Tonal Trends Pop Music Theory for Songwriters

Songwriting and Music Theory Vlog youtube-icon twitter-icon facebook guitarate guitar curriculum

Guitarist looking for something to play or teach? Visit our other site:

Get Updates:

Click Here for a List of the latest Songwriting and Music Theory Vlogs

"Sus Chords, as Spotted in 'FourFiveSeconds'"

Hey Everybody welcome to the ‘Spotter Spots’ vlog. Today we’re taking a look at the new single “FourFiveSeconds”, by Rihanna and Kanye West and Paul McCartney, and like seven other people, that I don’t remember, cause, they’re not in the video. Anyways, our main focus today isn’t the song’s ridiculous number of writer’s-credits, it’s the “Suspended” chords, or, ‘sus’ chords, sprinkled throughout.


Alright, what’s a ‘sus’ chord? Well, first off, most chords begin as what we call “chord triads.” That’s where you play every other note in a scale—three of them, at the same time—to get a three-note chord, or harmony. Like here, you can see this D major chord triad is made up of a D, an F#, and an A—or, the first note (then not the second note), then the third (not the fourth), and then finally the fifth note above D. And, boom—D major chord triad, three notes—all, an interval of a third apart. And yeah, over here it’s the same thing for the A chord, except the 1-3-5 pattern starts on an A.    


Okay, next, let me give you a quick rundown of the song’s other chords. That way, you can see how these sus chords fit, in context, and, so you can totally locate them in the song.


[Lists Chords and Types]


And yeah, if you’ve been wondering why I ordered these chords on the staff up here like they are, now you know, it’s because that’s the order they’re used in the song—first: triad to sus; then, sus resolving to a triad.


Okay, next, “How to make a suspended chord”. So, to make yourself a sus chord, all you have to do, is change the ‘3’, or the middle note of the triad—in between the 1 and 5—to some other note. Like, maybe the 4th note above the root? Like they did right here, and also here. And yeah, that’s all you have to do to make a sus chord!


Now, you should know, that while sus4’s like these are indeed, thee most commonly heard suspended chord types, you can also suspend other scale degrees; you can have sus2 chords, sus7s, sus9s—I mean, you can replace that ‘3’ with just about any note you want to; you can even suspend two notes at a time, like in “Stairway to Heaven”, where Jimmy Page plays a sus2&4 chord. But yeah, just don’t get too carried away, cause the more crazy you get, the more likely it is that some music theory geek like me is going to get all snooty and call your chord just like, an inversion of some other chord that we know, cause we’re so great.


Alright, last, you may be asking yourself, “Wait a sec, rewind: did he say “sus9” back there? Um, doesn’t he mean, ‘add9’? I mean, at least I’ve heard of an add9 chord before.” And, yeah, well, “Add9’s” are much more common than “sus9s”, but the difference is, ‘add’ chords—add—a note; they don’t replace any notes.


So, when you’re playing an “add9” chord, it’s understood that you’re playing the original intact 1-3-5-triad, and then also, an added 9. And the difference sounds kind of like this:  


[Plays some chord examples.]


Alright, well, that’s it for now. So until next time, make sure to subscribe, to like us, and follow us on all the websites, and if you got some time, you should stick around and watch another music theory and songwriting video from the music theory and songwriting vlogs! Okay, thanks, and go play a suspended chord why don’t ya!