Tired of playing the same old chords, and are looking for something interesting and new to spice things up? Then your “sus” chords have got you covered! In fact, the Dsus4 chord in particular sounds wonderful when paired together with another chord, you might already know; D major. As you read on, we’ll go over this wonderful chord, and how it works, so that you may start using it today! Let’s dive in!
How to Play the Dsus4 Chord
The Dsus4 chord is fairly easy to play, making it an excellent chord for beginners who are searching to “branch out” from the traditional major and minor chords. What’s really neat about the guitar as an instrument is the number of ways you can play the same chord! We call these variations.
Why play a variation of the same chord? There are actually a number of reasons!
Firstly, it might just depend on your skill level as a guitarist. If you really enjoy the sound of a chord, but struggle with playing it; more often than not there is any easier way. In fact, it’s a better way of boosting your confidence on the guitar, to play something you know you can nail, rather than playing something beyond your skill level (which will improve over time). However, it doesn’t hurt to challenge yourself from time to time.
The second reason to play chord variations may depend on the other chords within the song, and playing what makes more sense. For instance, if we have a chord progression around the 2nd fret of the guitar, why play something around the 8th or 9th fret? It might not always make sense, however, the decision is up to the guitarist!
Thirdly, we may use a different variation based on how it sounds. While, yes, they are the same chord; different variations bring out different colors and tones. This is based on the fact that certain notes within the triad forming our chord may be doubled, depending on the variation.
Finally, it may all come down to your personal preference. We all have our favorite chords, which may be based on any of the aforementioned factors. The important thing is that you play the chords that work for you. There are no wrong answers!
Moving on, are you ready to learn the Dsus4 chord and some of its variations? Let’s give some of them a try:
Chord chart of the Dsus4 chord from the open note position.
Chord chart of the Dsus4 chord from the fifth fret position.
Chord chart of the Dsus4 chord from the tenth fret position.
Trouble With Chord Charts?
If this is your first time seeing a chord chart, it might make you feel slightly overwhelmed. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there! In fact, learning chord charts is a very easy process and one that will serve you for years to come.
Let’s bring our attention to the big rectangular box, housing a number of vertical and horizontal lines; this represents our fretboard. Each of the six vertical lines represents a different string on the guitar. From the left to the right, we have our low E, A, D, G, B, and high E strings. The horizontal lines, however, are what separate one fret from the next.
Within the frets, and on top of the strings, you’ll notice that there are circles containing numbers anywhere from 1 – 4. These numbers represent our different fingers, and where they should be placed on the fretboard in order for us to complete our chord. The number 1 represents our index finger. The number 2 represents our middle finger. The number 3 represents our ring finger. Lastly, the number 4 represents our pinky finger. In some cases, you might notice a long dark bar stretching across a number of strings. This indicates that you are to form a “barre” to complete a “barre chord”. To form a barre, you simply need to drape your index finger across a grouping of strings along a single fret and apply pressure.
Next, if we look to the top of the fretboard, you may notice an “O” or an “X” above the strings. If there’s an “O” above the string, that indicates you’re to play an open note (a string to be played but not fretted). If, however, there’s an “X”, then you’re not to play the string at all to complete the chord. Finally, if you look to the left of the fretboard, you may notice a number indicating the starting fret in forming our chord. For instance, if there’s a number 4, then you start at the fourth fret to form our chord. If there are no numbers present, then it’s generally implied that you’re starting from the open note position.
That’s all there is to it!
Breakdown of the Dsus4 Chord
Sus chords, otherwise known as “suspended chords”, are often used in Jazz, and classical music, but are not uncommon within other genres. These chords are often used to add an increased level of tension to a chord progression, which will shift to a chord for resolution. To dive a little deeper into things, let’s first go over what makes up the Dsus4 chord, which can come down to the key, scale, and triad.
Let’s first go over the key. Our key can be thought of as a grouping of musical pitches no different than what you’d find in a scale. How are these pitches defined? This is where our key signature comes into play. Every key has a key signature. Our key signature is visually represented by a grouping of sharps (#), and flats (b) that often appear after the clef on a piece of sheet music.
This is where things get a little bit interesting.
The Dsus4 chord is neither major nor minor. In fact, the reason it’s suspended is because of the lack of a third interval, to distinguish it as being major or minor. However, this might sound a little confusing, at least for now. For the sake of explaining this chord in further detail, we’ll focus on using the D major scale.
Circling back, for us to find out more about our key signature, it can help to consult the circle of fifths.
Diagram of the circle of fifths, displaying the most commonly used keys.
The circle of fifths is a wheel-shaped diagram, displaying all of the most commonly used keys and their corresponding key signatures. Within the circle, you’ll notice two rings. The outer ring houses all of our major keys, while the inner ring displays all of our relative minor keys (keys that have a different root note, but share the same key signature). As you go clockwise around the wheel, starting from C major, you’ll notice that every key gains an additional sharp to its key signature. On the other end of the spectrum, going clockwise starting from C major again, you’ll notice that every key gains an additional flat to its key signature. For the sake of us using D major as an example, we’ll focus on the right half of the wheel containing the sharps.
So, how do we determine the notes to be made sharp within the key? We use a very simple acronym: FCGDAEB. This stands for:
“Father, Charles, Goes, Down, And, Ends, Battle”
Each first letter within each word represents a different note that’s meant to be made sharp, in sequence. Here is how the sequence of notes appears on the right half of our circle of fifths:
C = No sharps or flats.
G = F#
D = F#, C#
A = F#, C#, G#
E = F#, C#, G#, D#
B = F#, C#, G#, D#, A#
F# = F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#
C# = F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#
For instance, if we were in the key of A major, knowing that it has 3 sharps, using our fingers we’d go, “Father, Charles, Goes…” therefore, the key signature of A major is F#, C#, and G#. Here’s another example, if we were in the key of F# major, containing 6 sharps, we’d go, “Father, Charles, Goes, Down, And, Ends…” therefore, the key signature of F# major is F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, and E#.
Using this method, we can determine that the key signature of D major, containing 2 sharps, is F#, and C#. Now, let’s lay out our D major scale:
D > E > F# > G > A > B > C# > D
Major scales follow a strict pattern of tones (T) and semitones (S) that give them their characteristically happy sound:
T > T > S > T > T > T > S
As you can see, our first two intervals, D > E, and E > F# are both tones apart. In the third interval, F becomes F# pushing it a semitone closer to G, making them a semitone apart. The fourth, fifth, and sixth intervals, G > A, A >B, and B > C# are all tones apart. Lastly, in the seventh interval, C becomes C#, pushing it a semitone closer to D. It never fails!
Let’s try playing our D major scale now:
Guitar tablature of the D major scale, ascending and descending.
Trouble With Tablature?
Guitar tablature, otherwise known as “tab”, is an easy and comprehensible way for guitarists with no prior music theory knowledge, to write, learn, and share their favorite songs and exercises. You can think of tablature as a more simplified alternative to sheet music, that gets straight to the point with what you’re trying to play.
Let’s draw our attention to the six horizontal lines. Each line represents a different string on the guitar. From the bottom to the top, we have our low E, A, D, G, B, and high E strings. On each of these strings, you’ll see some numbers indicating the fret you’re to play on the corresponding string. For instance, if you see the number 2 on the A string, then you’re to play the second fret of the A string. If you see the number 5 on the B string, then you’re to play the fifth fret of the B string. If, however, you see the number 0 on any string, then it’s implied that you’re to play an open note on that corresponding string (a string to be played but not fretted).
Tablature is incredibly efficient, allowing beginners with no musical background to pick up the guitar and start playing right away. However, it’s important to make note of some of the drawbacks to this. When compared to its more detailed cousin, musical notation, we can often find that tablature doesn’t supply all of the necessary information we need to play things correctly. It’s in fact, this quality that acts as a double-edged sword for those who are looking to learn. It’s important to understand that the quality from tab to tab varies, especially on the internet, which in turn, means it’s up to you the musician in some cases to fill in the gaps of missing information, using your ear. However, there are some very comprehensible markings given on tablature for guitarists on how things should be played:
H = Hammer-on
P = Pull-off
B = Bend
X = Mute
PM = Palm Mute
\ = Slide Down
/ = Slide Up
~~~ = Vibrato
The next drawback, applies to any self-taught musician, and isn’t exclusive to those who are using tablature, but musical notation; proper playing technique. The proper playing technique we’re referring to here is fingerwork. Most often, tablature, let alone sheet music won’t supply you with any information on where you should be placing your fingers. Therefore, it’s important to exercise good habits by reading ahead of what you’re about to play, situating your hand in a good spot, keeping things nice and loose, and allowing your finger to come right down on the strings. Proper fingerwork is something that should always be in the back of your mind, because of how much it can influence your playing ability, and eliminate sloppy playing technique.
Within our scales, every note serves an important purpose. We call these different notes our scale degrees. Each degree has a unique name given to it, to help guitarists distinguish and refer to them with ease. Within our D major scale, here are our different degrees:
D = Tonic (1st Degree)
E = Supertonic (2nd Degree)
F# = Mediant (3rd Degree)
G = Subdominant (4th Degree)
A = Dominant (5th Degree)
B = Submediant (6th Degree)
C# = Leading Tone (7th Degree)
D = Tonic (1st Degree/Octave)
Let’s talk a little bit more about these different scale degrees. The first degree, the tonic, is our home, our tonal center; this is where things tend to resolve. The second degree, the supertonic, shares two notes in its triad with the fourth degree, making it an excellent predominant degree for building tension. The third degree, the mediant, shares two notes with the tonic triad, making it a great degree for drawing the tonic out. The fourth degree, the subdominant, is a tension-building degree; typically this transitions to the 5th degree. The 5th degree, the dominant, is the peak of our tension, the climax. When we hit the dominant, we typically want to resolve back home to our tonic. Upwards, we’re on the sixth degree, the submediant. The submediant acts as a predominant degree, sharing two notes with the subdominant triad. Next, we have our seventh degree, a very tense leading tone. This degree holds a lot of tension, in fact, try playing the C major scale and ending on B; your ears will want to hear it resolve back to C. Finally, we’re back home on the tonic, just an octave higher from where we began.
A triad is a type of chord, containing three notes played in unison. When making a major triad, we take our tonic, mediant, and dominant degrees of the scale (1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees), and stack them on top of each other. When we do this in the key of D major, we get the notes: D, F#, and A. These are the notes used within our D major chord.
Major triads contain specific intervals that give them their characteristically “happy sound”:
- Major 3rd – Between the 1st and 3rd degrees. D > F#.
- Minor 3rd – Between the 3rd and 5th degrees. F# > A.
- Perfect 5th – Between the 1st and 5th degrees. D > A.
However, this is where things get interesting. When we want to take our D major chord, and we want to convert it to a Dsus4 chord, we simply remove the Major 3rd and instead use a Perfect 4th interval. This gives us the notes: D, G, and A. For a visual, let’s look at this:
D > E > F# > G > A > B > C > D
D > E > F# > G > A > B > C > D
The bolded notes are the ones forming our different chords. If, however, you wanted to instead make it a Dsus2 chord instead, then we use the notes: D, E, and A. This is because instead of using a Perfect 4th interval, we use an interval of a 2nd. Here is how it looks:
D > E > F# > G > A > B > C > D
Finding Chords Compatible With D major
Making chord progressions can be a challenge that all musicians face at one point or another. Thankfully, there’s a process for making this a little bit easier! Thanks to what we know about triads, we can use this to our advantage and make these chords present themselves to us. Let’s from some triads on each degree of our D major scale.
D Major = D, F#, A (Tonic/1st Degree)
E minor = E, G, B (Supertonic/2nd Degree)
F# minor = F#, A, C# (Mediant/3rd Degree)
G Major = G, B, D (Subdominant/4th Degree)
A Major = A, C#, E (Dominant/5th Degree)
B minor = B, D, F# (Submediant/6th Degree)
C# diminished = C#, E, G (Leading Tone/7th Degree)
D major to D minor
We’ve talked a bit about D major, and have gotten a decent idea of how our Dsus4 chord fits around that. However, what about D minor? It’s important to understand the relationship between D major to D minor is a parallel key relationship. This is because while they share the same tonic, they both have different key signatures. This differs from that of a relative key relationship, like the one that D major has with B minor, where while they have different tonics, they share the same key signature.
The key of D minor contains 1 flat. If we want to figure out which notes are flat within a key like this, we simply take the acronym from before, FCGDAEB, and reverse it to BEADGCF. This stands for:
“Battle, Ends, And, Down, Goes, Charles’, Father”
Using the same method from before, we can determine that the flat within the key of D minor is Bb. Now, let’s throw together our D minor scale:
D > E > F > G > A > Bb > C > D
Minor scales, much in the way major scales do, contain their own pattern of tones (T) and semitones (S):
T > S > T > T > S > T > T
As you can see, the first interval D > E is a tone apart. The second interval, however, E > F is a semitone apart. The third, and fourth intervals, F > G, and G > A, are both tones apart. The fifth interval, A > Bb is a semitone apart. Finally, the sixth and seventh intervals, Bb > C, and C > D are both tones apart. It always checks out!
Now, we can form a D minor triad. To form a minor triad, we do just as we did with our major triad; taking the tonic, mediant, and dominant degrees of our minor scale (1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees) and stacking them on top of each other. This gives us the notes: D, F, and A. These are the notes used within our D minor chord.
Minor triads have their own separate intervals, slightly different than those found within a major triad:
- Minor 3rd – Between the 1st and 3rd degrees. D > F.
- Major 3rd – Between the 3rd and 5th degrees. F > A.
- Perfect 5th – Between the 1st and 5th degrees. D > A.
Do you see the difference? It’s reversed! Within a minor triad, the first interval is a minor 3rd, while in a major triad it’s a major 3rd. The second interval in a minor triad, however, is a major 3rd, while in a major triad, it’s a minor 3rd. The perfect 5th remains the same in both.
Let’s try playing the D minor chord now:
Chord chart of the D minor chord from the open note position.
Now, let’s try playing our D major chord to hear the difference:
Chord chart of the D major chord from the open note position.
Now you know everything you need to enter the world of “sus” chords. These chords are fantastic for branching out, using chords you might already know! Furthermore, they can add a lot of color and variation to breathe some life into your chord progressions. What other sus chords will you decide to take on? Whatever you decide, make sure not to be too hard on yourself, and to focus on having fun, and enjoying your own growth. Keep on rockin’.