The Sus chord-- generally written sus7 (or 7sus, or 7sus4) baffles a lot of people. What do those 3 letters-- S-U-S mean? Is it short for "suspicious", "suspenseful"?
No. I could also tell you that it is not "sustained" either. (Yes, I have actually heard a few people erroneously call it that...)
Sus means "suspended". The term suspended simply means that the chord does not contain a 3rd. The 3rd is replaced by the 4th, in which case that 4th is referred to as the suspension. The resulting sound can be ambiguous, as it is neither major nor minor.
The spelling for a basic Gsus7 is: G C D F
Now, there is actually such a thing as a Dominant chord with an added 11th. That chord would be a true Mixolydian chord-- that is, containing the true modality of the Mixolydian mode.
With a G root, this modal chord would be written G7(11)
Here is the complete symbol for a Mixolydian chord: 7(9 11 13)
But let's go back to our real sus7 chord...
It should be noted that a chord cannot be minor AND suspended!!! Once again, the suspension is not added to a chord-- it REPLACES the 3rd. So if a chord is already a m7, writing Dm7(sus) would be wrong. The correct denomination should be Dm7(11) which is spelled: D F A C G
A sus7 chord often precedes a dominant chord built from the same Root. In lieu of a regular ii7-V7 we may find Vsus7-V7. In the key of C, instead of Dm7-G7 we would get: Gsus7-G7.
The thing is, we are not really substituting the sus7 for the Minor 7th chord: it is THE SAME CHORD, but with the bass note of the V7 underneath it.
See, Gsus7 is actually Dm7/G...
Here are two other practical ways to look at the sus7 chord:
1) Gsus7(9) = F/G
The F triad was already found in the Dm7/G (remember that a Dm7 is an F Triad over a D bass)
2) Gsus7(9 13) = FMaj7/G
Now we are simply adding the Major 7th to our F triad. The resulting color over the sus7 is the 13th.
OK, now that we know what sus7 chords are, what can we do with them?
Based on what we saw earlier, the first obvious use for the sus7 would be in place of a ii7-V7.
Let's take a look at the first 4 measures of the song "Tune-Up" by Miles Davis.
The original changes are:
Em7 | A7 | DMaj7 | % |
We can now replace them with:
Asus7 | A7 | DMaj7/A | % |
(Note that I kept an A in the bass of the DMaj7 to keep the pedal constant throughout the entire section.)
Now, I should also mention that a sus7 chord does not necessarily have to go to a dominant chord (the V7) before resolving into the Maj7 (the I chord). We can very easily go straight from Asus7 to DMaj7. The sus7 chord basically functions as a V7.
We could then have:
Asus7 | % | DMaj7/A | % |
Let's see how we could use the sus7 chord over a Blues progression:
In a Blues in C the I chord is C7. The ii7 that normally precedes a C7 is Gm7. Therefore, if we play Gm7/C in place of the I7 chord, we get a nice sounding Isus7. Another way to get to the same sus chord is to think of the m7 chord built from the 5th of the Dominant chord.
Now that we are looking at that I chord as being Csus7, we can go a little further and think of it as: Gm/C, Gm7/C, Gm7(9)/C, Bb/C, BbMaj7/C...
Of course, all of the above upper-structures may be used linearly when improvising over what was originally a simple C7. For a complete list of upper-structures to use over a sus7 chord, see my other article entitled: "7th Chord Upper-Structures & Subs For Dominants (Part II)"
The same suspended treatment will be applied to the IV7 chord (Fsus7) and the V7 chord (Gsus7). All three basic chords of the Blues may be turned into sus7 chords.
This concept is actually what Ron Carter used for his tune "Eighty-One" from the Miles Davis album E.S.P. The tune is actually a Blues in F, but all the chords are turned into sus7 chords.
Another composition from the same era using essentially sus7 chords is "Maiden Voyage" by Herbie Hancock.
The very first chord of that composition is Dsus7, which as we now know is also Am7/D.
The only chord in the whole tune that is NOT a sus7 chord is the Dbm7 (the very last chord of the bridge)
The Miles Davis composition "Milestones" (the "new" one from 1958, as opposed to the "old" one from 1948) is essentially a Modal Tune in the sense that each section uses only one chord, or mode. The form is AABBA. There are many ways to play the tune, but generally, the chord used for the A section is Gm7 (or G Dorian) and the chord for the B section is Am7 (or A Aeolian.) The part that interests us here is the A section.
Underneath the Gm7 chord, the bass player will commonly play a C note, making the chord now a Csus7, and often resolving to a Fmaj7 or FMaj7(#11) on the last 2 measures of that section.
Here is the reworked A section:
| Gm7/C | % | % | % | % | % | FMaj7(#11) | % ||
(you may also want to read another article I wrote specifically about the tune:"Milestones")
"IN YOUR OWN SWEET WAY"
One more interesting use of the sus7 chord is in the interlude of the tune "In Your Own Sweet Way" by Dave Brubeck.
In between every choruses we find an 8-measure Ebm7/Ab vamp. This Absus7 section is basically a "repose area" meant to provide some relief-- a welcome contrast with the rest of the tune which is very busy harmonically. Actually, Miles Davis came up with the idea of the sus7 interlude on this tune when he recorded his own version... and I believe Dave Brubeck does not use the extra vamp.
A FEW MORE EXAMPLES
Other Jazz tunes that make use of the sus7 chord are:
"Naima" by John Coltrane (very first measure of the song and measure 7 of the bridge)
"Dolphin Dance" by Herbie Hancock (measure 2 and a few more throughout the song)
"Dearly Beloved" by Jerome Kern (first 8 measures)
"Pee Wee" by Tony Williams
"Passion Dance" by McCoy Tyner
"Ana Maria" by Wayne Shorter
PHRYGIAN SUS CHORDS
I should also mention another type of sus7 chord: the Phrygian-Suspended chord, also called sus(b9) which is a strictly modal chord. You may want to read my other article entitled "Chords & Scales" in which I explain that even though the iii chord generated by the Major Scale is a minor 7th chord, the Phrygian Mode is better described as having a Suspended sound.
There are 2 Phrygian-Suspended modes commonly used:
PHRYGIAN: sus7(b9 #9 b13) which is the 3rd mode from the Major Scale
PHRYGIAN #6: sus7(b9 #9 13) which is the 2nd mode from the Melodic Minor Scale
The Phrygian sound is very dark, and can be described as being mysterious, exotic, haunting, or spacy. It also has a characteristic Spanish, Flamenco flavor...
Phrygian #6 is slightly more open and hopeful sounding than the regular Phrygian mode.
A practical voicing for the Phrygian-Sus chord is bII/I
For example, for E Phrygian the slash chord would be: F/E (note that the chord can sound like a 3rd inversion Maj7 chord)
For E Phrygian #6 we can think F+/E
Some tunes that use the Phrygian modal sus(b9) or sus7(b9) are:
"Flamenco Sketches" by Miles Davis
"Solea" by Gil Evans (from the Miles Davis album "Sketches Of Spain")
"La Fiesta" by Chick Corea
"Spain" by Chick Corea
"Olé" by John Coltrane
(do you notice a common Iberian theme with those last 5 titles?)
"Masqualero" by Wayne Shorter
"Little One" by Herbie Hancock
"Vashkar" by Carla Bley
Sus7 sounds were very fresh, very exciting when they were first introduced by Jazz players, and they certainly continue to sound quite modern, even today.
Do you want your tunes to sound a little more contemporary? Throw in a few sus7 chords!
For inspiration, you may want to check out the Miles Davis album "My Funny Valentine" and pay close attention to Herbie Hancock's re-harmonizations of tunes such as "Stella By Starlight" or "I Thought About You". They are loaded with sus7 and Phrygian-Sus chords...
(Stay tuned for a Part 2 on the subject of Sus Chords, in which we will decorticate them even more...)
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