The Mixolydian Mode and the Sus Chord

Dominant seventh with added 4th, also written ...Image via Wikipedia
Over the past few days I received emails from readers asking me to talk about  suspended chords. I personally have learned so much from The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine. Are you familiar with this great music theory book? Another resource that I have purchased from Hear and Play is their theory book 300 Page Course Book

G Mixolydian is the scale, or mode, that is usually played over a Gsus chord. So you're playing all white notes: G,A,B,C,D,E,F,G. the difference between G7 and Gsus, the two chords that share the same g Mixolydian mode, is as follows: Pianists and guitarists voice sus chords so that the 4th doesn't sound like an 'avoid' note. A good definition of a sus chord is "a V chord in which the 4th doesn't sound like an 'avoid' note.

The "sus" in the chord symbol refers to the suspended 4th of the chord, in this case the note C. In traditional harmony, the 4th of a sus chord usually resolves down a half step to become the 3rd of a dominant 7th chord.

G/CFA = G sus
G/BFA = G7
In contemporary music, the 4th often doesn't resolve, which gives sus chords a floating quality.

On the piano, play the G Mixolydian mode first over the Gsus chord voicing in the left hand and then over a G7 chord and you'll hear the difference. Play the C by itself over each chord and the difference is more pronounced.

GCF/G,A,B,C,D,E,F,G  ... then play GBDF/G,A,B,C,D,E,F,G

Gsus = GCF/C
G7 = GBDF/C

Sus chords have been an everyday sound in jazz only since the 1960's, although Duke Ellington and Art Tatum were playing them in the 1930's and 1940's.

Students are constantly asking me "how do you voice a sus chord?" Here's a common G sus voicing:
G/CFA  Play the root (G) with your left hand while playing the major triad a whole step below the root (in this case F major) with your right hand. Note that the triad is in second inversion, meaning that the 5th of the triad (C) is on the bottom, instead of the root (F). Triads often sound strongest in second inversion. This voicing resolves so smoothly...
G sus = G/CFA  then play C/BEG

Listen to another common Gsus voicing:

G/CEFA   then play C/BDEG

Here's a different inversion:

G/FACE  then play C/GABD

Sus chords create tension and want to be resolved. (released)

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