Pop Music Theory


Lessons in Order

1-7 (Intro & Pitch) +
8-18 (Major Scale) +
19-29 (Chord Progressions) +
30-34 (Hook Chords) -
32: Suspended-4th Chords
35-41 (Written Notes) +
42-50 (Song Chorus) +

Lessons by Topic

Strategy +
Pitches +
Scales +
Written Notes +
Chords +
32: Suspended-4th Chords
Chord Progressions +
Melody +
Songwriting Steps +
Science +
Games & Tools +
Song Examples: Crazy +
Song Examples: Rolling Stone +

Detailed Contents

Get Future Lessons

Lesson 32: Suspended-4th Chords

This lesson teaches suspended-4th chords, a popular "special effect" chord alteration used in many songs.

Before taking this lesson, you should know:
The suspended 4th is an alteration of a "normal" chord. Its symbol is "sus4" (or sometimes just "sus"), added to the end of a chord symbol. For example:

Csus4 "C sus four"
B♭7sus   "B-flat seven sus"

How to play it: The "sus4" symbol means "play 4 instead of 3". You know from earlier lessons that the notes in a "normal" chord are:
  • root
  • 3rd
  • 5th
  • 7th (for 7th chords)

The notes in a sus4 chord are, instead:
  • root
  • 4th
  • 5th
  • 7th (for 7th chords)

In theory, you can alter any type of chord with a "sus4"; but in real songs, the only two chord types you'll usually see with a "sus4" added are the major triad and the dominant 7th. Here are reference tables for the notes in these chords:

Sus4 Triads
Chord Symbol Root 4th 5th
A♭sus4 A♭D♭E♭
Asus4 ADE
B♭sus4 B♭E♭F
Bsus4 BEF♯
Csus4 CFG
C♯sus4 C♯F♯G♯
D♭sus4 D♭G♭A♭
Dsus4 DGA
E♭sus4 E♭A♭B♭
Esus4 EAB
Fsus4 FB♭C
F♯sus4 F♯BC♯
G♭sus4 G♭C♭D♭
Gsus4 GCD

Dominant-7th Sus4 Chords
Chord Symbol Root 4th 5th 7th
A♭7sus4 A♭D♭E♭G♭
A7sus4 ADEG
B♭7sus4 B♭E♭FA♭
B7sus4 BEF♯A
C7sus4 CFGB♭
C♯7sus4 C♯F♯G♯B
D♭7sus4 D♭G♭A♭C♭
D7sus4 DGAC
E♭7sus4 E♭A♭B♭D♭
E7sus4 EABD
F7sus4 FB♭CE♭
F♯7sus4 F♯BC♯E
G♭7sus4 G♭C♭D♭F♭
G7sus4 GCDF

How Sus4 Chords are Used


You can use a sus4 chord anywhere you like. However, most of the sus4 chords you'll find in popular songs occur in one of these patterns:
  • Suspension and resolution
  • V chord with tonic melody

Suspension and resolution

In this pattern, the sus4 chord is followed by the "normal" version of the same chord. The 4th in the sus4 chord is called the suspension and feels "unresolved"; the 3rd in the following "regular" chord is called the "resolution" and feels "finished". For example:

Csus4C
(F note in Csus4 chord resolves to E note in C chord)

B♭7sus4B♭7
(E♭ note in B♭7sus4 chord resolves to D note in B♭7 chord)

This suspension-resolution pattern was popular in classical music and is still common in modern popular music. It is usually used on the V chord or the I chord.

V chord with tonic melody

In this pattern, the Vsus4 ("five sus-four") chord is used instead of the regular V chord simply because it sounds better with the melody. Let's walk through an example in the key of C:
  1. Say we have a "climax measure" in the song, where we use the V chord (the V chord is commonly used for climax measures).
  2. Our song is in the key of C, so the V chord is the G major triad, whose notes are G, B, and D. So, the melody notes which will sound good with this G chord are the notes G, B, and D.
  3. Now, say the composer wants the melody to strongly emphasize the tonic note (that's the note C here, because our example is in the key of C), by using the note C in the melody, even during the V chord. This is a common effect in pop/rock melodies.
  4. But, the C melody note will clash with the B note in the G chord.
  5. This pattern avoids the clash by using a Gsus4 chord (Vsus4) instead of a regular G major triad. The Gsus4 chord contains a C note instead of a B note, so it sounds good with the C melody note.

Exercises


You can add these activities to your writing exercises (from Lesson 2: Practicing Songwriting):
  • Practice playing the sus4 chords. Use the charts above to find the notes if you like.
  • Practice writing short musical phrases (chords and melody) using the above two patterns: "suspension and resolution" and "V chord with tonic melody". You may already have musical phrases you've written which you can modify to use these patterns.

Next:




Lessons in Order

1-7 (Intro & Pitch) +
8-18 (Major Scale) +
19-29 (Chord Progressions) +
30-34 (Hook Chords) -
32: Suspended-4th Chords
35-41 (Written Notes) +
42-50 (Song Chorus) +

Lessons by Topic

Strategy +
Pitches +
Scales +
Written Notes +
Chords +
32: Suspended-4th Chords
Chord Progressions +
Melody +
Songwriting Steps +
Science +
Games & Tools +
Song Examples: Crazy +
Song Examples: Rolling Stone +

Detailed Contents

Get Future Lessons


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