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Jazz Saxophone and the Importance of Sus Chords

What is a Sus Chord?

Learning to play jazz saxophone has many components, and one of those is the suspended, or sus, chord. It is a dominant chord where you either remove its major third or else replace it typically with a perfect fourth that is a half step higher or a major second. You will most often hear sus chords in popular, folk, and of course, jazz music.

What Makes Sus Chords Important?

It’s one thing to play the notes and jazz sax chords you see on a page of music. It’s a whole something else to create emotion and power from those notes. And that’s what makes sss chords so important. They are open to a huge number of harmonic options, letting you expose and convey any particular type of emotion you want. Specifically, you can use these jazz sax chords to:

  • Create suspension: When a fourth or second is held over from the previous chord, this creates a feeling of suspension, hence the name. While in many genres of music, this suspended feeling is usually resolved, in jazz it may not be. It all depends on what you want to convey.  
  • Work with the melody: When you are writing or playing a tune, then that music will tend to follow a number of musical guidelines or constraints. You want a melody that flows, but you also need to intertwine the harmony so that it too flows naturally in and around that melody. For example, if your harmony needs a dominant chord but the melody need to be the tonic, then that dominant chord can be a sus chord.
  • Express emotion or tension: Sus chords tend to have a certain unresolved sound. Therefore, depending on the melody and other aspects of a song, you can make your sus chords express anticipation, tension, wistfulness, power, or other similar types of strong and evocative emotions.

So How Do You Play a Sus Chord?

To add depth and flavor to your jazz sax chords, try playing a sus chord. But how exactly do you play a sus chord?

First, keep in mind that a sus chord does not simply mean you don’t play the third in a chord. Simply including the fourth of the chord in the voicing of a sus chord does not necessarily mean that you need to steer clear of the third note. However, when you are trying out sus chords, certainly give this simple strategy of avoiding the third note a try.

What’s more, switch between keeping the third and then omitting it to hear the difference.

Also, play around with other common sus chords.

While you can find plenty of suggestions on the Internet, look for ones that are part of a jazz sax song you like and try to mimic both the notes as well as the feelings they convey. Also, listen to sus chords to hear their voicings.

Once you feel more comfortable, try creating some sus chords of your own. But most of all, make sure you're having fun creating music!

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