You are on page 1of 3

Improvising with SUS structures

Here is a common improvisational tool used a lot in jazz. Palle Pesonen explains how they work in
Improvising with SUS Structures.

A really common imrovisational tool is to use smaller cells / structures instead of complete scales . One
frequently used, is a structure made of three notes 1, 4 and 5. Starting from C, that would be C, F and G,
this is called a SUS structure. If your scale of the moment is C Ionian, see how many SUS structures that
are contained in that particular scale, you have:

Csus ( C F G ), Dsus ( D G A ), Esus ( E A B ), Gsus ( G C D ) and Asus ( A D E ) Fits on: CMaj7

If it's Lydian, you have all the above plus:

Bsus ( B E F# ) Fits on: CMaj7(#11)

If it's Dorian you have:

Csus ( C F G ), Dsus ( D G A ), Fsus ( F Bb C ), Gsus ( G C D ), Bbsus ( Bb Eb F )

Complete this list with every scale YOU frequently use (Altered, Spanish, Phrygian, Eolian etc.).

Note that in some scales no SUS structures exist, as in Symetrical Diminished (half/whole and
whole/half ), Symetrical Augmented, Wholetone and others.

To start with, you assign specific SUS structures on the chords you're improvising on, that is; you don't
start with every structure available. You can even just start to play in one Mode, and choose a SUS
structure to work with so that you get a handle on it, it's really not all that easy as it may seem, with six
notes you cover two octaves if you're going in one direction, just like regular triads, alot of work here.

The next step after modal playing would be to write ones that you are going to use over a whole tune.
Once again I use a jazzstandard, this time it's " The Days of Wine and Roses ":

Asus Csus Ebsus Dsus Ebsus Fsus Gsus Gsus Gsus Absus
Original D7
Fmaj7 Eb7 Gm7 Bbm7 Eb7 Am7 Dm7 Gm7 C7
Changes: (alt.)

Asus Fsus Asus Dsus Csus Dbsus etc
Em7(b5) A7(alt.) Dm7 G7 Gm7 C7(alt.)

Now if you want to comp with these sounds you can take the SUS structure as an upper structure triad and
just play the Root of the original chord, and thus making a SLASHCHORD.
Ex : Asus/F, Csus/Eb Ebsus/D etc.

Next step would be to use some of the other three chordtones as Roots, if that root happens to be a note
contained in the SUS structure it sounds bland, compared to how it sounds when there are four different

Ex: Asus/A (third of FMaj7 as root) ends up being just Asus, whereas Asus/C (fifth of FMaj7 as root) has
more density, and then again Asus/E (seventh of FMaj7 as roo ) ends up being "just " Asus in second

So this particular SUS structure did not have many interesting results, but if you choose a SUS structure
that doesn't contain that many notes from the regular chordsound the result is different .

Ex : Dsus/F, (Dsus/A), Dsus/C, Dsus/E

Only one of these resulted in doubling a note - Dsus/A (=Dsus in second inversion).

Back to single line playing again. The next step here is getting some chromaticism in, i.e. connecting the
preset SUS structures with nonharmonic notes, these could also be arranged in SUS structures.

Ex : Connecting Asus with Dsus via Bbsus. You could have line that went - A D E, F Bb Eb ascending
resolving halfstep down to D, remember ANY of the three notes you have, CAN connect with any of the
three notes in your next SUS structure.

Ex : The G in Csus can connect chromatically with Ab in Ebsus, we tend to think of chromaticism as it
happens between two roots that are a half step away from each other, but there are SO much more to
chromaticism than that.

You can connect Csus with Fsus via Absus, at first it doesn't appear to be all that obvious, but Db ( the 4th
of Absus ) is a halfstep above C which is the fifth of Fsus.

Is it getting interesting yet ?

As you may have noticed the possibilities are endless. Here's another one: If you put SUS structures in a 4
tonic system ( b3 between each one ); Csus - Ebsus - F#sus - Asus, no single note is repeated twice, you
have all the 12 notes, but in an organised way.

Try this:

structures Csus , Ebsus , F#sus , Asus

chord Cm7

For inspiration to play along these "lines", listen to: Dave Liebman, Gary Thomas, George Garzone and
other contemporary Jazzplayers.