I've been playing for quite a while already, 8 years in total and I am wondering, what is the main purpose of suspended chords? In most cases I use sus2 and sus4 just for color but it could be that I'm missing their real purpose in music.

I know what augmented and diminished chords are for. And chords that add a sixth, seventh, ninth, eleventh, or thirteenth are simply colour giving as well mostly.

I know that augs and dims are used to flawlessly change from one chord to another and from one key signature to another.

So do the suspended chords have some special purpose in music like augmented and diminished chords do?

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    The ideas quoted aren't particularly accurate. Sevenths and ninths simply for colour? And what are your views on augs and dims, so we may reference sus. chords in a similar manner. – Tim Dec 23 '17 at 17:29
  • While I do treat ninths as being for colour and/or to harmonize melody notes in more appropriate ways, the dominant seventh is pretty useful at hammering home that you're modulating to another key (often IV or iv in this case). – Dekkadeci Dec 23 '17 at 19:17
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    The purpose of suspended chords is to describe a set of relative pitches. Music theory is descriptive, not prescriptive. – Ye Dawg Dec 24 '17 at 14:32

A suspended chord typically shows horizontal motion for voice-leading. This is different than an “add” chord that uses upper-tertian harmony for color.

There are actually three parts to a suspension: the preparation, the suspension, and the resolution. The preparation introduces a non-chord tone to create tension, the suspension then “suspends” that non-chord tone within the harmony to prolong that tension, and the resolution then moves that bon-chord tone to a chord tone by step to resolve the tension.

Suspensions typically resolve by half-step and typically do so downward, thus, 4-3 suspensions are quite common as is an 8-7 (for a cadential 6/4) or a 9-8 / 2-1 depending on your counterpoint / voice-leading. In fact, there’s a whole species of counterpoint dedicated to them (4th species).

The fact that you’re not currently using them in the context I described above indicates that you’re actually using a different language of harmony. Quintal / quartal harmony is based off of 4ths and 5ths, and does not follow the rules of tertian harmony. Your “sus2” / “sus4” chords are actually inversions of quintal / quartal chords.

So to reiterate, in your current context they’re not really suspended chords, but if you added linear motion and used suspensions as a way of creating and resolving tension, then you’d be treating them like proper suspended chords.

I’d like to stress that you should follow up on my answer by reading a theory textbook or some such as this is just a cursory explanation - don’t have time to write a whole textbook chapter for each of these answers.

  • You might be surprised how often 'quartal' harmony turns out to be perfectly standard (with maybe a liking for the 'add6/9' shape), the only 'quartal' thing about it is the voicing. – Laurence Payne Dec 24 '17 at 16:47
  • Are you sure 8-7 is a suspension? 8 would be consonant and 7 dissonant. – Shannon Duncan Dec 30 '17 at 17:47

A suspension occurs when one note of a chord (typically the third in triad-based harmony) is replaced by the note one step lower or higher. In a 'prepared suspension' this note would have occurred in the previous chord. It will then resolve to the 'right' note.

This is ONE of the things that can be happening when a 'sus2' or 'sus4' chord occurs. But, as the OP suggested, they may just be colour.

And he should realise that there is no set function for ANY type of chord. A 7th chord (by which we mean a major triad with the minor 7th, denoted by G7, F7 etc.) very often has a dominant function. But what about the Blues sequence, C7, F7, C7, G7, F7, C7 ? A lot of those 'dominant 7th' shape chords aren't doing what a dominant 7th is meant to do! And all the 'functional harmony' stuff may not be terribly applicable to today's pop/rock (or 'classical') music.

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