BY KATE KOENIG

Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. In this lesson we’ll be exploring some suspended or sus chord types, which are great for adding interest and color to your playing.

The Work

You should already know that a major triad is comprised of three notes: the root, the third, and the fifth. There are different types of suspended chords, but in this lesson we’ll focus on those involving the fourth. Example 1 gives us a C major triad (C E G), while Example 2 gives the notes of a Csus4 chord (C F G), in which the fourth (F) replaces the C chord’s third (E).


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Example 3a shows how to go from a C triad to a Csus4 using open chords. Notice how much difference in sound that one note makes. To make the same move using barre chords, try Example 3b; watch the video for some alternate fingerings.

You can also make a seventh chord suspended. If you remember, a dominant seventh chord is built from a major triad with the flatted seventh. To make a 7sus4 chord, once again, just swap out the third for the fourth. Example 4 gives us the notes in a C7 chord (C E G Bb), and Example 5 transforms it to C7sus4 (C F G Bb). Try deriving C7sus4 from C using open chords (Example 6a) before moving on to barre chords (Example 6b). 

Next, repeat the same process for G and D triads and seventh chords (Examples 7a–10b). Note that in the G sus chords, the note C (fourth) replaces B (third), and in the D sus chords, G (fourth) replaces F# (third). For the Gsus4 chord, you could also try eliminating the top two notes and barring strings 3–5 at the fifth fret with your third finger. Also, if the D, Dsus4, and D7sus4 barre chords seem familiar, that’s because they’re the same shapes as C, Csus4, and C7sus4, only two frets higher.

The Result

You should now know how to form a handful of sus4 and 7sus4 chords. A great song that makes use of sus chords is “Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers. Next time we’ll go over a different type of suspended chord—sus 2.