Chord Theory - Suspended Chords

Engineering Music With Chord Theory Basics

Honest question for you.  Do you consider yourself to be a musician?  Sure, you are producing or engineering music, but are you a musician?  This is something we ask our students all throughout their time at Pyramind and eventually, we get a resounding “YES” from everyone.  

We believe every producer interested in engineering music should have a thorough understanding of A) how to use their DAW and B) in music theory and arrangement techniques.  Today, we are going to focus on the latter by going over triads, suspended chords, and how to get creative with them.

You hear chords all the time in every style of music.  When engineering music, an understanding of these are necessary for making your music come to life.  A chord is made up of intervals, 
which is created when 2 notes sound together. The notes can be articulated individually (melodic) and together (harmonic). For purposes of this topic, we’ll look at harmonic versions – when played at the same time.

When playing 2 notes together, we can call it a 
Dyad (translates to: two-notes). If we add another note, we get three, aka Triad (three-notes). This is the formal name for this kind of construction – it’s also extremely common to call these Chords.

To get more technical, there are a few varieties of triads; Four main types (or qualities) and a special one. The first four are:
  • Major
  • minor
  • diminished
  • Augmented (notice the capitalization)
Each type is constructed using two intervals of a third (and also contains a fifth). The special type is known as suspended and has a slightly different combination of intervals (but also has a fifth).

The Suspended Chord

Basic Chord Progressions

Suspended chords are special. Traditionally, they are more of a function rather than a chord on their own. They work like this: Play a chord, then move to the next chord, but hold a note from the previous chord over. Thus, creating a suspended sound. Then, the suspension would be resolved to the third of the resulting chord, by step.

Nowadays, you can use suspended chords however you like. They sound pretty cool, but be aware of their traditional function as it may affect the emotional result of your music.  This can come in the form of dissonance or completely changing the mood of your piece.

Now let’s take a look at what the fingering would be on a keyboard.  Below is a breakdown of 
C Suspended

  • R25
  • C sus2 is spelled C, D, G
  • (C – D) is a Major 2nd (2 half-steps)
  • (D – G) is a Perfect 4th (5 half-steps)
  • The outer notes (C – G) make a Perfect 5th (7 half-step
An image of a piano keyboard with black and red lines, perfect for music producers and beatmakers looking for free online music production tools.
Progress to:
  • R45
  • C sus4 (aka C sus) is spelled C, F, G
  • (C – F) is a Perfect 4th (5 half-steps)
  • (F – G) is a Major 2nd (2 half-steps)
  • The outer notes (C – G) make a Perfect 5th (7 half-steps)
An image of a piano keyboard with black and red stripes, perfect for music production or beatmaking enthusiasts.

Creative Applications for Suspended Chords

This technique works well in a lot of different applications.  You can use this on an evolving pad line or the main chords of your song.  

1.  Pads – You can utilize this in a deep, emotional track with a solo singer.  If you want to build emotion or intention in your song but not overwhelm with sound, try a suspended chord in a Minor key.  This will allow your sections to melt together and create a nice sonic bed.    

2.  Synth Plucks – If you are creating a melodic techno track or a trance track you can build chords using a short, plucking synth line.  Even though your sound doesn’t have a long release you can still suspend your chords all throughout your lead line.  

The creativity of this technique comes when you get comfortable with knowing when and where to place them in your music.  The last thing to remember is that suspended chords are neither major nor minor, in essence, they tend to sound more neutral which makes them a perfect tool to use throughout your piece.  Once you learn to speak the language of music then you’ll be able to convey your artistic vision fluently with your audience.

This technique of engineering music, along with many more is covered in our six-month Electronic Music Producer program.

This program was designed for anyone who is interested in producing their own music.  Whether it’s house, techno, hip hop, pop, ambient, and more.  If you are looking to get results FAST then this is the program for you.  In six months’ time, you’ll cover everything from learning Ableton Live OR Logic Pro, music theory, sound design, engineering, arrangement, mixing & mastering.  

During your time at Pyramind you’ll have access to:

  • World-Class Curriculum
  • Professional Musicians as Instructors
  • Personalized Feedback on Your Work
  • Exclusive Workshops from Industry Professionals
  • Student Discounts on Gear/Software
  • A Pathway into the Industry

For more information about our programs please contact us here.

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