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Musical Space: Suspension (repeat)


One way musicians create tension in a melody or chord progression is through use of a suspension.

Here’s a little music theory for you: the suspension. A suspension is a note that clashes with the harmony and needs to move to another note to resolve the tension. For instance, the fourth note above the root of a chord is dissonant, and likes to move to the third note, which is consonant. Here’s a 4-3 suspension on a piano; the tension in this C chord is resolved when the dissonant F moves to the consonant E:

Example 1: 4 3 suspension.piano

It can sound glorious on an organ:

Example 2: 4 3 suspension.organ

Suspensions are not limited to classical music. The Who’s Pete Townshend gets the same glorious effect from 4-3 suspensions on his guitar here:

Example 3: beginning of “Pinball Wizard”

Here are some I found in the work of Lennon and McCartney:

Example 4: “Paperback Writer,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Nowhere Man”

Let’s end with a suspension tour de force: in a section just before the chorus of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” Stevie Wonder uses no less than six suspended chords.

Example 5: “Don’t Worry About A Thing”

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.