Suspended chords on piano can be confusing for one main reason.
Unlike nearly every other chord, this one has 3 names.
Here we'll go through:
You can also download a my chord chart pdf which includes all suspended chords by clicking on the picture below.
A suspended chord is a unique chord for it's sound. It sounds suspended and like it needs to resolve.
It can be written 3 main ways:
For example: Bbsus.
For example: Bb4
For example: Bbsus4
You may also hear this called a suspended 4th chord.
A suspended chord is made from the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of a major scale.
If you look at the C major scale below, you can count out the notes.
The first note is C, the 4th note is F and the 5th note is G.
The Csus / C4 / Csus4 chord is made up on the notes C F G.
You can make a suspended chord out of any scale you know.
For example, if you know the G major scale and need to know what the Gsus chord is, you can work out which notes fall on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the scale.
It would be G C D.
(Be sure to keep key signatures in mind when figuring out these chords.)
(More chord formulas and explanations on the chord theory page.)
Suspended chords are great for a number of things.
One of the main things suspended chords do is build tension. Because they sound and feel suspended or unresolved, the tension is built and generally resolved by going back to the major chord. For example, Csus builds the tension and resolves by going back to C.
In the same way, suspended chords can be used to create or build interest. It adds something more. You can try substituting a major chord with a suspended chord to add some variation or flavour to what you're playing.
Suspended chords can be used in place of a major chord but not so much in place of a minor chord. With a minor chord, the important note is really the lowered 3rd. You'll miss out on the with a suspended chord.
You also don't end a song with a suspended chord. It will leave you feeling uncomfortable, unresolved and like things have left hanging. It's a bit like cutting things off in the middle of a conversation.
Suspended chords can often be part of a larger type of chord. Like a 7th or even a 9th chord.
A suspended 7th chord, for example Csus7 or Bbsus7, uses the formula of the suspended chord and adds the lowered 7th on top.
For example, let's look at Csus7. Start by playing the suspended chord - the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the scale. C F G. Then we add the lowered (go down a semi-tone) 7th on top - Bb.
The notes for this chord - Csus7 - would be C F G Bb.
Let's compare it to just the C7 chord. This one is C E G Bb. E, the 3rd note of the scale is not played but replaced with F - the 4th note of the scale.
Formula: 1st, 4th, 5th, b7th notes of a major scale.
A suspended major 7th is similar to the suspended 7th chord.
An example of this chord would be CsusM7 or BbsusM7. (That's a long chord name!).
These don't show up all that often. To play this one you play the suspended chord and add the 7th note of the scale to it.
For example (and you can look at the C major scale picture above for this as well), CsusM7 would be C F G (the suspended chord) plus the 7th note which is B. C F G B.
Formula: 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th notes of the major scale.
You may also see a suspended 9th or suspended add9 chord. I'm going to explain the suspended add9 chord which you may find written as just the 9 - without the "add". (They are different but if you're just beginning / intermediate, you'll be fine to use the add9.)
This chord would written as C4add9 or Bb4add9. You may also see it written (technically incorrectly for the chord I'm explaining) as Csus9 or Bbsus9.
For the add 9, play the suspended chord and add the ninth (AKA the second - but technically the 9th) note of the scale.
For example, C4add9 would be C F G and add in D. C F G D.
This suspended chords chart can also be (affectionately) known as a cheat sheet. Here are all the suspended chords in one convenient picture.
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