, therefore, creating suspension. Because of this, Sus chords inherently have a sense of tension, or longing or loneliness.
Therefore, one of the most common uses for them is to use them as a transitional chord and give a progression some resolution.
For example, if you use an E minor chord (E, G, B) then use a Csus2 (C, D, G), you can seamlessly move to a G major chord (G, B, D) because the note that is creating the suspended chord (D), exists in the next one.
That is just one way to use them, and in the next section, you will see some examples of how they are built, so that all of this starts to make more sense.
Suspended Chord Examples
Now that you know what’s needed to make suspended chords, we are going to try to make an A sus2 chord as our first example. We’ll be in the key of C, so we can focus on the natural notes (no sharps or flats), and it will be easier to visualize and follow along.
In the key of C, we have the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.
To make Asus2, we know that our root note will be A, so that will be our starting point.
The major 2nd interval from A is the B note.
Last but not least, the perfect 5th interval from A is an E note.
Excellent! We’ve just created our first suspended chord – the Asus2, which consists of the notes A, B, and E. They don’t necessarily need to be in that order, and in the tab, we’ll have the B at the top because it’s one of the easier ones to play on the guitar.
Let’s try to build a sus4 chord now, in the same key of C. We’ll make an Esus4 next.
Starting with the root note E, we’ll find the perfect 4th this time, which is A.
From here, we can find the perfect 5th interval, which like the major 2nd, is easy to find because it is also only one scale degree away, except its from the 4th this time. Nonetheless, that note is B.
E, A, and B combine together to make the Esus4 chord!
Wait a second – aren’t these the same exact notes as the previous Asus2 chord?
All suspended 2nd and suspended 4th chords can be inverted. If you bring the 5th down from a sus2 chord and make that the root, you now have a sus4 chord, even though they have the same notes. You can do the opposite with a sus4 chord and put the root at the top, and it’ll go back to a sus2.
Interestingly enough If you bring the major 2nd note from a sus2 to the root, you’ll get a 7sus4 chord. For example, if we work with the same notes as before and swap it around to make B, A, E, you’ll get a B7sus4.
The only time it doesn’t change names is if you put the major 2nd or perfect 4th note at the top of the chord.
Pretty cool, right? Keep in mind, as mentioned before, the order of these notes aren’t extremely important in the grand scheme of things, so if it seems confusing right now, don’t worry too much about them.
Unlike triads and power chords, the inversions of sus chords will have different names, but will still ultimately consist of the same notes just like any other chord and their inversions. They just sound different because of the voicings.
With that said, let’s practice a couple more that aren’t inversions of each other.
Next, we’ll make a Fsus2 chord.
Find the root F first, your major 2nd will be G, and your perfect 5th is the C.
There you have it! F, G, and C make the Fsus2 chord.
Let’s do another suspended 4th chord now – the Dsus4.
The root is D, your perfect 4th is G, and the perfect 5th is A.
You’ve now just created a Dsus4 chord with the notes D, G, and A.
Now that you have a few examples under your belt and know how suspended chords are built, you can start playing around and making different ones based on the keys that you are playing in.
Knowing this information about how to construct sus chords will be very useful, but it can be super practical to know some of the shapes, and in the next section, I’ll share some of the best ones with you.
Simple Suspended Chord Shapes
Like scale shapes, knowing chord shapes that you can move around the fretboard can be quite handy, and it’s no exception with suspended chords.
Right off the bat, I want to point out that sus2 chord shapes are some of the easiest ones to work with, and they might even become some of your favorites. Let’s take a look at the first kind, which are some basic 4-note ones that have the octave note in there.
However, there is a condensed 3-note one that is also super convenient to use, which has only the root, major 2nd, and the 5th, but they feel very nice to play. The only drawback is that they’re only practical on the lower 3 strings (doing it on the higher ones might require too much of a stretch, and at that point, it might be more comfortable to use the first ones that I showed you.)
Suspended 4th chords are a bit more involved than the sus2 ones, but nonetheless, there are patterns that you can use that are pretty easy to play. For these first ones, the only trick to it is that you will have to barre most of the frets with your ring finger.
Like the sus2 shapes, there is also a shortened 3-note version. They’re not as intuitive, but they still feel pretty good to play and aren’t hard to work into your riffs that may combine other types of chords.
All in all, these are all the most straightforward suspended chord shapes I’ve ever come across, but if you’d like to have some of the other, more challenging ones, this poster on Amazon has additional shapes and alternate voicings for all chords, not just suspended ones.
I wasn’t able to come across a single chart that only has sus chords, but this one will definitely do the trick, and it has a bunch of other useful information on it about other chords and scales that you can study, including some of the more advanced ones that you might want to know about in the future.
With that said, and now that you are equipped with some basic shapes for suspended chords, in the next section, I will discuss how you can use them on the guitar to enhance your playing.
How To Use Suspended Chords
Earlier on in this article, I mentioned that suspended chords are often used as a way to create well … suspense!
What creates that tension is the space between the root and the major 2nd used in sus2 chords as well as the perfect fourth and fifth intervals used in sus4 chords.
These chords are just longing to be resolved, and this is why they amazing for transitioning to other chords if you want to use something different than a standard triad chord.
At their core, suspended chords have a lot of utility and are great substitutes for triads. Much like power chords, they are missing the third, which is the “quality” note that makes a chord major or minor, so they can be used in a myriad of situations.
All triad chords can technically be replaced by a suspended chord if you wanted to, but you have to be mindful of the notes in the key.
You can use sus2 chords a lot of the time, but there will be situations where it just won’t work because the necessary major 2nd interval is not there. For example, if you are in the key of C, Esus2 won’t sound right with everything else because there is a minor 2nd interval on the third scale degree, which is E. If you were to use a major 2nd, which is F-sharp, you would be out of key. Try it out:
On the other hand, you could use Esus4 or Asus2 instead because the notes E, A, and B are in key. It should sound more pleasant because not only is it in key but the A note that you get in an Esus4 carries over into the F chord as well, making it a perfect transition.
Suspended 4th chords are more commonly used because almost all notes will have a perfect 4th to go along with it, just like how most will have a fifth, which is why power chords are so versatile. Typically, you won’t have trouble finding one that will be in key.
Unfortunately, sus4 chords are the slightly harder ones out of the two to play but don’t worry though, you can always try to use the inversion trick and use the sus2 shapes instead but have the same notes. Remember, all sus2 and sus4 chords can be inverted with each other.
At the same time, a sus2 will work in a ton of scenarios because most notes in a key will have a major 2nd.
The only time where you will struggle to use either one of these is at the 7th scale degree of a major scale (or the 2nd degree of a minor scale) because there is a diminished fifth rather than a perfect 5th. Unless you are okay with a note being out of key, the diminished triad will most likely be optimal in this spot, and it also has a lot of tension that needs to be resolved.
Suspended chords are also excellent substitutes for power chords as well, and can add a lot of flavor to a bland riff that mainly uses power chords. It can be as simple as just moving or adding your pinky finger into the equation.
Try playing this simple riff back to back:
Swapping out a couple of the power chords from the first measure in favor of some suspended chords just made the riff sound that much different!
Don’t get me wrong, I love using power chords, but if you’re stuck or you think your riffs are just too plain or uninteresting, doing this little trick can breathe new life into your playing by adding some color to it.
Lastly, sus chords sound great on their own too, and there are countless scenarios where they aren’t technically being used for their traditional function of creating suspense and transitioning to another chord.
Suspended chords sound amazing, and one of my favorite ways to use these chords is to arpeggiate them.
Give these A sus2 arpeggios a try:
Many of them sound so open and mysterious like the Asus2, while others are soothing and vibrant like this C sus4:
Although the shapes and fingering can be kind of awkward, you can use suspended arpeggios for your lead guitar playing as well. Using them for sweep picking can make solos sound much more creative and interesting than using the standard major and minor triad sweep patterns.
You don’t have to play it fast; take your time with it, but here’s a D sus2 sweep arpeggio I made to show you what I mean:
These sound a lot more unique to me than the typical stuff out there. Just one note can make a significant difference!
Even if you don’t plan on being a sweep picking shredder, though, there’s a lot you can do with suspended chords, and you can start applying a lot of them right away with these tips.
Suspended chords, overall, are quite simple but can offer a lot, and hopefully, by reading this article, you’ve learned something new that you can get great use from.
Even if you knew a little bit about sus chords before, perhaps there were some new applications for them that you didn’t know about.
Either way, regardless of your experience with them, any new knowledge will help open doors for you. Who knows, maybe suspended chords will be a staple in how you approach riffs from now on. I know they were for me the moment I learned about them!
Take care, and I hope to see you in the next lesson!