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Is "minor suspended" a valid chord type? I noted some ideas for opposing lines of thinking here that I could come up with for both sides:

Yes

  • Indicates a minor chord with its minor third raised up to a perfect fourth
  • The third is being "assumed" or represented similarly to the perfect fifth commonly omitted from jazz chords
  • Potentially useful for a suspended sound within a subtly minor context
  • Contrasts with regular suspended chords, which would then be used for major- and dominant-leaning suspended sounds
  • The absence of a third cannot itself fully define the quality of the chord; in context, many sus chords do have situational bias towards major or minor sounds
  • Useful when listener hears the suspension as being over the minor third even though no third is physically present
  • Chord labels should preserve at least some notion of perceived sound even if not required from the performer in execution
  • Could also be useful for other situations
  • Simply emphasizing a contextual detail of its use in the music

No

  • Minor chord with its third suspended to its fourth would be fundamentally and practically the same as the established (major/dominant) suspended chord family
  • "suspended" and "minor" qualities cannot be combined
  • Suspended chords are neither major nor minor in quality and there is no reason that this should not be the case
  • This would render chords like [C F G] ambiguous, potentially being defined as either major or minor unnecessarily
  • If a chord truly is implying minor quality, its fourth should be labelled "added" 4th or 11th
  • The existing sus chord quality and its representation do not actually carry a major or dominant implication, thus msus is unnecessary
  • From a sight-reading perspective, "msus" obfuscates the notes to be played
  • Existing system gives choice of emphasis: precise voicing description "sus" or perceived harmony label "m(add11)"
  • Chord labels should reflect the sound created, not the sound perceived

One example of a potential theoretical "minor suspended" chord would be something like Bm7b5 E+7 Am7sus where the last chord contains no 3rd but is contextually assumed to be minor (surely following that chord with an A7 would be a bit more of a surprise compared to following it with Am7?). There might be other reasons to use this chord label. Or maybe not at all - maybe all these possibilities are simply too pedantic and only describe things for the sake of describing things.

To be absolutely clear on what I'm describing: in these scenarios, Bb minor suspended triads would be composed of

Bbmsus = [Bb Eb F]

and there would never be any Db played while this chord is sounding; however, the "minor" part of the chord label would have to then be justified somehow while also not ever containing the minor third.

2
  • Maybe for pathological jazz heads there should be a separate chord symbol for basic triads, "sevenths, ninths, elevenths and thirteens suspended, not to mention sharp nines, augmented seconds, altered notes, all of that stuff is SUSPENDED, PERIOD". I propose adding a period at the end of the chord symbol. "C." and it's pronounced "C period". Mar 20 '21 at 12:50
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica - I thought suspended meant something took another note's place, so that other note wasn't present. Oh, you were jesting - weren't you..?
    – Tim
    Mar 20 '21 at 17:25
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In several fields of thought, we can discuss the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive thinking. When something is descriptive, it simply describes the objective realities of the situation: x is greater than y, m is equivalent to n, and so on. But something prescriptive ascribes a subjective interpretation of that data: x is greater than y and here's why that needs to change, m is equivalent to n and this is important because, and so on.

Davy Temperley famously broached this distinction in a 1999 article, and it seems to me that it's at the core of your question. In short, Temperley says that descriptive music theory describes the facts of the music in question, whereas a prescriptive theory (what he actually calls "suggestive") implies a particular interpretation and/or mode of listening.

It strikes me that the notion of a minor sus chord is a prescriptive entity, because it's forcing a particular interpretation of this chord as minor. Traditionally, however, sus chords are really a descriptive construct; it labels only the collection of "C, F, G," and does not prescribe any notion of quality to it. (But here's where it gets a little tricky: this label does prescribe hearing C as root, does it not?)

All of this to say that this label of "minor sus" could well exist, depending on your goals. But I think because these chord labels tend to fall more on the descriptive side than the prescriptive side, it's a little inconsistent to include "minor sus," which strikes me as far more prescriptive than the other chord labels.

1
  • 2
    Very nice. I see sus chords as ambiguous. In two ways: they do not have a clear major or minor quality, and as you hint at, a sus4 could be an inverted sus2 and vice-versa. Another view of sus triads is that they are quartal. So trying to distinguish between “major” or “minor” sus chords would undermine their essential quality of being neither. Mar 20 '21 at 18:15
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To me, that seems a contradiction in terms.

"Minor" means "having a minor 3rd".

"Suspended" means "having no third".

Now, I'm sure that if one tries hard enough one can find a way to twist and stretch these definitions and somehow force them to work together, but if you take the simple path, I reckon, the answer is also very simple...

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It needs to be in context. In a minor piece, most sus chords would be deemed to be 'min/sus', although they don't sound much different from 'ordinary sus'. And the most 'sussed' chords would be i and v(V). V being more prevalent, and major based anyway.

The problem (for me) is that any sus chord is neither major nor minor. It just can't be: the 3rd has beed usurped, and that's the defining part or major/minor. So it matters not, sus is sus, and can only be! Interesting concept, though !

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  • Even in long tracts of parallel suspended chords in minor-key pieces (e.g. 96's "In the Blackest Den"), I still find at least half of the sus chords are better interpreted as "maj/sus" than "min/sus". For example, I interpret that piece's Fsus-Ebsus-Gbsus-Gbsus-Fsus as "Fmaj/sus"-"Ebmin/sus"-"Gbmaj/sus"-"Gbmaj/sus"-"Fmaj/sus". In fact, I'll put my maj/min interpretations of sus chords in B flat minor as Bbmin/sus, Cmin/sus, Dbmaj/sus, Ebmin/sus, Fmaj/sus, Gbmaj/sus, Gmin/sus, Abmaj/sus, and Amin/sus (note how rare Csus, Gsus, and Asus are in B flat minor).
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 29 '21 at 14:44
  • @Dekkadeci - I guess so - in minor pieces there will usually be some major harmonies - 3 in a standard diatonic piece. But call the what you will, unless they resolve, they could be anything, but still won't be either maj/sus nor min/sus.
    – Tim
    Dec 29 '21 at 14:48
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If surrounded by Cm chords, Csus implies an F that is expected to resolve to E♭. If surrounded by C major chords, to E♮. That's sufficient. No need to add an instruction to do one or the other in the chord name. It's which it DOES do that matters.

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Indicates a minor chord with its minor third raised up to a perfect fourth

I would rather formulate it: in C7sus4 chord major third is replaced by perfect fourth. I also once heard another definition: in sus chord perfect fourth and major third coexist. This is an important, as in a major chord 4 is considered an avoid note.

In a minor chord 4 isn't an avoid note. Cm11 is a commonly used chord symbol, and I would find it almost equivalent to Cm7sus4. The latter suggests:

  1. a specific chord voicing to be used in the arrangement
  2. that the chord being played shouldn't contain b3, but the underlying scale (e.g. to be used in soloing) does contain it.
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  • An intersting point 2. Although if we're talking Blues, the whole concept of m3/M3 is thrown out of the window.
    – Tim
    Nov 27 '21 at 9:26
  • @Tim I'm not sure! If you see a m7sus4 chord symbol in a blues, it's more likely a jazz blues, rather than a traditional blues, so I would expect it to follow jazz conventions. Nov 27 '21 at 19:50
  • Can't remember ever seeing m7sus4 - and I'm sure I'd have questioned its title. m7add11 possibly, but that's different.
    – Tim
    Nov 28 '21 at 8:18
  • @Tim if you look for scores of "Cantaloupe Island" you will easily find all possible versions: Dm7sus4, Dm11, Dm7... in some sense they are all equivalent. Nov 28 '21 at 19:16
  • 1079505 - played that about 5 yrs ago, but can't find my chart for it. Can't remember Dm7sus4, and the charts I Google don't have it either. Help!
    – Tim
    Nov 29 '21 at 9:29
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The problem stems (IMO) from the non-existence of a symbol for a major chord. If it existed, we would be accustomed to noticing its absence in sus chords, and thus we'd be accustomed to understanding the resolution of the sus from the key, rather than the sus chord's assumed major-ness.

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