Suspension is a musical technique used to create tension and resolution in a piece of music. It is a type of non-chord tone that occurs when a note from the previous chord is held over into the next chord, creating dissonance before resolving to a consonant note.
What Is a Non-Chord Tone?
Before we dive deeper into suspension, let’s first clarify what a non-chord tone is. A non-chord tone is any note that is not part of the current chord being played. These notes are used to add interest and complexity to melodies and harmonies.
Types of Non-Chord Tones
There are several types of non-chord tones, including passing tones, neighbor tones, and suspensions.
- Passing tones occur when a note passes between two chord tones.
- Neighbor tones occur when a note moves to an adjacent note before returning to the original note.
- Suspensions, which we will discuss in more detail below.
How Does Suspension Work?
Suspension occurs when a note from the previous chord is held over into the next chord, creating dissonance with the new chord until it resolves to a consonant note. The dissonant note typically falls on the strong beat of the measure, emphasizing the tension it creates.
The Numbers Game
Suspensions are often labeled with numbers that indicate their relationship to the chords being played. The number represents how many scale degrees above or below the root of the current chord the suspended note is.
For example, if we are playing a C major chord (C-E-G), and we want to create a suspension using the G note from the previous F major chord (F-A-C), we would label it as a 4-3 suspension. This is because the G note is four scale degrees above the root of the F major chord, and then resolves down to the third scale degree of the C major chord (E).
The resolution of a suspension occurs when the dissonant note resolves to a consonant note, usually by moving down by step to a chord tone in the next chord. The resolution typically happens on the weak beat of a measure, creating a sense of release and resolution.
Examples of Suspension in Music
Suspension is commonly used in many genres of music, from classical to pop. Let’s take a look at some examples:
- In Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude in C Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, there is a suspension on beat three of measure seven.
- In Bruno Mars’ “Just The Way You Are,” there is a suspension on the word “amazing” in the chorus.
- In Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, there is a famous suspension at the end of the first movement on beat three of measure 80.
Suspension is an important technique in music theory that adds tension and interest to melodies and harmonies. By holding over a note from one chord into the next and resolving it to create consonance, suspensions create an emotional impact on listeners that can make music more engaging and memorable.