In the previous article, we looked at one simple way to alter chords by adding sharps and flats. Another common way to create more interesting chords by altering the notes of the basic triad is to form what are called suspended fourth chords.
Traditionally, a suspension is a note that lingers on from a previous chord, creating a temporary dissonance (clash) before resolving to a note in the new chord.
That means you could take this simple progression:
And suspending the note C, which is part of the F chord, so it initially becomes a dissonance in the G chord before resolving by moving to the B below:
If you play this example, you’ll hear the simple suspension–resolution effect that C resolving to B creates.
And because the suspended note in this type of chord is the fourth above the root, this type of triad is called a suspended fourth. This is a nice effect you can use with virtually any chord – though it tends to be most effect with major chords, especially in a cycle of fifths progression, where the suspension(s) tend to add a bit more forward motion.
What’s more, while in traditional classic music suspensions always resolved to the plain triad, today – and especially in popular music – it’s common to leave the suspended note unresolved. (Sucks to be you, J. S. Bach.) That means you often find progressions like this:
This is especially good to know because this kind of progression, with the suspended fourth on the dominant (V) chord, is another effective trick in all kinds of genres of songwriting. Just like we saw with the eleventh chord, suspending the fourth of the dominant chord is a great way to stop a progression sounding too ‘classical’ and keep it sounding fresh and contemporary.
Play these two versions and you’ll see what I mean:
There are other types of suspended chord too – the suspended second is one – and you can also add sevenths and other extensions to suspended chords to create even more complex chords. But if you’re in the mood to mix up your harmonic language with some suspended chords, throwing in a suspended fourth or two into your next song is a great place to start.
Be sure to check back next month for Ed Bell’s next tip: How to Write Interesting Chord Progressions: Half-diminished Seventh Chords.