Suspended chords are chords that contain suspensions. Suspensions abound in all forms of chord-based music, from classical music and jazz to rock, pop, folk, R&B, and metal. The suspended chord has ample color and has enlivened the compositions of Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky, as well as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Police, U2, and Rush. In fact, Pete Townshend once commented that the suspensions of the Baroque Era (Purcell, Bach, Handel, et al) inspired many of his chord figures and riffs on the Who’s first album.

In classical music, a suspension is a theoretical expression that is applied to the retention of any note(s) from a preceding chord. The most common suspensions are the suspended 4th and the suspended 2nd (sus4 and sus2, respectively). Since it is not part of the prevailing chord, the suspension is a non-harmonic tone and is considered a dissonance.

The suspension is of two types: prepared and unprepared. This distinction describes the way the suspension is approached and resolved. The prepared suspension begins as a tone of one chord, which is held over into a second chord and then resolved. If the suspension does not appear in the preceding chord, it is unprepared.

This progression contains two prepared suspensions. The suspended chord is expressed as a sus4 or a sus2 chord; it is named by its root and followed by the suspension’s interval. Here the B7sus4 retains the suspended tone, E, from Cmaj7, and Asus2 holds B over from E7. The E resolves to D in Bm7, and the B resolves to A in A5. The first example is based on a 4–3 suspension; the second, a 2–1 suspension.

In contemporary music—rock, pop, jazz, R&B, country—the unprepared suspension, also called suspended chord, is frequently exploited in idiomatic chord progressions. Some of the most common suspended chords are depicted in the following collection. You’ll recognize that many of these voicings are ingredients of your favorite songs, chord-melody patterns, or rhythm figures. Note the brackets, which connect the suspension with its resolution.

This lively rock figure exploits the most typical suspended chord, resolving to its consonant counterpart. Here the riff pattern is a suspended chord to a major chord (Bsus4–B). The figure receives a propulsive sixteenth-note strum rhythm characteristic of the Townshend style.

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Stuff! Good Guitar Players Should Know