• 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!

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