Sus2 Colors

We began exploring suspended harmony with the sus4 chord (“Sus-Chord Mojo,” Oct. ’06). This time, we’ll get to know the sus2 chord and its unique sound. First, let’s recap the essential sus-chord 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.
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Possessing a more haunting sound than sus4 harmony, sus2 chords don’t beg for resolution with the same intensity as their edgy siblings. In fact, as you’ll hear in Ex. 1, an unresolved sus2 chord is quite pleasing. Here, we shift from rather boring A and D major chords to more mysterious Asus2 and Dsus2 voicings. In each case, we simply remove the major triad’s 3 to reveal the 2 a whole-step below. To hear the full effect of these sus2 chords, be sure to let the first three notes in each arpeggio sustain freely.

Major-to-sus2 changes are easiest to handle when the chord’s 2 is an open string, as in the progression you just played. But the sus2 sound is so cool, it’s worth learning how to get this color with moveable forms, i.e., those that contain no open strings. Ex. 2 offers a pair of major-to-sus2 changes you can move along the fretboard. In fact, once you master the Esus2-E-Esus2 and Csus2-C-Csus2 shifts and can cleanly play several repeats, move the voicings to higher positions. These grips can tax your hand muscles, so if you feel a cramp or pain, stop and rest your fingers.

The four-bar phrase in Ex. 3 incorporates the sus2 fingerings we’ve learned so far. The low-E pedal tone adds another bit of harmonic grooviness by creating tension against the D and C harmonies. Falling on the and of beats two or four, this pedal tone also kicks the rhythm forward. The ringing sixth string plays an import role in this passage, so be sure to let it sustain as you move from position to position.

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