Most students taking beginner guitar lessons will start learning basic open major and minor chords immediately. These are our ‘campfire song’ chords and are essential knowledge for anyone wanting to learn easy guitar songs. Major and minor chords are made up of 3 notes which together we call a triad. There is a major triad formula of 1, 3, 5 and a minor triad of 1, b3, 5. These foundations of major and minor triads are what we add extra notes to in order to achieve different families of chords in music. In the case of suspended guitar chords we swap the 3rd of the triad for the 4th which suspends the chord. It’s a popular effect which once learned you’ll quickly find yourself hearing it in songs everywhere.
A C major chord would be 1 – 3 – 5 = C E G
A Csus4 chord would be 1 – 4 – 5 = C F G
Any suspended chord has energy inside it and is not at rest which means the chord will sound to your ear as though it’s not complete and wishes to resolve to a place of rest in some other form. In the case of suspended guitar chords this resolution would occur when the suspension 4 resolved down 1 fret to the 3rd of E. Suspended chords tend to have the most pleasing effect in major chords.
There are two main kinds of suspensions. The first we’ve already looked at where the 3rd of the chord is replaced by the 4th and this is called a sus4 chord. The other kind is where the 3rd of the chord is replaced with the 2nd, this is labeled as a sus2 chord. You’ll also see this labeled (incorrectly) as an add9 chord.
A C major chord would be 1 – 3 – 5 = C E G
A Csus2 chord would be 1 – 2 – 5 = C D G
A Cadd9 chord would be 1 – 3 – 5 – 9 = C E G D
Suspended 4 chords are often used on the tonic chord of the key. They are a way of adding an extra dimension of anticipation at the cadence point of progressions and bands like the Beatles would make extensive use of them. Anytime a major chord was sustained for more than one measure you could also hear the suspension employed as a way of keeping the ear interested especially on acoustic guitar songs.
Due to the fact that replacing the 3rd of the chord with the 4th creates a feeling of unrest, progressions are given an extra sense of resolution once the 3rd has been restored to the chord. This effect goes all the way back to classical counterpoint and has been used as a harmonic device in music for hundreds of years.
The Sound Quality of add9 Chords: Suspended Guitar Chords Lesson
Add9 guitar chords have a very distinctive sound quality which you’ll quickly grow to recognize once you learn a few of them. Often the most satisfying add9 shapes on guitar are found when using open strings which allows the dreamy nature of them to be fully taken advantage of. They sound equally good in both add9 and madd9 chord triads and you can listen to the huge hit song “Every Breath You Take” by The Police for an example of they kind of tonality these chords are capable of creating.
The most popular add 9 chords include C add9, Aadd9, Am add9, G add9 and Em add9 and you should find guitar chord charts in your course books to cover these.
As you may already have realized, both sus4 and sus2 (or add9) chords are both centered around the removal of the 3rd of the chord. In each case, 1 and 5 of the triad remain untouched. It’s always the 3rd which gets removed and replaced by another chord tone.
The Difference Between sus4 and add9 Chords
The theory behind both suspended 4 and add9 chords is basically the same in that both families replace the 3rd of the triad with another note. The real difference lies in the sound quality produced by the chords. Sus4 chords create a higher level of desire for resolution and are more commonly employed in pop songs as they fit in perfectly with the usual major and minor chords. Add notes do not express such an intense desire to be resolved especially as often the 3rd can remain in the chord with simply the 9th being added so the formula would read 1, 3 , 5, 9
Add nine chords are more dreamy and better at creating a new harmonic landscape which is a step away from pure major and minor chord tonality.
As you go deeper into your guitar lessons and how to play guitar professionally you’ll find that many chord progressions can be enriched to a great extent through the use of importing different chord families. You can quickly achieve a more refined musical performance which communicates something deeper to your audience once you gain some command over the myriad of chord families available to you. It can be hard to find online guitar lessons which go into the topic of chord substitution extensively so my advice is for you to seek out guitar books instead where the information is often more detailed. As soon as you learn any new chord your first task should be to try and use it, to put it into some context so that you can see how it would fit in with what you already know.
Learning to play sus4 chords is within the scope of guitar lessons for beginners however add9 chords belong more to the improver level – at least within Guitar in a Nutshell. Add nine chords can sometimes require that you stretch your fingers to degree’s which most beginners would struggle with quite a lot. You’ll find that many sus4 and sus2 chords are available as open position chords however frequently they are performed as barre chords which are moveable around the fretboard.
It’s not necessary to learn how to read tab as most guitar chord diagrams and pictorial. You’ll find some dedicated video lessons on the most important suspended guitar chords to know in the learn acoustic guitar section on the site – Improver Level. It’s also recommended that you learn all of the most important dominant 7th guitar chords too.