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Victoria Williams

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Harmony Reconstruction Lesson 3: Adding Suspensions

Grade 7 Music Theory Q2.  Lesson 3: Adding Suspensions to a Harmonic Outline

What is a Suspension?

A suspension happens when a note from a chord is held over (or repeated) in the following chord, creating a brief dissonance with the bass. The held note then falls to a note belonging to the second chord.

Look at these two chords. The F belongs to the first chord (V7):



If the F is suspended, it becomes part of the following chord:


It then falls to E, which is the proper note to complete the C major chord.

Suspensions contain a dissonance between the suspended note and the bass. The dissonant intervals are

  • the 4th
  • the 7th
  • the 9th

In our example, the suspended note is a 4th above the bass. (It’s actually a compound 4th, but it makes no difference!)



The Three Phases of a Suspension

Suspensions are made up of three parts.

1. The first is called the preparation. This is when we first hear the note which is going to be suspended.


2. The second is the suspension itself. The preparation and suspension can be tied together, if you prefer.


The last part is the resolution. The suspension should fall (not rise) to the resolution note.



Where to Add Suspensions

When you are looking for somewhere to add a suspension, you need to make sure that all the following criteria are met. It may sound difficult, but there are usually a few opportunities for suspensions in a chorale.<

Suspensions should only be added: 

  • where a voice part falls by an interval of a 2nd
  • to the alto and tenor parts (but rarely to the soprano and not at all to the bass)
  • when the suspended note makes a dissonance with the bass
  • only when the suspended note is not already in the soprano, alto or tenor parts of the resolution chord (it's ok if the suspended note is already in the bass part of the resolution chord).

To help you remember, make a mental picture of yourself being suspended in a muddy bog. Learn the word MUD.

  • M – Middle parts (alto and tenor)
  • U – Unique note (not already in soprano, alto or tenor parts)
  • D – Dissonant with the bass

Here’s an example of how we would check the given outline for a possible place to add a suspension.

1. Scan the alto and tenor lines for falling 2nds.

Here, the falling E-D is fine.

suspension place 

2. Check the interval formed between the first note and the bass of the second chord. It should be a dissonance (4th, 7th or 9th).

In our example, it’s a 9th.


3. Make sure the second note doesn’t exist in the other upper parts in the second chord, in other words, make sure it is unique.
In our example, the alto D doesn’t occur in the soprano or tenor parts, so that’s fine.


(The D does occur in the bass part, but it’s only the upper parts that matter).

4. Create the suspension.



Problems to Check For

Be careful not to create clashing harmonies.
In this case, the alto part falls by a second (G-F), and the F is unique in the resolution chord. However the result would be a G natural against a G sharp, which would make a terrible clash.



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