Basics of 4ths and 11ths on the Guitar - dummies

By Desi Serna

By far the most common type of 4th chord that you encounter on the guitar is a sus4, where a 4th replaces the 3rd and a chord is stacked 1-4-5. On occasion, a 4th is added and the 3rd is retained, in which case you view the formula as either 1-3-4-5 or 1-3-5-11 and call it either add4 or add11.

Basics of sus4 chords

Here are a handful of sus4 chords in various keys. Sus4 chords naturally occur on chords I and V. You can also move these shapes up the neck and use them as full or partial barre chords. The F shape is one example of a barre chord; it’s actually a partial E form.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

In a major scale, sus4 chords occur on the 1st and 5th degrees. For example, the G major scale produces both a Gsus4 and a Dsus4. You may expect the other major chord in the key, C, to also produce a sus4 chord, but it doesn’t. When you count from C in the G major scale, its 4th is Fs, a half step higher than a perfect 4th interval.

The 4th degree in the major scale always has a s4th. You often hear this naturally raised interval in a song’s melody, but you don’t usually hear it in the guitar chords. In fact, even though the 4th chord in a key technically has a s4th, guitarists are far more likely to use a regular (perfect) 4th on it instead, probably not knowing the difference.

Basics of add4 chords

Here are a few examples of add4 chords, which can also be called add11 depending on how the chords are stacked and your preference. Notice that the Cadd4, stacked 1-4-5-1-3, keeps its 3rd, E (the 1st string open). Likewise, the Gadd11, stacked 1-3-5-1-11-1, keeps its 3rd, B (2nd fret of the 5th string). The Dadd4, stacked 1-3-4-1-5, is a type of C form moved up two frets without barring.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Play the Dadd4 with the 1st string open and it becomes Dadd4(add9). The 1st string, E, is a 9th to D.

The following songs feature some form of sus4 or add4:

“All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley

“Brass in Pocket” by The Pretenders

“Can’t You See” by Marshall Tucker Band

“Closer to Fine” by Indigo Girls

“Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor

“Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys

“Jack and Diane” by John Mellencamp

“Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix

“Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet

“Signs” by Tesla

“Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin

“Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams

“Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton

“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

“What I Like About You” by The Romantics

“Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam