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Is the fourth in a sus4 chord always a whole step away from the third? Or is it based on what diatonic note is next in the scale?

Example:

In the key of C major:

Dm sus4 = D G A

It is a whole step resolution from G to F

But, what about a chord that has a half step diatonic fourth near the third?

C sus4 = C F G

It is only a half step resolution from F to E

Which begs the question, what would a sus4 chord mean if you were playing the whole tone scale, or perhaps the blues scale?

(After looking at this, I don't understand what the difference is from a F 6/4 and a Csus4).

  • Csus4 is C F G. Which is the difference between that and F 6/4 because that's still C F A. – Todd Wilcox Jun 10 '17 at 12:23
  • @ToddWilcox I seem to always spell things wrong. :( edited – Kolob Canyon Jun 10 '17 at 22:30
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Despite the votes on this question (and answers so far), I don't believe anyone has actually answered the question:

Which begs the question, what would a sus4 chord mean if you were playing the whole tone scale, or perhaps the blues scale?

First, we have to understand what a suspension is:

Suspensions have three parts:

  • Preparation - introduces a non-chord tone
  • Suspension - sustains that non-chord tone (often through a harmonic change)
  • Resolution - resolves the non-chord tone to a chord tone (almost always downward by step)

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In the example, we begin with an Em6/4 (second-inversion), but on beat 4 the E moves to F, a note that does not fit in an E minor triad. The new note is sustained through a harmonic change (it still does not fit into this new chord), and then finally resolves downward by step to a chord tone. In this case, it happens to be a C major triad.

So, back to the question, What would a sus4 chord mean if you were playing the whole tone scale, or perhaps the blues scale?

Well, using suspension predicate the idea of tension and release. You create tension by moving from a chord tone to a non-chord tone, changing the chord, and then bringing it back.

Blues is a predominately tonal musical genre, and like most genres, is not rigid. Midnight Waltz by Cedar Walton, is a 24-bar blues in 3/4 that makes extensive use of suspensions. In this context, suspensions (4-3 suspension) is used as an Upper Neighbor Tone that prolongs the larger harmonic regions forward, creating a sense of movement:

In music that uses whole-tone elements, you would need to handle it differently. The whole tone scale is by its own invention and purpose, non-functional, harmonically speaking. Suspensions, as we have established, serve a harmonic function. So, in order to use a harmonic-functioning device in a predominately non-functional context, you would have to manufacture the impression of harmonic function. Otherwise, the effect is meaningless. The answer to that question, is for another time.

So, to summarize, as another stack user said quite succinctly:

"An argument can be made that any sus chord that satisfies these theoretical elements is valid. In the blues context, both a half step above the third and a whole step above the third could theoretically achieve this. Midnight Waltz provides an example where a whole step is used. Other examples probably exist where a half step is used." - jdjazz

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    I think this is an outstanding answer that could be improved with one small addition to summarily answer the Q. Maybe something like: "An argument can be made that any sus chord that satisfies these theoretical elements is valid. In the blues context, both a half step above the third and a whole step above the third could theoretically achieve this. Midnight Waltz provides an example where a whole step is used. Other examples probably exist where a half step is used." I'm sure Brad Mehldau has resolved a major third to a minor third in a blues context, but I'll have to dig to find an example. – jdjazz Jun 10 '17 at 15:29
  • Regarding whole tone, I think what you're saying is that the whole tone chord isn't supposed to sound resolved in the first place, & the chord tones themselves are designed to produce the tension one would hope to achieve from a sus chord. I think an argument can be made that if a song establishes a whole tone chord in the listener's ear, then you can now create a sus sound for that whole tone chord. For ex: resolving G Db♭ E♭ to G B E♭ or even G Db♭ F to G B E♭. I don't hear the same effect from G C E♭ to G B E♭ because this sounds like a i-V (e.g., Cmin – G7alt). – jdjazz Jun 10 '17 at 15:34
  • @jdjazz Wonderful, thanks for the comment! (If you like, then please upvote!) :) I'm going to leave your comment / my answer as-is so that people can see your comment. If I were to edit my answer, I would just copy/paste your words as they are succinct and descriptive. – jjmusicnotes Jun 10 '17 at 15:34
  • If you think my comment as is would be a nice addition, I say go for it and edit it into your answer. On other stackexchange sites, I know comments are periodically deleted/meant to be temporary. Your answer gave me a way to think about how one might successfully produce a whole tone sus sound, which is really cool. Thanks! (On a separate note, this is a great example of why music theory has value!) – jdjazz Jun 10 '17 at 15:36
  • @jdjazz With whole-tone scales, the point is to emphasize all notes equally. This thinking is inherently non-functional, harmonically speaking. Functional harmony establishes a hierarchy of pitch-importance. Music incorporating whole-tone scales achieves tension and resolution through other means, like texture, density, orchestration, and rhythm, for example. – jjmusicnotes Jun 10 '17 at 15:37
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For starters, C F A cannot be a sus: it's F major in second inversion! Whole tone and blues scales don't use the same 'rules' as diatonics - they can't, due to their make-up.

Sus chords, be they 2 or 4, are in one way like 'power chords'. They have lost the defining third, making them neither major nor minor. The fact that the sus 4 note is a semitone away from that 3rd in major but a tone from it in minor is beside the point. It is the 4th note, hence sus 4, in a way replacing that third, which will usually be returned sooner rather than later. So, writing a sus as Dsus4 or Dm sus4 becomes somewhat academic.

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The 'sus' note is a semitone above the major 3rd, a tone above the minor 3rd. Which one will you resolve it to? Or will you just leave it there? Your choice!

F 6/4 is a second inversion F chord. C, F, A. Csus is C, F, G.

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    Csus*4* is C F G. Csus*2* is C D G. Csus doesn't really exist as such. And - C F G can also be Fsus 2, and C D G can also be Gsus4. – Tim Jun 10 '17 at 13:51
  • I've seen plenty of music where "sus" with no numeral is assumed by the publisher/engraver to be understood as sus4. – trw Mar 6 at 15:30

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