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Piano Fact

Week 24: Sus Chords

Question: What is a sus chord? I see sus in many chords but don’t know what it means. I know what augmented and diminished mean but not sustained.

Answer: SUS actually stands for “suspended” not “sustained.” You get it by raising the major third note of a major chord one half step to the fourth. Thus, the chord consists of 1 - 4 - 5 — a Csus chord would be C - F - G. Notice how this yields an unresolved sound. Traditionally, a C sus chord would resolve to a C major. But it doesn’t have to. Unresolved sus chords became common place in jazz of the 60’s (ref Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage) and light, folky rock of the 70’s (Carole King is a great example).

Here’s a tip for voicing a sus chord. Play the root note of the chord in the left hand while you play a major triad based one whole step below the root in the right hand. Thus, for a Csus you would play the C note in the left hand and the B-flat major triad (Bb - D - F) in the right. Most times a sus chord is a substitute for the dominant seventh chord, so the Bb in the right hand fits in perfectly, with the D giving you a ninth and the F being the sus4. When playing the sus4 you generally avoid playing the third (E).

Another way you might see this chord noted is by: Bb/C, which means play the Bb major chord in the right and the C bass note in the left. Bb/C and Csus are essentially the same chord.

For further information on advanced chords see our program Power Chords.

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