Sus4 Triads as Upper Structures

Sus4 chords are very handy structures to use as a variation from third based structures like triads and 7th chords. In this lesson I want to show how you can apply or find them when improvising on chords, and of course some suggestions on how to play them and examples of how I use them.

Sus4 chords

Let’s first make a few interesting observations on sus chords. In example one you have inversions of an Asus4 triad on 3 sets of strings

Sus4 Triads as Upper Structures ex 1

Notice that the inversions are:

A D E – Asus4

D E A – Dsus2

E A D – stack of 4th

So we have sus4 = sus2 = stack of 4ths

Let’s just try and spot the structure in some chords voicings:

Sus4 Triads as Upper Structures ex 2

As you can probably see we the top 3 notes of each of these voicings are an Asus4 triad. There are more examples but the idea is clear. It is very practical to notice what the root of the sus4 triad is relative to the root of the chord (so on the G7 it is a sus4 triad from the 13) and to also figure out exactly what the notes are in relation to the chord (The E sus4 triad is 13(E), 9(A) and 3rd(B) ).

Let’s have a look at some ways to play the arpeggios:

These 4 examples are no where near all possible ways to play these arps, and you should spend a bit of time to check out what different ways to play the arps you can find and which ones suit you the best.
Sus4 Triads as Upper Structures ex 3

Example lines

Now that you have ways to play the triads and can recognize them as part of chords you already know I’ll try to give you some lines that I made using the sus4 triads.

Sus4 Triads as Upper Structures ex 4

The first II V I line  is in the key of C major. On the Dm7 chord I am first playing a Csus4 triad (which over D is a m7(11) sound). The rest of that bar is a descending Fmaj7 arpeggio. On the G7alt I am using first an Absus4 (b9, b5, b13 relative to G) and then an Ebsus4 triad (b13,b9,#9).

The Cmaj chord is using the lydian sound that I described in last weeks lesson: Lydian Mode so the first part is a Dsus4 triad followed by a Bsus4 triad and ending on the #11 (F#)

The 2nd example is a minor cadence, a II V I in the key of Am.

Sus4 Triads as Upper Structures ex 5

The Bm7b5 part of the line is first a basic Bm7b5 arpeggio played from the root. It then continues up using an Asus4 arpeggio. On the E7alt the first part is a descending Bb7 arpeggio followed by a Csus4 (b13, b9, #9 relative to E) before the line resolves to the 5ht of A minor (E).

In the final example is again a II V I in C major. Here I am using a Dsus4 triad over the Dm7 chord which will work in the context too. The line on the G7alt is first an Ebsus4 triad (b13,b9,#9) and then an AbmMaj7 arpeggio. On the C maj7 the line consists of the combination of a Gsus4 and an Esus4 arpeggios.

Sus4 Triads as Upper Structures ex 6

I hope you can use the examples and exercises I presented here to make your own lines and expand your melodic vocabulary a it with the Sus4 sound. To me it is also a good gateway to using quartal harmony in lines.

If you want to download the examples for later study I have them here as a PDF:

Sus4 Triads as Upper Structures

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