I have an idea of what suspension chords are (in theory). However, I have a problem in labeling the chords correctly. Could anyone explain with an example on how to correctly label suspension chords using chord symbols for the piano? (Eg. CsusF)


Generally a sus chord loses its 3rd note in favour of either a 2nd or a 4th. So it will be labelled sus2 or sus4.

Csus2 is comprised of C D G, and Csus4 is comprisesd of C F G.

Occasionally I come across Csus. What the heck is that suppused to mean? Answer is sometimes in the dots, if it's a piano work, but in amongst guitar chords could be either!

Labelling for a piano? As above will do the trick, as if that's all the player is told, it's enough information for him to play the 3 approriate notes wherever he feels is best.

  • So for any sus chord, is it only sus2 and sus4 there, nothing else?
    – Grace
    Apr 30 '19 at 7:18
  • 2
    I've never come across any others. There are 'add' chords, and '9th' chords, which both contain, for example, note D in a C chord. As in 'Cadd9' is C E G D, and Cmaj9 is C E G B D, (Cm9 =C Eb G Bb D, and C9 = C E G Bb D), but essentailly 'sus' means 'replaced by another note'. C6 for instance, is C E G A, with nothing replaced by something else.
    – Tim
    Apr 30 '19 at 7:38
  • @Tim I've seen "Xsus", and I've always seen it referring to "X suspended fourth". I guess convention would be assume sus4 unless it says sus2 (makes sense to me; sus2 isn't all that common).
    – user45266
    May 2 '19 at 6:08

Be clear which system of chord naming you are in.

There's the purely descriptive one. C(sus4) is C,F,G. C triad with the 3rd replaced by the 4th. A simple Csus will be assumed to be this. C(sus2) is C,D,G. The 3rd is replaced by the 2nd. There's also C(add2) and C(add9) which is C,D,E,G or C,E,G,D. the 2nd (9th) is ADDED to the triad. As long as we're being descriptive rather than analytical, it's useful to distinguish the two, though C(add2) will send some people into fits of rage :-)

Then there's the analytical way. I, II, III instead of letter names. It tries to describe what a chord DOES rather than simply what it IS. And, to be honest, it's a can of worms. Luckily, I don't think this is the system you're asking about. Stick to the descriptions, where D means D,F#,A whatever key you're in.


You can write Vsus = G4 Isus2 as Csus2

Wiki gives a quite clear answer:

A suspended chord (or sus chord) is a musical chord in which the (major or minor) third is omitted, replaced usually with either a perfect fourth or a major second although the fourth is far more common.

A jazz sus chord or dominant 9sus4 chord is a seventh chord on the fifth scale degree of the key with a suspended fourth and an added ninth. Functionally, it can be written as V9sus4 or V7sus9.

Edit: do not mix a sus2 with sus9 (-> last christmas WHAM) V9 includes a minor 7, I9 and IV9 would include a major 7 and they are not the same as sus2


  • 2
    @Grace - no, not really. Sus takes place of 2 or 4. 9 is never a sus, it's a note in its own right, part of a chord, usually with the 7th behind it. There's (as i said) 'add9'.
    – Tim
    Apr 30 '19 at 9:10
  • Sus 2 leaves out the 3rd, by definition. Including the 3rd and adding a 9th is going to be called 'add9'. Never heard of sus9, even if it says it in Wham!!
    – Tim
    Apr 30 '19 at 9:13
  • 1
    yes, Tim is right: V9 includes a minor 7, I9 and IV9 would include a major 7 and so they are not the same as sus2 ! I'll have to edit my answer, sorry. Apr 30 '19 at 10:11

This is a case where I think music notation especially makes the idea a lot easier to understand.

The traditional counterpoint suspension involves three parts: preparation, suspension, and resolution.

enter image description here

The three stage event is essential to understanding why the chord symbol sus is used.

It may seem like technical nit-picking, but a suspension is not about the omission of the 3rd in Csus4 but rather it's about holding the tone from the previous chord, holding that tone is the actual suspension.

I only bring that up to explain the origin of the the sus symbol. The reality is in jazz and pop music the sus label is used all the time for things that aren't necessarily suspensions!

In jazz and pop if a tone is added to a chord a perfect 4th about the chord's root, it will get the label sus4 regardless is there is an actual suspension.

Some people are discerning enough to say that if the sus4 label is used the 3rd of the chord should not be present. That would reflect the traditional counterpoint origin.

Also, there is a distinction between a sus4 chord and an 11 chord. Let's use a chord root of G for an example. If the tones were simply G C D if would be labelled with sus4 with the C being a 4th above the root. But, if the tones extended above the root by thirds like G B D F... C, then the C is considered an 11th above the root. As a super-general rule of thumb, if the chord has a seventh and the 4th/11th, consider the tone an 11th.

Back to our case of sus4 chord that aren't actually suspensions. Consider this example...

enter image description here

The circled F is a 4th above the chord root C. But notice that F is not being held from the previous chord. Nothing is being suspended in this case. The proper term for that kind of non-chord tone is an appoggiatura. I don't know why there isn't a symbol like Capp4, but there isn't. For lack of a proper symbol the sus4 is used.

So, in jazz and pop usage, sus4 is applied when the chord has a 4th above the root instead of a 3rd even when the previous and subsequent chord don't fulfill the actual definition of a suspension.

  • @Brass in Pocket' starts with Xsus4. There's no set up with VX before. But in a general situation, what you say is there.
    – Tim
    May 2 '19 at 6:47
  • Does it repeat later? Anyway, that is rock style. As I said in rock style it would get a sus4 label then regardless of before/after. May 2 '19 at 15:35

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