• A Quick & Easy Way To Play Suspended Chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano

    A Quick & Easy Way To Play Suspended Chords

    In this last week’s post, I talked about quartal chords — which are chords built off fourth intervals.

    Examples are: C + F + Bb… or G + C + F

    (The interval between C and F is a fourth; likewise, the interval between F and Bb is a fourth. The same goes for the intervals between “G + C” and “C + F.”)

    But here’s an interesting discovery with quartal chords.

    They are actually inverted suspended chords. Yup, suspended chords!

    (…which brings up another point. Music is filled with scales, chords, patterns, and theories that can be named different things… looked at from different perspectives… transformed to be different, etc.. Wayne Dyer says “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” This is especially true in music.)

    Quartal Chords Are Inverted Suspended Chords

    Remember, to invert something means to rearrange it so a different note is on the bottom. There are many ways to describe inversions but that’s the easiest I’ve found. When you’ve cycled through every inversion of a chord, every note has gotten its turn on the bottom. (There is something I’m dying to say to married couples on the topic of inversions but you figure it out!)

    So what happens when you invert a quartal chord? Let’s take the C+F+Bb quartal.

    Now, let’s rearrange it:

    What do ya know… it’s a suspended 4 chord.

    A Note About Suspended Chords

    Suspended chords (aka – “sus” chords), and specifically sus4 chords (as there is a difference between sus4 and sus2 chords… more on this later), are basically major chords with one modification.

    In a typical major chord, you’re playing the 1, 3, and 5. In C major, that’s C+E+G:

    Suspended chords replace the 3rd degree of the chord (which is E). So again, the target is the 3.

    We’re getting rid of the 3 and putting another note in its place.

    The note we use depends on whether we want a “sus4” or a “sus2” chord.

    Sus4 chords use the 4th degree of the scale in place of the 3rd. So instead of C+E+G, you get C+F+G:

    Regular C major chord:

    C sus4 chord:

    Likewise, sus2 chords use the 2nd degree of the scale in place of the 3rd. So instead of C+E+G, you get C+D+G:

    I love to play sus2 chords in slow, ballad-style songs. You’ll find they sound a lot better than plain major chords.

    And as the name “suspended” implies, when you play these chords, you get a feeling that something should soon resolve… something needs to change. Even the untrained non-musician ear hears this and anticipates something happening soon after. And in the case of the sus4, the “4th” degree is dying to resolve down to the 3… and usually it will.

    Quartal & Suspended Chords

    So by simply inverting our C+F+Bb quartal chord, we got F+Bb+C, which is an Fsus4 chord.

    Regular F major chord:

    F sus4 chord:

    If you keep inverting, you’ll get yet another surprise:

    C + F + Bb becomes F + Bb + C, which becomes Bb + C + F.

    What do ya know… a sus2 chord.

    Regular Bb major chord:

    Bb sus2 chord:

    So basically:

    1) In root position, a quartal chord is… umm… a quartal chord.
    2) After inverting up once, you’ll get a sus4 chord.
    3) After inverting up once again, you’ll get a sus2 chord.

    One caveat: It won’t be the same sus4 and sus2. In other words, a quartal chord on C is not going to be a C sus4 and a C sus2. It’s going to be the sus4 of the second note in the original chord… and the sus2 of the last note in the original chord.

    So if original chord is C quartal:

    Root position gives you: C quartal

    Inverting once gives you: F sus4

    Inverting again gives you: Bb sus 2

    There you have it, a lesson on quartal and suspended chords and how they, as is much of music, are connected.

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 13 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Steve

    Thx again Germaine for another top tip.Quartals and inversions of quartals.During the past 4 years since i began to learn to play the piano you have been and always are.Once again Germaine shows the way with a top tip that cannot be found elswhere on the worldwide internet music theory sites.What a great start to 2011


    2 Steve

    Germaines A real top guy with top tips.


    3 Richard Blocher


    I have forgotten about sus chords, so why not use them. Thank you for you kindness.

    God Bless. Dick B


    4 Bill Honeywell

    Hi. I am really appreciating your recent discussion of quartal and sus chords. I’m only able to play simple, standard hymns. Now, I know most of them are built on 3 chords, i.e., I, IV, and V [sometimes V7]; example: Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated. OK. Now, I also have heard about substitute chords. How would they work in that hymn? Bill


    5 Sharon

    You are incredible. The way you explain things actually make the clouds lift. I am not sure where I am going with the piano but your newsletter is saving me from calling it quits. I have been going to a VERY traditional Japanese teacher and enjoy stepping away from Hanon exercises and Classical pieces. At 53 I am looking to have some fun with music along the way. Thanks for giving so much of yourself. (You have a beautiful family!)


    6 val

    Thank you so much for sharing your gift. It is amazing how you simplify your methods.


    7 love

    oh tanx alot u’ve made me understand someting very important. Tanx 1ce more


    8 val

    This is so great stuff, Thanks so much for sharing.


    9 Guitar SUS chords

    Nice blog..keep updating..this is awsome..thanks..


    10 Jacob

    I really thank you for clarifying the quartal and suspended chords. This was a great help for me. Jacob


    11 Lisa

    Really brilliant Germaine! You are great at simplifying concepts to an understandable level:) However as I’m not used to using quartal chords, can you explain why a B flat would be in a C quartal, when B flat isn’t in the C scale?? (this applies to all chords I presume – ie the 6sharp note is included)
    Thx heaps Lisa


    12 Hosea

    Hi Griggs
    Could u pliz let me know how and when to apply suspended chords when playing apiano


    13 zino

    big thanks


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