You know the sound: Pete Townshend’s furious rock strumming on the opening verse of the Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” or the sweet riff Bob Dylan plays at the beginning of “Tangled Up in Blue.” Those are sus4 chords resolving into major chords, and they provide great opportunities to add color to your guitar parts. Many other classic acoustic-based songs, including James Taylor’s “Country Road” and “Fire and Rain,” rely heavily on sus2 and sus4 chords for embellishment.
The nice thing about suspended or sus chords—essential vocabulary in all sorts of music—is that they typically involve just a one-finger change from a familiar chord form. Sus chords follow a simple formula: a basic chord consists of the root, third, and fifth; in a sus chord, you replace the third with either the second (for a sus2) or the fourth (for a sus4).
Check out Example 1, which shows D and A sus chords. In the D major chord, the third is the F# on the high E string; for Dsus2, replace the third with the second (E); and for Dsus4, replace it with the fourth (G). Follow the same pattern for the A chords: in this case, the third is C#, the second is B, and the fourth is D—all played on the second string. Strum through the example slowly, and listen to how the sus chords sound unresolved. When you play a Dsus4, for instance, your ears want it to resolve to D major.
Try these D and A sus chords in a strum pattern in Example 2. Notice that the sus4 and sus2 chords liven up what would otherwise be two measures of D and two measures of A. This is one of the key functions of sus chords: to add movement and variety when the underlying progression is fairly static.
In Example 3, check out sus-chord fingerings for C and F. You’ll see that in the C sus chords, you need to mute some strings. This is to remove all the thirds, so they are true sus chords (a chord that includes the third and also the second or fourth has a slightly different sound than a sus chord and would be called an add chord).
Put the C and F sus chords to work in Example 4. In measures 1 and 3, hammer onto the fourth string, second fret, to go from Csus2 to C; in measure 2, do the same thing on the third string to go from Fsus2 to F. This hammer-on figure is a very common use of the sus2. You’ll notice that this is a slightly different Fsus2 fingering, with a C in the bass on the fifth string and the first string muted. I voiced the chord this way simply because it makes for a smoother and easier change from C.
On a G, you can play sus chords in two ways in open position, voiced on the upper strings or on the lower strings, as shown in Example 5. Both voicings come in handy in different situations. In the first set of G chords, lean the third finger of your fretting hand against the fifth string to mute it. Finally, the last measure of this example shows a lush Esus4 chord, which sounds sweet resolving to an E major.
Now that you’ve got a good library of sus chords, here are a few more examples of how you can use them. Example 6 rocks between G and Gsus4 chords in a pattern similar to the “Tangled Up in Blue” intro. In measures 2 and 4, hammer on to the first fret of the second string with your first finger to change to the Gsus4, then pull off to the open string to go back to G.
The Esus4-to-E groove of Example 7 is reminiscent of “Pinball Wizard,” though in a different key, and sounds particularly good played fast (the Pete Townshend windmill is optional). Finally, Example 8 closes the lesson with James Taylor–style sus-chord embellishments of D and A. Use hammer-ons and pull-offs to get even more in the JT zone.
This lesson is excerpted from Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers’ book Beyond Strumming, available at store.acousticguitar.com.
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