How to Play the Sus b9 Mode on Guitar

Although it has a rather odd name, the susb9 mode is one of my favorite scales.

It has unique ‘hanging feeling’ and ‘exoticness’ about it that I like. The susb9 scale is the second mode of the melodic minor and only has a few specific uses so it is easy to get your head around. Like all modes of the melodic minor scale, the susb9 mode has no avoid notes; it is easy to learn and apply!

In this lesson I will show the easiest and most effective approach for improvising with the susb9 mode.

The Sus b9 Chord

Do you know how to play a Susb9 chord? Chords and scales go hand in hand. Your first step to learning any mode is to play the chord and tune your ears into its individual sound.


When are Sus b9 Chords Used?

Most often these chords are used as suspended V chords in a minor key.

e.g. In the key of C minor,

Gsusb9 Cm

This works as a V chord in a major key too but is sounds a bit crazier.

Why have suspended dominant (rather than a normal one)?

Suspended chords sound exactly what their name implies: suspended. They have a hanging, open feeling. Dominant chords are hard and direct, they want to resolve. Suspended chords have less tension but still serve as great V chords. Modern composers (post bebop) often use susb9 chords in a non-functional manner. Improvisers or composers use susb9 chords for it’s specific sound, that includes you!

The Susb9 Scale

melodic minor mode
Can you see how it shares the same note as C Melodic minor? (If not, check out Melodic Minor Modes)

Here is how to play the susb9 mode on the guitar, in two positions. Numbers indicate fingers. The white circle is the root note of the scale.

melodic minor mode

melodic minor mode

A Handy Hint (for intermediate – advanced guitarists)

This cheeky hint is for guitarists who already know about the locrian#2 scale and the m9b5 chord. (Check it out first before continuing). All melodic minor modes and chords are interchangeable because they have no avoid notes:

e.g Cm Dm9b5 Gsusb9

If you take a close look at the Gsusb9 above, you will find that it shares its parent melodic minor scale F melodic minor with the Dm9b5 chord. My tip for you is simply pointing out the co-relation and changeability of these two chords. In practice you can use the relationship between any two melodic minor chords to your advantage by combining two chords into one or substituting chords for each other. There are endless opportunities in melodic minor harmony, start exploring today and build your own bag of tricks.

How to HEAR the Susb9 Mode

To start off with, it is handy to relate this mode back to its parent melodic minor scale. But to really HEAR the unique sound of a mode you need appreciate this scale as its own entity.

Try this:

  • Forget about the parent melodic minor scale.
  • Record a susb9 chord and play through the scale slowly.
  • Accustom your ears its sound.
  • Try this with all your modes, think of each mode as its own unique scale.

To sum up, modes are easy to learn because they share the same notes as each other. But to get your ears around them, think of each mode as a unique scale and key center. I remember modes being confusing to me when I started out, let me know in the comment section below if this trick works for you!

How do I use the Susb9 Mode?

  • Play it a few times, up and down.
  • Record a susb9 chord. Play the scale and listen to how each note sounds over the chord.
  • Check out, How to Practice Jazz Guitar Scales. Apply the patterns I use in that lesson to get your muscle memory happening.

Here is a little table to summarize the Susb9 Mode:

Sus b9 Summary

ScaleSus b9
ChordSus b9
NotesR, b2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7
C exampleC, Db, Eb, F, G, A , Bb
Chord/ Guide Tonesb3rd and 7th
Color Tones9th, 11th, 13th
Avoid Notesnone!
Sam's TipThe natural 13th is the KEY color note in this scale. Land on it!

More Free Melodic Minor Mode Lessons

Thanks for checking out this lesson, please feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions you may have.

~ Sam Blakelock |

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