The easy guide to music theory: how to use suspensions and suspended chords

When a note belonging to one chord is sustained through the change to the next chord, it’s known as a suspension, and it’s one way that composers and songwriters can add more depth of emotion to their music.

Suspensions get their kicks by lingering tenaciously over chords to which they don’t belong, before shifting down or ‘resolving’ to what the ear perceives as the ‘correct’ note.

They’ve been around since the Baroque and Renaissance periods yet are just as used today. Suspended chords are the chords formed as the result of a suspension, and these chord forms are often used in their own right, especially the sus4 and sus2 chord shapes, which are formed by replacing the third in a triad with either the second or fourth note from the scale.

If it’s a feeling of tension that you’re trying to get across in your music, this can be achieved by leaving the suspension unresolved. This technique is particularly useful for soundtrack composers when trying to convey a feeling of longing or frustration - if an unresolved suspension leaves the listener feeling just a tiny fraction of the emotion being experienced by a character on screen, it will have done its job.

Another side effect brought about by the tension that suspensions provide is a feeling of heightened energy, and it’s this effect that contemporary music tends to draw on most.

Suspensions can also be also useful for lending an uplifting or anthemic feel - great for neo-classical-tinged EDM or euphoric trance.

Check out the video above to see learn you can use suspensions and suspended chords in your music.

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