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When reading chords (such as is common in music for guitar), what notes should be played when the music says a "sus" chord without putting a 2 or 4 after it (such as "Csus4" or "Gsus2")? (Assuming we are not playing a guitar and instead something like a piano).

Sites like this https://www.pianochord.org/c-sus.html decode most chords, BUT none I have found so far tell you when "Csus" is on the page whether that should be played as Csus4 or Csus2.

  • Csus = Csus4 ( 145 ), C = 135) – Albrecht Hügli Apr 5 at 9:29
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    TBH in a lot of pop contexts you can probably use the two pretty interchangeably. Sus2 was (maybe still is) pretty ubiquitous in CCM, which is not a genre known for its harmonic innovation -- anything standard there is something you can probably borrow pretty liberally. I'd also make the observation that 2 leads to the minor 3rd by semitone, similarly to the way that 4 leads to the major 3rd. – Peter Smith Apr 6 at 4:16
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If there's only a sus, it's indicating a sus4. This is due to the sus4 being considered to be the default suspended chord type and because its closer to the traditional terminology of a suspended non harmonic tone.

I highly recommend to put sus4 instead of sus though to avoid confusion.

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    So, according to your reference, a sus2 should really be called a ret2 (retarded 2)? Which I doubt anyone has heard of - I certainly haven't. What actually is that reference from? – Tim Apr 5 at 7:43
  • @Tim no that's what the non harmonic tones are called. The suspension resolves down and the retardation resolves up. The triads construction and usage reflects back to this non harmonic usage so it's not a stretch to say they are related. – Dom Apr 5 at 14:44
  • That's my point. Suspensions resolve down - that's why you say a sus is 'normally' sus 4. And retardations resolve up, that's why I say sus 2 won't be a sus, as it doesn't resolvedown. So it must be ret2!! Yes, of course they're related - they both remove the magic third momentarily. – Tim Apr 5 at 15:40
  • The link is broken in my browser. – Ben Crowell Apr 6 at 2:22
  • @Dom - hi, I'm still waiting for your response to my observation. – Tim Apr 10 at 9:36
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Sus4. If they wanted sus2 they'd have said so.

But that's the ideal. Considering how often this question gets asked, I suggest YOU write sus4. Or sus2. (Or add2, if THAT's what you want. It's often written inaccurately as sus2.)

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    I did try to search for this, but the problem is, searching for anything with "sus" in it finds all the questions with "sus2" in them or "sus4" in them. Which buries the answers that are probably already out there. As someone who dislikes ambiguity, you can bet I'll be specific and put a 4 or 2 when/if I'm writing chords. – Azendale Apr 5 at 4:08
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    Check Dom's reference, please. What do you think? – Tim Apr 5 at 7:46
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I'm going to disagree with the other answer a bit. If only says “sus” then yes, sus4 is a valid interpretation, but it also means you don't necessarily need to play the 4 note all the time. What I mean by “sus” alone is most of all: neither major nor minor, and also not merely a powerchord. But how exactly to render the suspense becomes an interpretable detail (similar to how you normally don't notate out the exact rhythms / voicings / arpeggios to play).

In particular, “sus” also gives you the freedom to step between sus2 and sus4 as changing tones. This kind of thing might of course be written by explicitly switching between sus2 and sus4 or as 9sus4, but the former is a bit unwieldy and over-specific whereas the latter invites just slamming in all the notes simultaneously, which I wouldn't do for just “sus”.

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  • "how you normally don't notate out the exact rhythms / voicings / arpeggios to play" are you saying in some context? Like in guitar music? I'm used to base clef, and maybe I'm missing something, but it is usually pretty specific -- and I "like" that because I can play something I've never heard without having to "learn" it from someone. – Azendale Apr 8 at 16:04
  • Well, exact notation has of course its use too, but when you have that then you don't really need chord symbols at all! – leftaroundabout Apr 8 at 17:24
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I'm late to the party but I'd still like to offer the following points:

  • A major chord is made of Root, major third, and perfect fifth. E.g. C major = C E G

  • A minor chord is made of Root, minor third, and perfect fifth. E.g. C minor = C Eb G

  • Suspended chords have no thirds, neither major nor minor. It is precisely this lack of thirds that doesn't lock them as major or minor chords of any kind, but leaves them, how to say it... suspended :)

  • If you raise the major third of a major chord, you get a sus4 (suspended 4th) chord: Root, Perfect fourth, Perfect fifth.

    Example: C sus4 = C F G

  • Most of the time, suspended 4th chords resolve on the corresponding major chord.

    Example: Bsus4  Bmaj  Asus4  Amaj  Gsus4  Gmaj  F#sus4  F#maj  etc.
    (Pinball Wizard - The Who)
    
  • If you lower the minor third of a minor chord, you get a sus2 (suspended 2nd) chord: Root, Major third, Perfect fifth.

    Example: C sus2 = C D G

  • But most importantly, notice that sus2 is essentially the same thing as a sus4 -- a different inversion of the same chord.

    Example 1: C sus4 = C F G = F sus2 = F G C
    Example 2: C sus2 = C D G = G sus4 = G C D 
    
  • I think it's fair to say that 99% of the time, when people say "sus", they mean sus4.

  • In some genres, including jazz, sus is added to other chord flavours. For example, sus7 is a dominant 7th chord, where the major 3rd is raised to perfect 4th.

    Example: Csus7 = C F G Bb, while C7 = C E G Bb.  
    
  • Other sus-something chords can be similarly derived from the regular, non-sus version, by replacing the third with a perfect 4th.

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  • sus4 = sus2 (of something a fifth away) was something I didn't realize before. "Resolve on" = next chord/note "finishes off" the sequence, right? – Azendale Apr 8 at 15:59
  • @Azendale yes, "resolving on" means that the next chord or note feels like "going home", so to speak. – MMazzon Apr 8 at 17:31
  • Never, ever heard of or played a 'sus7'. in all my years of music, particularly jazz. 11th chords come close, having a 4th and an 7th..I realise that Csus4 = Fsus2, but if a chord is stated as Csus4, its rooted on C, not F. If the writer wanted root F, he'd write Fsus2. – Tim Apr 10 at 9:43
  • @Tim 11th chords still have the 3rd, either major or minor. sus chords have no 3rd, that's what tilts the balance. – MMazzon Apr 10 at 14:31

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