Advanced Harmony: More Three-Note Chords

There are many ways to put notes together. I’ve explained the most common way, which is the “one, three, five” pattern, but this is not the only way. I encourage you to explore ways of putting notes together that don’t fit this pattern, to see if you can find any sounds you like. Improvise using these different sounds, and play them so many times that you know what they’ll sound like before you play them. If you do this enough, you may not need to read the rest of this section. You might find all the sounds you need. However, reading the rest of this section may give you ideas you didn’t think of by yourself and help you to understand your explorations. It will also help you communicate with other musicians because some of the chords you’ll find in your explorations have names.

Other Three-Note Chords: Suspended Chords

You may have noticed that there are patterns other than “one, three, five.” Two common ones are “one, two, five” and “one, four, five.” These are usually called “suspended” chords. The chord symbol for the “one, two, five” pattern starting on C would be Csus2 (“sus” is short for “suspended”, and the “2” tells us that the chord uses the second note of the scale rather than the third). The notes in that chord are C, D, and G. The chord symbol for the “one, four, five” pattern would be Csus4, and the notes would be C, F, and G. Try these out to see how they sound. I like the sound of these chords. They don’t sound “major” or “minor” because the note that defines whether a chord is major or minor is the third, and these chords don’t have a third.

Suspended chords are used in many situations. Often, when a musician is playing a regular “one, three, five” chord, they switch to a suspended chord for a beat or two, then switch back to the regular chord. Playing a suspended chord for an extended period creates a unique feeling, as you’ll see. The only way to find how you’d like to use these chords is to experiment and listen. Try adding suspended chords to songs you already know, or add them to your improvisations. Try playing with inversions of suspended chords, too.