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Staying Sus with Joni

May 1, 2023

Joni Mitchell —-

I used to call them, not knowing what a sus chord was myself, I called them chords of inquiry. They have a question mark in them. They’re sustained. Men don’t like them because they like resolution, just like they do in life.

Wayne Shorter said to me, “What are these chords? These are not guitar chords and these are not piano chords. What are these chords?” And then he said, “You realize some of them are sus chords.” And he went, “They create suspense. They’re suspensions. They’re unresolved, like a major is a positive statement. A minor is a tragic chord, right? The seventh is a kind of a bluesy chord. But a sus chord has a question mark in it. It lacks resolution.”

So the law, according to Wayne Shorter, who studied music and had a degree from Berklee College of Music, he said, “We were taught to never stay on a sus chord too long. Never ever go from a sus chord to a sus chord.”

I stay on sus chords a long time and go from sus chord to sus chord, and then by building that, because it builds tension, when you drop into a major chord, it’s like the major chord was never more major. It’s like a complementary colour — the sky just opens up.

I don’t really know the neck comprehensively, but as far as composing and finding unusual chordal colours and combinations, my system works for me very well. Except that when it comes to sitting down and playing with someone else and following their music, I’m handicapped in communicating with other musicians. I have to just play it, and they’ll say, “Oh yeah, now she’s going to a C. Here’s she’s going to a such and such.”

—- from Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words by Malka Marom

Photography © Norman Seeff

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