Practical Music Theory Tips #3 – Weird Chord Suffixes

Ryan Egan —  December 19, 2007 — 21 Comments

One of the most common questions I get when working with musicians who aren’t used to playing chords is “what does that ‘sus’ or number mean after the chord?”  Let’s take a look:

Most of us are used to playing the basic chords that we looked at in the last two days, but what happens when you run up against something like Csus or Cmaj7 or C2?

Those three suffixes (sus, 2, and some type of 7) are probably the most common suffixes you will see in most praise and worship music.  The easiest way to figure out these chords is by looking at the numbers.

If you see the chord C2, think logically.  In the C scale, find out the second note of the scale, which is D, and add it to your C chord. You now have C, D, E, G.  It’s that simple.  In order to make the chord sound more open, however, eliminate the E from the chord, leaving you with C, D, G.  This chord gives a nice, warm sound to the music.

So, if C2 means that you add the second note of the scale to the chord, a chord with a 7 in the suffix must mean what?  You got it!  This does get a little bit tricky as there are several types of 7 chords that can be played.  I will go into much more detail in a future post, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s stay within the key signature and figure out how this works.

When you see Cmaj7 written out, do the same thing as C2.  Count up to the 7th note of the scale (B) and build the chord accordingly.  C-E-G-B.  You now have a maj7 chord.  One caveat to this is that maj7 chords can only be build on the I (one) and IV (four) chords if you are staying within the key signature.

So what about ‘sus?’  There’s no number there! Fortunately, most of the time ‘sus’ is used, it is shorthand for ‘sus4.’  There are exceptions to this, but this is the most common use of ‘sus.’  So, just as before, count up to the fourth note of the scale and add that note.  C-E-F-G.  Here, however, you must eliminate the middle note, E, from the chord.  ‘Sus’ is short for suspended, telling you that a note is suspending and wanting to resolve.  By playing C-F-G, the chord now wants to resolve itself to C-E-G.  Sus4 chords are a great way to add some interest to the end of a phrase.  While staying in the key signature, this chord works with the I (one) and V (five) chords.

Experiment with inversions with these chords as well!  Tomorrow we will look at the relative minor chord, or the VI (six) chord, the fourth most commonly used chord in popular music.

Read Practical Music Theory Tips #4 – Relative Minor Chord

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Ryan Egan

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Ryan is a follower of Christ, husband, father, worship leader, & creative. He is heavily involved in the Association of Free Lutheran Churches and desires to teach others to live a life of worship in everything they do.
  • Robin

    Ryan – Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge… I can’t believe you’re able to make it SO CLEAR with just a blog, but you’re doing it! You’ve filled in lots of “gaps” for me already – looking forward to learning more and using your blog as a great resource in the future!

    :) Robin

  • Robin

    Ryan – Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge… I can’t believe you’re able to make it SO CLEAR with just a blog, but you’re doing it! You’ve filled in lots of “gaps” for me already – looking forward to learning more and using your blog as a great resource in the future!

    :) Robin

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Hey Robin, glad to hear it! I was a little concerned that it would be hard to figure out without seeing the chords, but I’m glad it’s working for you!

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Hey Robin, glad to hear it! I was a little concerned that it would be hard to figure out without seeing the chords, but I’m glad it’s working for you!

  • http://www.guitarboomer.com VintageP

    I have often wondered about ‘sus’. I view learning theory as learning how to fish vs. being given a fish. I still have a difficult time deciphering the notations used in relation to what that notation actually does in terms of the music. I’ve heard the suspend resolve technique millions of times. Now, can actually equate the theory and notation that goes along with it.

  • http://www.guitarboomer.com VintageP

    I have often wondered about ‘sus’. I view learning theory as learning how to fish vs. being given a fish. I still have a difficult time deciphering the notations used in relation to what that notation actually does in terms of the music. I’ve heard the suspend resolve technique millions of times. Now, can actually equate the theory and notation that goes along with it.

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Yeah, you’re totally right about being taught vs. being given. When you’re taught the details everything else becomes second nature.

    I’m glad this helps you with ‘sus.’ Sometimes you might also see ‘sus2′ which means to suspend the second note of the scale. Pretty straight forward!

    Also, make sure and check out musictheory.net, as it has some fantastic trainers on there!

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Yeah, you’re totally right about being taught vs. being given. When you’re taught the details everything else becomes second nature.

    I’m glad this helps you with ‘sus.’ Sometimes you might also see ‘sus2′ which means to suspend the second note of the scale. Pretty straight forward!

    Also, make sure and check out musictheory.net, as it has some fantastic trainers on there!

  • http://www.guitarboomer.com VintageP

    I did a quick look and this will be a great reference! I have it bookmarked, thanks for the tip on musictheory.net.

  • http://www.guitarboomer.com VintageP

    I did a quick look and this will be a great reference! I have it bookmarked, thanks for the tip on musictheory.net.

  • http://charlesrt.typepad.com/ charles Taylor

    hello Ryan you wrote a very good article on chord added notes to basic chords. your’s is one of the frist sites that I have found dong this kind of work so well. I plan visit your site again Keep up the very good work many young musician need the information.

  • http://charlesrt.typepad.com/ charles Taylor

    hello Ryan you wrote a very good article on chord added notes to basic chords. your’s is one of the frist sites that I have found dong this kind of work so well. I plan visit your site again Keep up the very good work many young musician need the information.

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Hey, Charles, thanks for the comment! I’m hoping to do some more of these, so keep on checking. I’m glad it was helpful for you.

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Hey, Charles, thanks for the comment! I’m hoping to do some more of these, so keep on checking. I’m glad it was helpful for you.

  • http://www.learningthepiano.com/ Steven Davies

    It was helpful for me too.
    Your chord piano information will help a lot of people.

  • http://www.learningthepiano.com/ Steven Davies

    It was helpful for me too.
    Your chord piano information will help a lot of people.

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Hi Steven. Thanks as well. I’m glad it was helpful.

  • http://www.iamanoffering.com Ryan

    Hi Steven. Thanks as well. I’m glad it was helpful.

  • Sally

    I cannot BELIEVE how helpful this was to me (amateur musician missionary in Japan, trying to help our tiny little church learn worship music! We can DO these chords now….and they really do sound cool! God bless you!

  • Sally

    I cannot BELIEVE how helpful this was to me (amateur musician missionary in Japan, trying to help our tiny little church learn worship music! We can DO these chords now….and they really do sound cool! God bless you!

  • http://www.resumewritingservice.biz//home/premium-resume-writers/ resume writers

    Great explanation! I learned these ‘sus’ chords but it was kind of unconscious. I played them never understanding why they are played like this