There are two modes of the major pentatonic scale that can be used as suspended scales. These pentatonic “modes” only build suspended chords. I like to call them the dominant suspended and the major suspended pentatonic scales.
I show the scale shapes for these suspended scales and 29 total closed and open sus2 and sus4 chords for the notes D & G, the 2 suspended modes of the C major pentatonic scale.
What are suspended chords? (sus4 and sus2 chords)
This is not a beginner guitar article on suspended chords. I have two articles that specifically cover suspended chords: Music Triads and The E sus chord. If you are unfamiliar with intervals, then also read my Music Intervals article.
But here is a super quick summary. Suspended chords replace either the minor third in minor chords or the major third in major chords. The notes that do the replacing is either the major 2nd (sus2 chords) or the perfect 4th (sus4 chords).
Here are the formulas for both types:
sus2 = 1-2-5 = R-M2-P5 = Root note + Major 2nd + Perfect 5th
sus4 = 1-4-5 = R-P4-P5 = Root note + Perfect 4th + Perfect 5th
If you only see the word “suspended” or the abbreviation “sus”, then that refers to the more common suspended chord, the sus4 type.
Suspended chords are neither major or minor and have an open, ambiguous sound to them. They are used to break up a “long” section of a single chord, to add ornamentation and embellishment or to signal a change to a new chord. They have an unsteady sound that needs resolution.
Sus2 chords resolve best to the major version of itself or to the major version of its fifth. They also can resolve to the minor version of the fifth, but that resolution is a little weak. For example:
Dsus2 resolves to D major, A major or weakly to A minor.
Sus4 chords resolve best to the major version of itself and secondly to the major version of its fourth. For example:
Dsus4 resolves best to D major but also to G major.
Sus4 chords have a stronger tendency for resolution, where the sus2 tendency is weaker but it is still a nice-sounding chord. I consider both sus2 and sus4 chords as embellishments and the sus4 as a fairly strong sound to take you to a new chord or key.
By the way, the sus2 chord equals the sus4 chord in 1st inversion. For example, Dsus4 = D-G-A and Gsus2 = G-A-D have the same notes. Keep that in mind if you try to find chord voicings of your own.
Suspended scales and sus chords from the C major pentatonic scale
The notes of the C major pentatonic scale can build a surprising number of chords. Let’s look at the notes and chords of the C major pentatonic scale.
C major pentatonic = C-D-E-G-A = 1-2-3-5-6 = R-M2-M3-P5-M6
C chords that can be built with those 5 notes: C major triad, C6, C add9, C6 add9, & Csus2.
All 5 notes together equal a C6 add 9 chord: C-E-G (C triad) + A (6th) + D (the nine).
If you start the scale on the note A, you get the A minor pentatonic, a minor mode of the C major pentatonic.
A minor pentatonic = A-C-D-E-G = 1-♭3-4-5-♭7 = R-m3-P4-P5-m7
Chords rooted on the note A from the A minor pent: Am, Am7, Am11, Asus, & A7sus.
All 5 notes together equal an Am11 chord: A-C-E- (A minor triad) + G (Am7) + D (the fourth / eleven).
The note E does not build any chords because it has no 5th. But the notes D & G ONLY build suspended chords.
The C major pentatonic scale rooted on the notes D & G have the intervals and chords that form the 2 suspended scales that are a part of the major pentatonic scale. Keep in mind that both of those suspended scales include the notes that form the sus2 (major 2nd) and sus4 (perfect 4th) chords.
D dominant suspended pentatonic (9sus pentatonic)
The C major scale starting on D is
D-E-G-A-C = 1-2/9-4-5-♭7 = R-M2-P4-P5-m7
That leads to the following chords: Dsus2, Dsus, Dsus add9, D7sus, & D9sus (nothing bus sus chords).
I call this scale or mode either the Dominant Suspended pentatonic or maybe the 7sus or 9sus mode. Note that the D dominant suspended scale resolves as a V7 chord or moves smoothly to G major.
G major suspended pentatonic
The C major pentatonic starting on G, and the resulting chords are:
G-A-C-D-E = 1-2/9-4-5-6 = R-M2-P4-P5-M6
And those intervals build the following chords: Gsus2, Gsus, G6sus, Gsus add9 (all sus chord).
Because there is no ♭7 but there are the intervals of a major 2nd and major 6th, I like to call this mode the Major Suspended scale.
The G major suspended scale also sounds great resolving to a G major triad. The fact that both of these suspended modes of the C pentatonic scale resolve to G major makes sense since a C6 add9 chord also resolves best to G major.
Suspended scale positions in the major pentatonic scale
Since suspended chords rarely last more than 1 measure, if that, then you really shouldn’t focus on all the notes on all 6 strings. I think it’s best to think in terms of the B.B. boxes (Google “B.B. King Box”).
Just use short “suspended” boxes for a quick riff over a suspended chord. Below are the shapes I prefer.
I have the regular full C major pentatonic scale shape next to a single octave D dominant suspended scale shape, or slightly more than an octave in one of the shapes. The white notes are the root notes of each respective scale.
The fret numbers are at the bottom of the scale shapes. Here are the D Dominant Suspended (7sus) scale shapes. Notice the whole step separation of notes on each string:
Here are the G Major Suspended scale shapes without the C major pentatonic shapes as reference:
Note where the root notes are for either the 7sus or major sus pentatonic shapes. If you have a preference for the dominant suspended scale but for G, or any other key, then just move the shapes like you would a barre chord.
Closed sus2 and open D & G sus2 guitar chords from the C major pentatonic scale
I only have chord shapes for the notes D & G and only the 3 note chords of sus2 and sus4. If I included all the suspended chords from C major pentatonic it would be over 80 chord shapes. That’s too many for this article.
Let’s just focus on the sus2 and sus4 of the suspended modes. You can try and find Dsus add9, D7sus, D9sus, G6sus, Gsus add9 on your own or wait until I create an article on those chords. By the way, I did find a Gsus2 chord in the song Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix. Let me know if you have other song examples.
It’s a good exercise to map out your own chords. Other sus chords from the C major pentatonic are Csus2, Asus, and A7sus.
Here is a graphic of all the symbols I use in my chord blocks.
I have the closed sus2 chords first followed by the open D & G sus2 guitar chords.
Favorite chords: I like all the closed sus2 chords except #2 (it’s a little difficult). I like all the Gsus2 chords and #’s 1,2 & 4 for D sus2 with #4 being the best.
Special Note: The closed sus2 chord #5 is only 3 notes so triplet picking would be great. It’s a little hard to let the open A string ring out for #3 Dsus2 – it’s okay if you mute it because there is an A on the B string.
Closed sus4 and open D & G sus guitar chords
The closed sus4 chord shapes are first followed by Dsus and G sus open guitar chords.
Favorite Chords: For the closed sus4 chords I prefer 1 (better than 2), 3 (but it’s hard), 5, 6, and 9. I prefer #’s 1, 2, 4 & 5 (difficult) of the Dsus4 chords and all but #3 for Gsus4.
Try using boxes of the suspended scales for a different approach to soloing over suspended chords. Also, try and work in sus2 and sus4 chords into your songwriting. Also, consider sus4 and sus2 arpeggios as another option.
And of course, combine the two – go from a short suspended riff to a sus2 or sus4 chord, or vice versa. Also, take a look at my Chords from Scales article for insight into all the possible chords that can be built from various popular scales.