I ask this question in the context of strict (florid) tonal counterpoint as taught, for example, by Albrechtsberger and many later writers.

Fux in his Gradus ad Parnassum recommends putting many suspensions in one's compositions, and letting the suspensions occur in alternating voices. While I agree that this often enlivens the impression of contrapuntal independence, it is easier said than done. For example, I often find that with a falling bass, the natural tendency of good part-writing is to let the other voices rise; but then no (dissonant) suspensions can occur, because these should resolve by stepwise descent.

Or did Fux perhaps mean to include consonant suspensions in his advice? If so, how would one include this kind of suspension in a tonal chord progression without undermining the sense of tonal harmony too much?

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    I realize that I really ought to know my Fux by heart, but could you include the quote? Oct 11, 2021 at 17:48

2 Answers 2


This isn't really a strategy for florid counterpoint, but just a way to emphatically make the point that suspensions won't undermine the sense of tonality provided the suspensions are resolved. You can have a suspension on each and every chord except for cadences where you would want a complete resolution of dissonance. The following is one of my favorite sequential progressions...

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...only the first and last chords are plain triads, all other chords are seventh chords and each chord involves a suspension. The suspensions are formed by holding chordal thirds so they become dissonant seventh, when resolved by downward step the lines moves to the next chordal third.

Using that progression of seventh chords as a gauge, you could use a suspension on every other chord without undermining the tonality, provided they were resolved properly. With each suspension followed by a resolution, you would have a lot of freedom to place the various suspension in whichever voice you like.

I think the thing to do to study putting the suspensions into counterpoint is remember that the suspensions are decorations of otherwise consonant writing. So could write a study of consonant parts then write several revisions that place suspensions wherever the music allows. Or, you could start with a series of suspension figures your want to use then move your parts so that you get the particular suspensions. Some things may work better than others. I would treat the endeavor as studies and sketches. It's process to work through to see what works and what doesn't.

I often find that with a falling bass, the natural tendency of good part-writing is to let the other voices rise; but then no (dissonant) suspensions can occur, because these should resolve by stepwise descent.

I think you can do this. If the bass descent is harmonized in thirds then you have an opportunity for a 4-3 suspension. If you start with a perfect chord (root position) then you could suspend the bass before the descent for a 2-3 suspension...

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  • Thanks for your answer, which is excellent as always! Oct 11, 2021 at 22:14
  • I have seen this called a "chain suspension." It can also be used against a pedal point.
    – ttw
    Oct 12, 2021 at 1:45

Although the dissonant suspensions are preferred, there is no reason why you couldn't include consonant suspensions to achieve this goal. They also help correct a natural consequence of a chain of suspensions, which is that your suspension voice falls and falls and falls and in a few bars you're an octave below where you started. The Fux examples are full of consonant suspensions, too.

A longer answer, and certainly one that requires more work on your part, is to learn which CF motions allow which suspensions so you are faster at finding them. In doing so you will develop a sixth sense about a CF and where suspensions will be tricky. Write these spots first, then fill in the easy parts later.

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