In our previous post we mostly spoke about composition techniques and tricks using the Major and Minor scale as a contrast in a musical piece. In this post we will talk a bit more about theory again, but with some composing techniques too. So don’t worry! You already know what triads and 7th chords are. You also know how to use those chords wisely to create beautiful chord progressions. Today we will learn about 6th chords and so-called “sus” chords.
The first groups of chords are 6th chords. Basically there are only 2 types of 6th chords: The Major 6th and the Minor 6th chord. There is no such a thing like a “Dominant 6th chord” or a “Diminished 6th”. So remember, only Major and Minor chords. To create a Major chord you will rely on the following chord spelling: 1-3-5-6. If you are already familiar with intervals (and you should be by now), you can create a chord relying on the intervals or at least the interval form that I presented to you in one of our previous posts. If you are still a bit in doubt on how to do it, you can simply create any Major scale and take 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th note out of it.
Let’s write down a C Major scale: (1)C - (2)D - (3)E - (4)F - (5)G - (6)A - (7)B - (8)C
and take 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th note from it: C-E-G-A. This combination will be your 6th Major chord. Open your DAW and add the chord and then play it. If you’ve done this correctly, you will get the following sound:
Alright, I think this is clear. Let’s move on and talk about the Minor 6th chord. Perhaps you are guessing that the spelling for Minor 6th chord will be 1-b3-5-b6, as this would be quite logical. But this is not correct. The Minor 6th chord has a different spelling: 1-b3-5-6. That means that we have a Minor Triad chord with an added Major 6th interval to it. If we take a Minor scale and want to create a 6th chord based on it, we will need to raise our 6th note one semitone up. Let’s try to do this and write down a C Minor scale: (1)C - (2)D - (b3)Eb- (4)F -(5)G - (b6)Ab - (b7)Bb -(8)C.
If we take the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th note we get: C-Eb-G-Bb. Remember it is not quite a 6th chord yet. We need to raise our Bb up with one semitone, which will give us B. In this case the C Minor 6th chord will be: C-Eb-G-B. If you add the chord to your DAW, you should get the following sound:
You probably wonder: “All fine, but how can I use this chord? The chord has a note that is out of chosen key.” Indeed, this is correct, the chord is out of your key, but you will still able to use it. There is no specific rule for using this chord wisely (well technically there is, but we will talk about that in the future when we have gone over some more theory). Despite this fact, I still recommend you to try and stick to the key, even if at first glance it seems impossible. Please listen to the following chord progression (you can also enter it in your DAW or download the midi file of it).
Basically, I used the following chords for my progression in C Minor: Cm7, Fm7, Gm7 and Fm6. According to the piano roll picture above, you can see that my Fm6 chord is a ”real” Fm6 chord with a Major 6th interval. If you don’t see it, you can simply count how many semitones there are between F (1) and D (6). There are 9 semitones. If you look to the interval’s form, you will see that 9 semitones in an interval is represented by “Major 6”. So this means I really used a correct chord here. You can also see that the chord is still in the key. My 6th is a note D, which definitely is a part of a C Minor scale.
Conclusion: You can use a correct 6th Minor chord without going out of the key. All you need to do is just spent a little bit more time and find the right 6th chord. Obviously you will not use the 1st cord from your Minor scale because then your 6th chord will definitely be out of key.
One additional Point: For your 1st chord of the Minor key, you are still allowed to use an “incorrect” 6th Minor chord. It simply has a bit different name. The chord with the spelling 1-b3-5-b6 is called “Minor 6th Flat 6” or “m6b6”. Have a listen to the sample of this chord below:
Ok, we are done with 6th chords. Let’s move to another group of chords called “Sus Chords”. You will be surprised, but “Sus” chords literally have no definition of Major or Minor. In a moment you will find out why. The first chord is a “sus2” chord which has a spelling of: 1-2-5.
Yes, it is true! It doesn’t have a 3rd in it. We already know that 3rd of the chord is a first indication that can help us determine whether the chord is Major or Minor. Remember, the Major triad has a spelling of 1-3-5, whereas the Minor triad has a spelling of 1-b3-5. The 3rd is different and this way we can see that the chords are different and therefore give them the proper name. To create a chord, all you need to do is just use correct intervals and build a chord, right? Or you can take any scale and (in this case) take the 1st, 2nd and 5th note from it. The “sus2: chord out of a C Major scale will be: C-D-G. Have a listen the sample below:
The symbol for this chord will be - Csus2.
Another “sus” chord is called the “sus4” chord. I am sure that you don’t have to be super-smart to make a guess that the spelling of this chord will be: 1-4-5. Once again, there is no third, which is why it is not a Major and not a Minor chord. All you have to do is take the 1st, 4th and 5th note of your chosen scale to get the 1st “sus4 chord. For example, the Csus4 chord will have the following notes: C-F-G. Again, have a listen to the sample below:
The symbol for this chord will be - Csus4
The good thing about “sus” chords is that you don’t have to worry about going wrong. These chords are present in any key and the main thing is that they are within the range of notes of your chosen key. Once again there is no particular rule for using “sus” chords in your composition. Just try to experiment with them.
Think about how many “tools” you already have in your “musical toolbox”: triads, 7th chords, 6th chords and “sus” chords. Now, turn on your imagination, let it flow and discover the fabulous composer that’s hiding in you!
Patricia Lomako - also known as Patricia Blush - is a professional singer, composer, music producer and music tutor. She finished the BMus Degree in Contemporary Performance (Vocals) at the Academy of Contemporary Music (Guildford, UK) and holds a Higher Certificate in Contemporary Vocal Teaching. She composes and produces various styles of music for video's, blogs, websites, etc. She also produces electronic music (mainly pop, but influenced by and mixed with House, Deep House, Drum and Bass and Electro). Her tracks are used in playlists for retailers, restaurants, gyms around the globe. Some of her clients are: M&S, SportsDirect, KFC and Clas Ohlson. Visit her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/officialpatricialomako You can listen to some of her tracks on her soundcloud page: www.soundcloud.com/patriciablush