Sus and add chords

This lesson will deal with the practical matters at hand, and not consider historical considerations. We shall look at these chords as in use in popular music, and what follows are "working definitions."

Recall, we define a chord as a collection of notes (and their octaves) within a given octave to be played at the same time (though that need not be the case).

Recall, a triad is a three note chord.

Recall, the major chord is the triad built of the notes (tones, intervals, etc.) 1,3,5. (that is root note[tonic], major 3rd, perfect 5th)

Recall, the minor chord is the triad built of the notes (tones, intervals, etc.) 1,b3,5. (that is root note[tonic], minor 3rd, perfect 5th)

Let's start with a distinction between sus and add chords.

Sus chords are chords that have a note that has been moved to another location (it has been suspended from its normal position).

An add chord is a chord with another note added to it.

So consider the following chords:
major = 1,3,5
sus4 = 1,4,5
add4 = 1,3,4,5

Here the "normal" chord is the major chord. And the suspended chord (sus4) has had the 3rd suspended to the 4th (a half-step away). The added chord has a 4th added to the major chord.

Let's consider first suspended chords...

Having already seen the connection between the major triad and the sus4 chord, let's look at some examples.

Take an open D chord (D=XX0232) and play with switching between it and Dsus4 (Dsus4=XX0233).

Of course it is not necessary to have suspended from a major third, it could have been suspended from a minor third. (Dm=XX0231)(Dsus4=XX0233)

And sus4 is not the only type of suspended chord. Some others include:
sus2 = 1,2,5
sus#4 = 1,#4,5
susb2 = 1,b2,5

Looking at D as a position for a series of chords:

0   1   2   3   4


Looking at C as a position for a series of chords:

0   1   2   3   4


Looking at A as a position for a series of chords:

0   1   2   3   4


Looking at G as a position for a series of chords:

0   1   2   3   4


Looking at E as a position for a series of chords:

0   1   2   3   4


Sometimes you see the term sus used (Ex. Dsus) unless you can somehow cooberate that the chord is something else, it is best to assume the author meant sus4 (Dsus4).

Sometimes other notes than the 3rd are suspended, you can represent the suspension of the 5th by placing the interval it is suspended to in parenthesis after the chord.
Ex. (4) = 1,3,4
D(4) = X5577X
Bb(4) = X10XX1

Diatonic sus chords

For the player already familiar with the idea of progressions, we can begin the vague questions of how, where, when to use sus chords.

Let's start by saying the best way to know how to pick sus or add chords, and where and when to put them is to trust your ears. Does it sound good, if so - use it, if not - don't.

Having given that advice, we'll now look at inferior methods (keys, tonal centers, etc.) for those who don't trust their ears, are tone deaf, or just want to understand some of the cultural contexts that they find themselves in.

Consider the major scale (=1,2,3,4,5,6,7) we can see that we can build a major chord off the root note (major=1,3,5), we can also build off the root note sus2 (sus2=1,2,5), add2 (add2=1,2,3,5), add9 (add9=1,3,5,9), sus4 (sus4=1,4,5), add4 (add4=1,3,4,5), add11 (add11=1,3,5,11), as well as others: 6/9, maj7/11, 6/maj7, maj7sus2, maj7sus4, etc.

So within the major scale/major key context we could build the following (and more) chords. ( I will list the sus chords and you could also build the corresponding add chords): Isus2, Isus4, iisus2, iisus4, iiisusb2, iiisus4, IVsus2, IVsus#4, Vsus2, Vsus4, visus2, visus4, viiosusb2, viiosus4.

As an exercise try taking a known progressive and replacing one or more (maybe all) the chords with corresponding sus or add chords.

Here's another exercise:
Add a sus chord same root as the resolving chord for every chord in a progression:


Add chords are chords with an added note so we can consider the following definitions:
major = 1,3,5
minor = 1,b3,5
add4 = 1,3,4,5
madd4 = 1,b3,4,5
add2 = 1,2,3,5
madd2 = 1,2,b3,5
add9 = 1,3,5,9
madd9 = 1,b3,5,9
add11 = 1,3,5,11
madd11 = 1,b3,5,11
add#4 = 1,3,#4,5
addb2 = 1,b2,b3,5

So you can compare these against the above chord series diagrams to create your own chord voicings (note 11=4 one octave up, 9=2, etc.)

Here are some common add chords with possible voicings:

Cadd2=X30010; Cadd9=X32030; Cmadd9=X3103X; Cadd4=X33010; Cadd11=X32011; Cmadd11=X31011

Aadd9=X02420; Amadd9=X02410; Aadd4=X00220; Amadd4=X00210

Gadd2=300003; Gadd9=320203; Gadd4=330003; Gadd11=320013; Gmadd4=330333; Gmadd11=330313; Gmadd2=300333; Gmadd9=310233

Eadd4=002100; Eadd11=022204; Eadd9=024100; Eadd9=022102; Emadd4=002000; Emadd4=022203; Emadd9=024000; Emadd9=022002

Dadd9=XX0252; Dmadd9=XX0231; Dadd4=X00032; Dmadd4=X00031

Occassionaly, you might see notes added by letter names such as CaddF, which would be a C major chord with an F note added (CaddF=X33010; CaddF=X32011)

Given chords in open position it's helpful to know where the notes are in open position to include.

0   1   3   4  

Slash chords with numbers as add chords

Sometimes you run across chords such as m7/11, these should be read as the chord before the slash with the interval after the slash added.
m7/11 = 1,b3,5,b7,11
7/11 = 1,3,5,b7,11
maj7/11 = 1,3,5,7,11
maj7/#11 = 1,3,5,7,#11
6/9 = 1,3,5,6,9
m6/9 = 1,b3,5,6,9
6/7 = 1,3,5,6,b7
6/maj7 = 1,3,5,6,7
m6/7 = 1,b3,5,6,b7

Given a knowledge of where the intervals map out on the fretboard, you should be able to create your own voicings (if you don't already know how to do this, see )

Chris Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

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Last updated January 1, 2003.
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