Sus-Chord Mojo

Skilled rhythm guitarists know how to generate musical tension and release by weaving attention-grabbing suspended chords into their grooves. In this lesson, we’ll begin exploring this “sus” sound and learn how to use it with major triads. We’ll start with some background theory: A major triad comprises the 1, 3, and 5 of its respective major scale. By replacing the 3 with either the 2 or 4 of that major scale, you create a sus2 or sus4 voicing. The suspension yields a lovely dissonance that’s resolved when the 2 or 4 swings back to the 3.

Ex. 1 illustrates the basic sus4 sound with an E-Esus4-E progression. Listen to the tension and release as you move between the 1-3-5 (E-G#-B) and 1-4-5 (E-A-B) constructions.

Play this progression fingerstyle, using the suggested p, i, m (thumb, index, middle) fingering. Then—in the interest of developing well-rounded chops—try attacking the strings using a hybrid picking technique.

In popular music, a sus voicing doesn’t always resolve to its parent major chord. In Ex. 2, for instance, notice how we move directly from Esus4 to Asus4. Using back-to-back sus chords extends the period of harmonic dissonance, making the ultimate Asus4-A resolution (with its 4-3 shift of D to C#) even more dramatic.

Our grand finale is Ex. 3, which features two sets of Gsus4-G grips and a progression that rises and falls along the top three strings against a droning open D. Pete Townshend used these voicings masterfully in his Tommy-era songs.