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Suspended 2nd and 4th Chords on Piano

suspended chordsMajor scales, arpeggios, and triads dominate the beginning pianist’s ears with pleasant, smooth sounding tones. Since pianists’ fingers and ears gain familiarity with these easy-to-learn structures, it can be difficult to comfortably begin playing suspended 2nd and 4th chords on piano.

These chords, while not difficult to play, require players to make an adjustment in what they expect a chord to sound like.

But once that adjustment is made, then even more startling, beautiful, and organic chord sounds can be produced.

By definition, a suspended 2nd or 4th chord on piano means that instead of playing the 3rd in a triad, it is replaced with either the 2nd or 4th note. For example, if playing a suspended 2nd in a C chord (C2 or Csus2), the pianist would play C, D, and G. Likewise, if playing a suspended 4th in a C chord (Csus4), the pianist would play C, F, and G. In both chords the 1st (C) and the 5th (G) are played – it’s the notes in between that differ.

The reason why beginning pianists may slightly cringe when playing these chords is because of the dissonance created when combining the 2nd or the 4th with the 1st and 5th, respectively. When accustomed to the beautiful simplicity of a normal triad, the clash of these juxtaposed notes creates an unexpected tone.

Also, one of the primary effects of such suspended chords is of ambiguity – normally, the 3rd in a chord determines if a chord is major or minor. When the 3rd is taken out, the chord sounds neither major nor minor.

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teaching someone elseTraditionally, suspended chords are used in one of two situations. First, if a previously played note or notes are held and then the surrounding notes are replaced with a new chord, a suspended chord is created. This occurs, for example, if the player holds D and G from a G chord, and then a C is played – this would create a C2 chord.

Second, these chords are played as a sort of “lead in” to a more resolved sounding chord. For example, the 4th in a Csus chord would resolve to the 3rd – in this case, the 4th adds a moment of suspense (hence, the term “suspended”) before finally giving the listener the more soothing, resolved triad. Usually suspended 4th chords are used for this effect; however, neither of these conditions for suspended 2nd and 4th chords is required.

Many forms of music, such as folk or rock, simply use suspended chords whenever the artists feel they are necessary. Just listen to Cold Play’s The Scientist, and you’ll hear that every fourth chord that’s played during the verses is a suspended chord.

Fortunately, adjusting your ear to these chords is harder than adjusting your fingers. Playing these chords can be relatively simple. Just like the chord structure only requires replacing the 3rd with the 2nd or 4th, the same is true with fingers.

All that’s needed is playing the pointer or ring finger in the chord instead of the middle finger. Once you successfully acclimate your ears and fingers to these chords, you’ll be adding layers of depth and meaning to your music that ordinary triads and chord structures could never approach..

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