Suspended chord


Audio: suspended chord (0:10)

Suspended chord
Figure: suspended chord

suspended chord is a brass quartet playing a harmony containing suspended chords in the key of A minor. The suspended chord figure shows the score:

  • A trumpet plays the soprano part.
  • A mellophone, a relative of the French horn, plays the alto part.
  • A trombone plays the tenor part.
  • A bass trombone plays the bass part.

A suspended chord or sustained or sus chord is a three note chord. It is a triad in which the interval of a third is replaced by either an interval of a second to form a sus2 chord, or an interval of a fourth to form a sus4 chord.

The sus chord gets its unusual name from the use of a suspension in fourth species counterpoint. A suspension is a dissonant interval. The intervals of second and fourth are both dissonant intervals.

When a suspension occurs in functional harmony, the chord is treated as dissonant. The sus2 and sus4 chords are always treated as dissonant chords and must resolve to a consonant chord. There are three steps for resolving a suspended chord:

  1. Preparation: A consonant chord containing one or more notes to be suspended.
  2. Suspension: the suspended chord which contains the suspension. This chord occurs on an accented beat. The suspended note is generally not doubled.
  3. Resolution: the chord which resolves the suspension. This occurs on an unaccented beat. The suspended note resolves to the note that it displaced in the triad or dominant seventh.

In a sus2 chord the interval of a second resolves to a third or to the tonic. In a sus4 chord the interval of a fourth resolves to a third.

Some writers of functional harmony only allow a suspended chord if it contains a perfect fourth and a major second or one of their inversions. By this definition, there is no Bsus4 chord, BEF, because it contains an augmented fourth, BF, and a minor second, EF.

It does not really matter how or whether a sus chord is resolved when writing pop harmony. It can be resolved in the same manner as in functional harmony, or it can be left unresolved as a standalone nonfunctional chord. A further interesting factor is that a sus chord can also be treated as an inverted quartal chord. This aspect is covered in more detail in the section on quartal harmony.

The sus chord has a lovely sound. An oenophile might describe it as distinctly open, with an airy bouquet, ambiguous tonality and a hint of dissonance.