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Thread: Are there only sus2 chords?

  1. #1
    Registered User ragasaraswati's Avatar
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    Are there only sus2 chords?

    We know that there are two main types of sus(pended) chords. The sus4 and sus2. However, I was thinking isn't the sus4 chord really a sus2 chord of the fourth note of the sus4. Or we can think of it as a first invertion of the sus2 at the fourth degree.

    We can ask which note of the sus2 chord is the tonic. Clearly it is the note after which the chord is named (da!). But even if this chord does not resolute to a maj or min chord the first note is still the tonic. Like a snake through the cycle of fifths the 'tonal gravity' goes from the second note to the fifth back to the tonic.

    As a side note I could argue that the sus2 chord is even more consonant and stable than a maj or min chord. It has two perfect intervals, P5 and P4, and a dissonance, a tone, that is the softer dissonance of all dissonances. On the other hand a maj or min chord, has one perfect interval, P5, and two imperfect of descending consonance, a M3 and m3.

    Let's go back to why there isn't a sus4 chord, just an inverted sus2. Well there are two ways to play a sus4 chord, as any chord actually, either as a sustained chord or arpeggiated. In the first case the tonic is clearly the fourth note of the chord, even if we lower the suspended fourth note afterwards to get a maj or min chord, saying that the presceding chord was a Csus4 chord, for instance, is not more correct than saying that it was an Fsus2 chord even if the former is more indicative of the intentions of the piece, because clearly for as long as the Csus4 is sounded or arpeggiated F is heard the dominant note, the tonic of the moment.

    In the case one plays a sus4 chord arpeggiated and ending at the 'false' tonic after which it is named, what happens actually is playing a power chord with the fourth note a functional dissonance, that is being immediately resolved to either notes of the power chord. Contrary, a sus 2 chord is in agreement with itself and all three notes share and lead to only one tonic.

    Aside from the usefulness of the sus4 chord in theory, I don't think that it alone exist as an entity more than an inverted major chord is something different than a prime postition major chord.

  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    In jazz, they think the other way. There is only a sus4 chord, not a sus2.
    IMO, this is because they like to retain the 3rd of a chord if at all possible (at least in functional jazz).
    In a chord with an added 2nd, there is no problem including the 3rd too. So it's common to add 9ths to jazz chords, including 3rds and 7ths. (Jazz chords have 3rds and 7ths as standard, and it's quite tricky to persuade a jazz player to leave either of them out...)
    So a jazz player sees little point in a sus2. 9, maj9, m9, add9, sure; but what's the point of sus2?

    OTOH, sus4 is a useful and popular sound in jazz, usually including the 7th, and most popular in modal jazz. Your idea that "there isn't a sus4 chord" would raise a few eyebrows in jazz, even if they understood your reasoning.

    A sus4, too, is a classical dissonance.
    With the 3 notes in isolation it's just as consonant as a sus2, in fact (the same bunch of intervals, depending on voicing). But voiced (identified) as sus4, the 4th is dissonant because the chord tones suggest it as an alternative root.
    Eg, C-F-G. C is the root of the C-G 5th, but F is the root of the C-F 4th (inverted 5th). So if you are clearly implying (by context) that C IS (has to be) the overall root, then F has to lose the struggle, and resolve down to E.

    If OTOH, we consider F as the root (of Fsus2) then - as you say - there is less need for resolution. Esp if you voice it F-C-G, as a stack of 5ths, it's a very strong consonance.
    Even as F-G-C, the G could move either way - up to A or down to F. It's less strong because the move is a whole step either way, while the F-E move in Csus4 is a half-step - a greater "gravitational" pull.

    In short, both sus4 and sus2 chords have their uses (or rather the two views of the same chord do), in different contexts. It makes no sense to reduce the pair to one chord.
    It's really the same as saying Am7 and C6 are two different chords. Does it help to say no, they're the same chord (and the other one "doesn't exist"), just because they share the same notes?

  3. #3
    Registered User ragasaraswati's Avatar
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    JonR, I see your point. I don't want to claim letting go of the sus4 in sake of simpliciy and talking about only sus2 chords. But to introduce this perspective that instead of thinking sus4, we can think sus2 with the fifth on the bass, an inversion.

    Many times the same thing has different names because it has different uses and this is abundant in music theory. A knife is a bread slicer and a flesh slasher. But we can all agree that a knife is a knife.

    I just want to ask if you only wanted one definition and name of these chords that are composed of a tone, P4, P5, who would be a better canditate?

  4. #4
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    I'm kind of lost with the logic behind this one.

    Sus chords are not functional so to me they are just another name for extended voicing's. I rarely even think in terms of 'sus'. For example. One voicing I often find myself using is what you might call a sus2/4 ? It is built R - 7 - 9 - 11. I tend to think of it more in terms of well.. Lets say the root is C. I would find it easier to think Bb/C which has a real pretty sound when resolving up to F. Give or take a note in there you could call it either sus2 or 4. It's just not something I have ever put much thought into.

    *ponders*

  5. #5
    Registered User bluesking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzMick View Post
    I would find it easier to think Bb/C which has a real pretty sound when resolving up to F. Give or take a note in there you could call it either sus2 or 4. It's just not something I have ever put much thought into.
    This is totally the way I look at it. I find slash chord representation of sus chords to be more useful. They contain more information about the desired voicing, which is (as mentioned by the OP) oh-so-crucial to differentiating between sus2 & sus4. The real beauty of these chords is that they are generally used as a way to imply quartal harmony. As far as I can see, whether you class something as triadic or quartal is often down to the exact voicings used.

    Ultimately though, what makes that Bb/C - > F cadence so fantastic is the lack of that cliched voice move from the E -> F which you get from a C -> F. JonR mentioned some stuff about this cadence in a recent post and it is one of my favourites. Very Steely Dan.
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  6. #6
    Registered User SkinnyDevil's Avatar
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    Heady conversation, but the reasoning ignores the entire history of European & American folk music (not to mention others) & modern popular music.

    Long time visitors of iBM know I am no stranger to theoretical dialogs, but the logic behind "there is no such thing as a sus2 (or sus4)" exists within an exceedingly narrow scope (with all due respect to Ted Greene, et al). Late 20th century pop/rock music is filled with the embellishment cliche's of the sus chords (Tom Petty's "Freefallin'", Jethro Tull's "Skating Away", everything played by Pete Townsend on acoustic guitar, James Taylor & all the other soft-rock '70s players, Guns-n-Roses ["Patience" & "Sweet Child", for 2 examples], and many more still).

    That said, I think it's very cool to think along these lines just to see where it leads. In that spirit, another line of thought that could be at least mildly intriguing (or perhaps just mildly amusing) is:

    Why is it our use of sus chords is always replacing the 3 with a perfect 4 (sus4) or a major 2 (sus2)? Why not an augmented 4 or a minor 2?
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  7. #7
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    I like this post.
    I think a sus chord can really only be classified as 4 or 2 if the root is clear, or if the suspention resolves before the root moves. Otherwise it's a 4th stack, one of the most used and ambiguous sounds in music. Zappa just called them "2 chords", Jazzers designate a root for the bassplayer, I think a lot of contemporary composers consider them their own chord type, they have all of the contextual possibilities of a dominant chord, but with no tritone, and almost no dissonance.

    In pop and rock music, the distiction is always made between a sus2 and sus4, as the root is always clear due to the bassplayer. JonR is right, in jazz sus2 basically never happens, at least on a lead sheet. I feel like jazzers just use the word "sus" and it means, 7, 9, 11, 13, any or all, hence the Bb/C. At least.... that is my experience with sus chords.

    I like the observation though that a sus4 is just an inversion of sus2, and yes..... the lower note of the 5th always sounds as the root, which would make the root of any freestanding sus4, the 4, not the root..... in theory.

  8. #8
    IbreatheMusic Author ChrisJ's Avatar
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    When the melody note is a 5th or root (or 9th), a sus2 chord is a nice replacement for a minor chord. Not having a 3rd, the chord has a very ambiguous sound, neither major nor minor really. Mike Stern often does this.

    sus4 and 7sus4 are very different chords and some people argue about this. They say that Jazz musicians say sus4 but are always thinking 7sus4. This is false because a sus4 chord could be a I chord as well as V chord, while a 7sus4 chord could only be a V chord. After all there are songs the end on the one chord like this: I sus4 - I (JB, Cause we've Ended as Lovers) for example).

    A 9sus4 chord, also known as a Bb/C chord (using C as an example), could also be and often is a minor chord. We see this in rock all the time, as in: Cmin7-Bb/C.

    There is technically no such thing as an dominant 11 chord, the chord is really a 9sus4. I suppose there might be people who would suggest that if you included a 3rd in the 9sus4 chord, it should be called an 11 chord. This symbol would confuse me though. I wouldn't really be sure what to play.

    A 13sus4 chord often gets written as a slash chord as well, as in Bbmaj7/C.

  9. #9
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisJ View Post
    sus4 and 7sus4 are very different chords and some people argue about this. They say that Jazz musicians say sus4 but are always thinking 7sus4.
    True.
    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisJ View Post
    This is false because a sus4 chord could be a I chord as well as V chord, while a 7sus4 chord could only be a V chord.
    But jazz rarely uses sus4 chords in a tonic position - unless they are mixolydian modal tonics, in which case they are 7sus4s anyway.
    4ths on a tonic chord are rare because the maj7 - in jazz - is generally considered an important note on a tonic (unless the melody is the root), and the 4th makes an avoid note with the maj7.
    I.e., if you ever hear a P4 over a tonic major chord, it will be a passing note, or maybe even a IV or ii with a tonic pedal.
    That's why jazz musicians (not always but often) use "sus" as short for 7sus4, because a tonic sus4 is so rarely used or needed.
    (Similar reasoning is behind using "dim" to mean a dim7, because a dim triad is so rare. You only get m7b5s or dim7s in jazz. Also with "11" to stand for 9sus4, as you mention. True 11s - including the 3rd - are not used in practice, so "11" can be used to stand for 9sus4.)

  10. #10
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    But not for me (Gershwin)

    Ebmaj7 Cm7 Fm7 Bb7b9
    Ebmaj7 / Cm7 /
    F9 / Bb7sus Bb7b9
    Eb9 / Bbm7 Eb7sus4 (-3) >> I just noticed this little '-3' next to the Eb for the first time. No idea what that is supposed to mean. *scratches head*

    Anyway. I was posting this to validate one of the points being made. I actually cant say I have ever seen a simple sus voicing that wasn't playing a role for a V7. Typically they only pop up when there is a sustained 4th in the melody. 9ths just get written as V9.

    *wanders away*

  11. #11
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzMick View Post
    But not for me (Gershwin)

    Ebmaj7 Cm7 Fm7 Bb7b9
    Ebmaj7 / Cm7 /
    F9 / Bb7sus Bb7b9
    Eb9 / Bbm7 Eb7sus4 (-3) >> I just noticed this little '-3' next to the Eb for the first time. No idea what that is supposed to mean. *scratches head*
    It indicates the resolution from the 4 down to the 3 (during the Eb7 chord).

    In case of any confusion... As I think you're pointing out, this is not of course a tonic sus4, because the Eb has become a secondary dominant (leading to Ab).

  12. #12
    Ok, there isn't actually such a thing as a "sus2" chord, because thats actually a retardation not a suspension

    I don't see any context where you would see a "sus2" chord as being exactly the same as a "sus4" but, to me, both resolve to the third (or at least, they want to).

    When the chords are used for colour (say, in a jazz context) it makes more sense to see them in terms of 9ths (because they don't resolve to a third). Which is, I think, what everyones been talking about and I've sent it through a process of "dumbening"...

    I dont agree that the tonic is just the note after which the chord is named, it's more the note that makes most sense in context (key, etc,.).
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  13. #13
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChainsawGuitar View Post
    I don't see any context where you would see a "sus2" chord as being exactly the same as a "sus4" but, to me, both resolve to the third (or at least, they want to).
    I think the idea is that they're inversions of each other.
    C-D-G (in whatever order) = Csus2 or Gsus4, depending on voicing or context.
    In Gsus4, the C would resolve to B.
    In Csus2, the D would resolve to either C or E (or maybe Eb I guess).
    And I suppose you could also see it as a partial D7sus4, in which case the G would resolve to F#. (A jazz player might well see it that way first!)
    Quote Originally Posted by ChainsawGuitar View Post
    When the chords are used for colour (say, in a jazz context) it makes more sense to see them in terms of 9ths (because they don't resolve to a third).
    Right. In rock at least, a sus2 is normally pretty much interchangeable with an add9.
    Of course, sus4s are often used in a way which doesn't require resolution either, esp in jazz.
    Quote Originally Posted by ChainsawGuitar View Post
    I dont agree that the tonic is just the note after which the chord is named, it's more the note that makes most sense in context (key, etc,.).
    Exactly - good call.
    "Tonic" = tonal centre of key
    "Root" = tonal centre of chord

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    I think the idea is that they're inversions of each other.
    I get the idea, I just don't see how its functional in a practical sense. You can argue that a "sus4" resolves upwards to a 5th- but then you are left with a powerchord, right? Same if a "sus2" resolves downwards- because these chords don't have thirds. Is resolving to a powerchord really a satisfying resolution? I dont think so (I bet now someone will mention medievel music...).

    Overall the chords are just a collection of notes that we have actually named for their harmonic qualities, not their content. The way we name a chord is more about where it sits within a song, rather than what notes it contains- hence alot of times notes can be implied rather than played.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    Right. In rock at least, a sus2 is normally pretty much interchangeable with an add9.
    Of course, sus4s are often used in a way which doesn't require resolution either, esp in jazz.
    Heh, I probably tend to see it that way because I'm actually more of a rock player than a Jazz player. I just had to add something to the thread that wasn't totally Jazz-based.

    Although, does it really make sense to call it a "sus4" if there is no resolution? Surely then it's more like an "add11(no 3rd)" ...practically...but If I saw "add11(no 3rd)" I would be a bit confused which would suck in a sight-reading context. (sorry, kinda thinking out loud ).
    [/QUOTE]

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    Exactly - good call.
    "Tonic" = tonal centre of key
    "Root" = tonal centre of chord
    Hehe, just had to point it out- there is a massive difference between "root" and "tonic"- and they should never be confused! One tells you what chord you're playing, the other tells you what key you're in (of course, they can be the same note -obviously!- but they are two separate things in theory).
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  15. #15
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    There are sus2 and sus4 chords and whatever else the composer's and theorists decided to call them in old music, if they are called a sus4 and resolve like a sus4 according the definition of a sus4, then they are a sus4. Maybe in name only like you said, but they are what they are.

    In your own music however, you can make up whatever new theories you like That is part of the fun to me.

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