11

In "A Day in the Life" by the Beatles, I notice the melody plays a note (E) just before the second chord which looks like a suspension except it never gets resolved as there is no E in Bm. Is there a name for this kind of suspension in classical music? I read about all the different kind of non-chord tones (neighbour, passing tone etc etc) and couldn't find one that suits this description. enter image description here

12
  • 25
    The title sounds like the setup for a really bad music theory joke.
    – Richard
    Mar 3 at 16:53
  • 2
    The Major was served, so was the miner, but the other was suspended? And they'd left the dimented one outside...
    – Tim
    Mar 3 at 17:14
  • 3
    Does a suspended chord have to resolve?
    – Tim
    Mar 3 at 17:16
  • 3
    I'm no theorist, but why does it have to resolve within the duration of the Bm? It resolves very clearly to the following Em
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 3 at 17:29
  • 4
    "What do you call a suspension that never resolves?" ... I'll tell you later.
    – JK.
    Mar 5 at 1:07
7

note (E) just before the second chord which looks like a suspension

This is a syncopation and anticipation, so the E note "belongs" to the Bm chord. Don't consider it as part of G (even though it would work as 6 of G). Melody anticipates the harmony.

In this case it's just a slight rhythmic anticipation, but consider this section of Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce":

enter image description here

The last E in the first measure does not belong to F7, it rather introduces A-7 in the following measure. Jazz improvisers often take it even further, and when a modulation is incoming they play a whole pick-up phrase in new key in advance.

there is no E in Bm.

Yes, but it is not a terribly bad sound either. This is not classical music. While 11 is typically an "avoid note" in major chords, it often works well with minor chords.

Of course 11 won't be as stable as 1, 3 or 5. But this is just middle of the phrase. The excerpt misses the last B note in the following measure, which closes the phrase. So it makes a perfect sense to make middle of the phrase less stable.

2
  • 2
    Great answer, in Billies Bounce, Isn't E the min7th in F7 also?
    – armani
    Mar 3 at 18:19
  • 2
    @armani F7 is F-A-C-Eb Mar 3 at 19:43
9

What do you call a "suspension" that wasn't a chord tone in the initial chord?

In other words, I think you shouldn't identify this as a suspension, because it doesn't suspend a chord tone in the first place.

the line moves from a D which is a chord tone in G major to neighbor tone E, then when the chord changes to Bm the E is still a non-chord tone which moves back to the D which is again a chord tone, but in Bm rather than G.

enter image description here

FWIW, in the spirit of @Tim's answer, and shying away from applying common practice theory to rock music, you might want to check out Temperley, Melodic/Harmonic Divorce in Rock. It talks about traditional non-chord tone identification along with a unique treatment, the "divorce", of "dissonant" melodic tones from chords in rock music.


I played this short phrase at the piano and included the following Em chord. I think it's pretty reasonable to look at this as just G6 and Em (sort of Em7) and the F# in the bass is the actual non-chord tone as a passing tone. Especially in this rock/pop style I think it's hard to regard an add6 like a classical dissonance, a dissonant tone that must resolve.

To some degree it's just six of one, half dozen of the other. The important thing is the phrase is all tonic elaboration.

6
  • I think OP may be considering the E as a suspended 4th on chord Bm. I may be wrong!
    – Tim
    Mar 3 at 17:11
  • Ok so this would be considered a neighbor tone then. I thought of that but since it straddled the two chords I got confused about it... On a sidenote, I am still on the fence about what I actually hear in this song, To me, even the though the sheet music says one thing, I can almost certainly hear John Lennon bending that E note down to B.
    – armani
    Mar 3 at 17:12
  • Yes, but if one wants to use the term "suspension" some tone should be held from a consonant chord tone to a dissonant non-chord tone. Where was the E a consonant chord tone? Mar 3 at 17:13
  • Thanks Michael. I actually have read that a while ago (although I most certainly could do so again as it is been a while) and I know you get a lot of tones that don't resolve, I just thought they would have a name for it :)
    – armani
    Mar 3 at 17:14
  • @Michael. Understood, thanks for the tip and it makes sense I just didn't know how to word the question better as I don't know what to call it in reality. Maybe you could do the honours and name it yourself ha!
    – armani
    Mar 3 at 17:15
3

It does resolve on D, the intervening B does not affect the resolution. However as Michael Curtis pointed out, the E is not a chord tone so not really a suspension. It is an appoggiatura and is very common in most music idioms. Another Beatles' song Yesterday makes much use of appoggiaturas.

However in pop, rock, folk music etc. the pentatonic scale has such a powerful linear effect that it may not be necessarily be exactly related to the underlying chords. The listener often hears music as linear rather than vertical so a non-chord tone would not necessarily be heard to clash with the harmony. Sometimes jazz improvisers play arpeggios that are different from the underlying chords.

This was written in the mid-1960s and suspended 4th chords were becoming more common and they didn't resolve.

2
  • you mean the D at the end of the word "today"?
    – armani
    Mar 3 at 18:06
  • Exactly. Sometimes suspensions can last over a bar. Mar 3 at 18:13
2

As many have mentioned, this one DOES resolve.

But yes, in today's music the sus4 chord is sometimes used as an entity in itself. It's called an 'Unresolved Suspension'.

There was a similar, earlier relaxation of rules when the concept of an 'Unprepared Suspension' became allowed.

1

I agree with the deleted answer of pied piper: the note E is resolving to D. The chord note B is irrelevant. We can hear this as changing tone or like a suspension.

There are many songs that contain this motif like when man loves a woman (Percy Sledge) or Hello (Lionel Richie). It has a touch of pentatonic, like in many spirituals.

But like others say: why has a suspension to resolve? Why discuss popsongs like a classic piece? You could go on and ask: should this suspension not be prepared?

0
1

As in other comments and answers: there is no mandate that a suspension resolve (or that it be "prepared"). Further, there is no mandate in this example even to interpret the situation as a suspension: there are several plausible functional interpretations.

More blatant unresolved suspensions, that play more a role of suspended-something, appear in James Taylor's music. In some examples, everything is a sus chord! :)

-1

There is no problem, no suspension. One can use any notes one wishes over any chord, and one often does. Suspensions often do resolve, but they don't have to. In Classical days, they would frequently, but one can't treat pop music in the same way.

1
  • 2
    I never said there was a problem and I know one can use any one note one wishes but non-chord tones have usually been given names like here musictheory.net/lessons/53 that chart has really helped me so I was wondering if there was a name for this type of non-chord tone
    – armani
    Mar 3 at 17:03
-1

It's not really a suspension since the E is a non-chordal tone in the first chord, but it's similar to a suspension, and it does resolve, to the D. The fact that there is a B between is irrelevant. Remember this is a pop song, not classical harmony.
Pop music generally doesn't need to resolve suspensions, so there's no special name for one that's unresolved.

1
  • 2
    The D is another note. That does not mean that the E note resolved, it means that the new note starts on a chord tone. they are not the same thing.
    – armani
    Mar 3 at 16:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.