Play Less, Sound Better - With Only One Chord

What should you play when you're accompanying a vocalist/soloist and you're given the chords only?

How to create an accompaniment for your composition/song?

Answers to these questions require some experience in music, but in this article I'll give you one easy method that (60% of the time) works every time: The Sus2 Method.

Intro: Traditional Chords

Let's start with a chord progression, a very common I-V-vi-IV, which in C would be C - G - Am - F.

A beginner piano player would play it like this, using the root positions for all chords:
The beginner way of playing chords

A beginner guitarist might play this using the default shapes:
The default C - G - Am - F on guitar

These don't sound very interesting. The piano line is very mechanical and jumpy, and I'm not a big fan of the default guitar voicings for C and G.

A more advanced piano player would play something like this:
A more advanced way of playing subsequent chords

Here they are using different inversions of the chords to keep the movement minimal. They are also using symmetrical lines: as the bass goes up, the highest note goes down. This sounds more melodic and interesting than parallel movement.

This is still a bit boring, and playing like this requires experience in chord progression theory and inversions. We need something simpler!

The Sus2 Method

Take the sus2 chord of the tonic (Csus2 in this case), and play it over all the chords, moving only the bass note.
The Sus2 Method of playing C - G - Am - F

This creates new types of chords and voicings with each of the bass notes. The best thing about this method is that it works for all the scale notes, and not just the major but natural minor also!

Don't believe me? Let's check every combo.
Every note in C major/natural minor combined with a Csus2 chord

You'll get some delicious add9/add11/addWhatever sounds. For some extra flavor, try adding a B in there also. The cluster B - C - D works particularly well for the chords with an asterisk in the image above.

How about the guitar? The sus2 shape is easy on the high strings with a barre on e and b. Our C - G - Am - F would go like this:
The Sus2 Method on guitar: C - G - Am - F

As a guitarist, your life will be extra easy if you're playing in the key of A as you can use the open e and b as part of the sus2 chord. Every chord with just two fingers on frets, max!
Playing the guitar in A major. Can it be any easier?

Additional Tips

As with any tips use your own judgment when applying this method. Experiment and try what works and what doesn't. If you play the same sus2 shape all the time it will become boring. Mix it up with

  • rhythmic variation: syncopate or stretch chord changes, use upbeats
  • arpeggio: play notes one by one in a pattern, works especially well with guitar
  • mix in traditional chords, maybe three chords with a sus2, then a "normal" chord
To finish off, see me playing a chord progression with only the The Sus2 Method:

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