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We are often seeing 'sus4', where the ^3 is replaced by ^4, which then usually resolves to said ^3.

But there seems to be a 'sus2', which I've always regarded as, in reality, a 'ret2'. That also usually resolves to a regular triad, containing the displaced ^M3.

I feel it ought to have the ret2 name (retarded 2), as it's accurate, although if sus is short for suspended, maybe even sus3 might be more accurate - after all, it's that ^3 that's suspended.

What is actually the correct term, and why?

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    It doesn't matter what the correct term is, everybody else writes (and understands) 'sus2' (or even just '2')
    – PiedPiper
    Dec 5, 2022 at 14:01
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    This seems like a rant and/or advocacy for "correct" terminology (a statement of opinion) that is thinly disguised as a question. What is the problem you are trying to solve that having an answer from this community will help you solve? It is not only clear that common parlance is that "sus2" is widely used and preferred, it's also clear that you already know that. So what is your actual question? Dec 5, 2022 at 20:14
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    @ToddWilcox - the actual question is - what is the correct terminology? For me, it's rhetorical, but I've been wrong before, and would be appreciative to find out more than I already know. Hence the question. Always found the best way to find an answer is to ask a question. Opinion shouldn't be present here.
    – Tim
    Dec 5, 2022 at 20:31
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    So you don’t actually already know that the correct terminology is “sus2”? You’ve “always regarded” sus2 as “ret2”, which suggests you’ve been familiar with the use of “sus2” for some amount of time and you know what “sus2” means. Seems like you already know if you want to communicate about a chord of the form C-D-G or similar, you should call it a “sus2” chord to have the greatest chance of being understood. Dec 6, 2022 at 1:36
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    Does this answer your question? Sus2 doesn't exist? Dec 6, 2022 at 4:49

3 Answers 3

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A suspension is a case where a note within the chord is approached from a dissonant note within the chord. In most strict baroque manner such dissonances would in fact need to be prepared, so the dissonance is a note that hangs over from the previous chord.

With the late romantic period we start to see more and more dissonances that are not resolved but rather used as coloring. The term "sus n" in typical Jazz chord notation is a reminiscence to that. sus4 would actually mean that (usually) the third is approached from the 4th. sus2 would mean that the third is approached from the 2nd (or in a more traditional mindset with dissonances always resolving downward the root being approached be the second). But in modern manner these dissonances are not resolved, thus effectively implying a replacement of the chord tone in question.

The term retardation basically means the same thing, just approaching the note from the other side (as strictly we’d want to resolve the suspensions downward). (I think the most typical way to have a retardation would be retarding the resolution of a leading tone.)

In this manner the typical Jazz chord interpretation of a "sus2", that is replacing the third, (1+2+5) would resolve upward. In this sense you are right, and this thing should rather be considered a retardation.

But still that would not be the way to go for multiple reasons:

  • The terminology suspension has long lost any link to resolution in Jazz harmony, but the resolution is essential for this classification.
  • Retardation is not really a commonly found term compared to suspension. Many players might barely have heard the term before, so you’d need to argue why it makes sense to use different symbols for essentially the same thing. Introducing a single term for this (you replace the third by the given note) is far more understandable than trying to explain that in this case you need to use this symbol and in this case that one, because of the way things would resolve if thing would resolve.
  • Having retarded 2nds would invite humorous rascals to have too much fun for their own good.
  • The type of musical context where terms like "suspension" and "retardation" are used is usually not the same one that uses Jazz chord symbols. So there is no real use to project a naming convention from one onto the other. A convention being "correct" is a bold statement in itself.
  • I don’t like sus2 chords anyway, so let’s not call them anything, let’s just ignore them (this is a MP reference). For me personally a sus2 chord usually sound like a suspended 4th of the dominant over a tonica as pedal point. But, well, that’s a personal reason.

A "sus3" would be particularly weird, for what should that mean in the first place? Are you suspending the third by the third?

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  • "For me personally a sus2 chord usually sound like a suspended 4th of the dominant over a tonic as pedal point. " You don't listen to a lot of country music then? :-)
    – Laurence
    Dec 5, 2022 at 19:58
  • @Laurence Even in country music, I feel like sus2 and sus4 have similar functions - or really identical functions in most cases, just slightly different sounds. Dec 5, 2022 at 20:16
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    I feel like your third bullet point would be more accurate if it were worded to mention how the term in question could be (mis)construed as offensive, especially if used around anyone who isn't familiar with the term. The fact that the most common sense of that word outside of music is offensive is one of the best reasons to all sus2 chords "sus2" or "suspension" - it avoids accidental offense and awkward explanations to non-musicians. Dec 5, 2022 at 20:18
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    @ToddWilcox - I'm not, at any time, trying to use the word 'retarded' in any sense other than its proper meaning of held back. There's not any, absolutely any subtle implication of the later take on the meaning of the term, which, actually, is still accurate, no matter how it's taken. I don't do PC - it's well overrated, and usually inappropriate.
    – Tim
    Dec 5, 2022 at 20:39
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    @ToddWilcox - I can well understand that directed at a person it may be deemed offensive, by a lot of folk. But directed at a chord? Even I'm not that sensitive! Just using 'ret' should be o.k., like a lot of folk use 'sus' without knowing what it's an abbreviation for.
    – Tim
    Dec 6, 2022 at 10:05
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Usage trumps derivation every time! The word 'decimate' derives from the practice of taking out one in ten, now it means nine out of ten. We know what 'crescendo' means musically, but in common parlance 'rise to a crescendo' is so commonly used as to make complaint futile!

Yes, there's a term 'retardation' for an upward suspension. No, it isn't used in chord symbols.

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If you want to get technical about the naming of chord symbols - suspension versus retardation, passing tone, etc. - then giving just two events...

We are often seeing 'sus4', where the ^3 is replaced by ^4, which then usually resolves to said ^3.

...is not enough information. That two factor description could be the last two stages of a suspension or it could be an appoggiatura or a neighbor tone, etc.

And this gets to the main problem, if it's a problem at all, of the chord symbol labels: the symbols only apply to the vertical stack of tones, not to the movement of those tones. Ex. sus4 is applied when there is a root and a P4 and P5 (and if it's sensible, no third) above the root, regardless of how you approached or departed the P4.

I agree, it would make sense to use ret2 instead of sus2, if the movement of the tones was an actual retardation. But that is only one particular example of how the sus label, in actual use, doesn't fit the technical definition of a suspension.

You could say something similar to add chord labels and various 7, 9, 11, and 13 extension labels. Songbooks frequently use those labels on chords where the tones in question are clearly not chord extensions, but instead are various non-chord tones.


...maybe even sus3 might be more accurate - after all, it's that ^3 that's suspended.

This part seems beside the point, but it's so wrong that it should be addressed.

enter image description here

A suspension has three stages and the actual suspension is the middle event when a tone which had been a chord tone is held, meaning suspended from moving to a chord tone in the next chord.

In the example, it isn't the third of I being suspended, but rather the seventh of V7 is suspended.

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  • Interesting last point. What I was trying to say was - when something (or someone, for that matter) is suspended, it's not there any more, but in music, has been replaced by something else. Calling it sus4 could be translated as the ^4 moved out, which in fact is just the opposite, particularly from a pedantic's pov. I knw calling it sus3 is useless, but technically, it seems inaccurate. Just something to consider...
    – Tim
    Dec 6, 2022 at 10:11

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