Ask Dr. Pokey: Do Gospel Musicians Need Suspended Chords?

If you’re interested in knowing if gospel musicians need suspended chords, then this lesson is for you.

The harmony of gospel music is as vast as that of jazz music and it is already a well known fact that various classes of chords (ranging from major, to minor, to dominant, and diminished chords) are used.

Today, we’ll looking at suspended chords with the intent of knowing how well they’re needed in gospel music. But before anything else, let’s invest the next two minutes or so into refreshing our minds on suspended chords.

Quick Insights On Suspended Chords

There are three classes of suspended chords:

Suspended triads

Suspended seventh chords

Extended suspended chords

Although it would take an entirely different blog post to explain suspended chords, let’s see how well we can do justice to these suspended chord types in this segment.

Suspended Triads

A major triad consists of three chord tones: the first, the third, and the fifth tone. A triad is suspended when the third tone is raised to the fourth tone in the major scale.

For example, raising the third tone of the C major triad:

…which is E:

…to the fourth tone (which is F):

…produces the C suspended fourth chord:

…which is notated as Csus4 chord.

It’s also possible to lower the third tone into the second tone of the scale to produce suspended second chords.

Lowering the third tone of the C major triad:

…which is E:

…to the second tone (which is D):

…produces the C suspended second chord:

…which is notated as Csus2 chord.

Suspended Seventh Chords

The third tone of a dominant seventh chord can be raised to the fourth tone of the major scale and this produces the seventh suspended fourth chord.

For example, the third tone of the C dominant seventh chord:

…which is E:

…can be raised to the fourth tone of the scale (which is F):

…and this produces the C dominant seventh suspended fourth chord:

…which is written as the 7sus4 chord.

Extended Suspended Chords

Extended suspended chords are suspended chords that exceed the width of an octave and a typical example of an extended suspended chord is the dominant ninth suspended fourth chord.

The dominant ninth suspended fourth chord is formed when the third tone of a dominant ninth chord is raised to the fourth tone of the major scale.

Raising the third tone of the C dominant ninth chord:

…which is E:

…to F:

…produces the C dominant ninth suspended fourth chord:

…which is written as the 9sus4 chord.

Do Gospel Musicians Need Suspended Chords?

In this segment, you’ll find out if gospel musicians need suspended chords or not. I have two answers to the question below:

“Do gospel musicians need suspended chords?”

There’s a yes answer and a no answer. So, it’s a yes and no.

“Yes!”

Gospel musicians need suspended chords and I’ll be giving you two top reasons why this is so:

  1. Suspended chords are used a lot in Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) harmony.
  2. Suspended chords are used to create anticipation; which is commonly used in gospel harmony.
  3. Suspended chords can be used as upper-structures for other chord types.

Gospel music is currently being influenced by the CCM style and lots of gospel musicians use triads and suspended chords instead of sophisticated and extended voicings that have always characterized gospel music in the past.

“Let’s Look At How Suspended Chords Can Create Anticipation…”

In the key of C major:

…the E major triad:

…can be used as a passing chord to the 6-chord (which is the A minor seventh chord):

To create anticipation for the E major triad, you can play an E suspended chord be fore the 6-chord. So, we can have the Esus4 chord:

…creating an anticipation for the E major triad:

…which is the passing chord to the A minor seventh chord:

OR

The E9sus4 chord:

…creating an anticipation for Edom7 [b9] chord:

…which is the passing chord to the A minor ninth chord:

“Let’s Also See How Suspended Chords Be Used As Upper-structure Chords…”

Advanced gospel keyboard players replace left hand bass notes with chords. The typical left hand voicing for the 1-chord in the key of C major:

…would be the E minor seventh chord:

…which would produce an overall C major ninth harmony:

…when played over the C bass note:

…which is probably supplied by the bass player.

With the E minor seventh chord in the left hand, the right hand is free to extend the chord using triads and suspended chord.

The following suspended chords can be played as upper-structure chords over the E minor seventh chord:

The Esus4 chord:

The Gsus4 chord:

The Asus4 chord:

Check out the voicings:

Emin7 + Esus4:

Emin7 + Gsus4:

Emin7 + Asus4:

7sus4 chords are not left out as upper-structure chords. The E7sus4 chord:

…can be played as upper-structure chord over the Ddom7 chord:

…to produce an overall D dominant thirteenth [add9] voicing:

“…And No!”

It’s also possible that you don’t need to play suspended chords as a gospel musician and I’ll be telling you why in a subsequent lesson.

Final Words

I’m very certain that you’ve learned more about suspended chords and the special place they occupy in gospel music harmony.

While you’re waiting for the “no answer”, go ahead and learn, master, and apply suspended chords.

See you in the next lesson.

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Chuku Onyemachi

Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. I started teaching musicians in my neighbourhood in April 2005. Today, I'm humbled to work as a music consultant with HearandPlay Music Group for musicians in Africa and beyond.

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