Your Guide to the A Flat Major Scale

Maybe you were inspired by Amadeus, or maybe you just want to learn how to play “Let It Go” for your Disney-loving friends [1].

Either way, learning the A flat major scale is a great place to start.

Here, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about A flat major, from the basics of constructing the scale to the chords you can build from it.

What is the A Flat Major Scale?

First things first: what is the A flat major scale?

To understand that, you have to know a few things about [2]

In Western music, there are several types of scales, but major scales are among the most important, along with their counterpart, the minor scales.

These are both a type of diatonic scale, which is a type of scale built on natural notes (no flats or sharps) and based on seven whole steps of perfect fifths (i.e. C-G-D-A-E-B-F). Modern music refers to scales as diatonic if they are made of five whole steps and two half steps.

Major Scale Formula

Major scales are perhaps the essential scales you can learn in Western music, both because of how common they are and because of how much they inform your understanding of keys.

Luckily for the new pianist, major scales always follow a specific pattern: whole, whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. As long as you remember this pattern, you can start with the root note and find your way through the scale.

The notes of A flat major are Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, and G (note that b, in this case, denotes a flat, or black key).

Once you look at a keyboard, you realize how easy it is to remember the notes of the scale as long as you know the major scale formula. A flat is a whole step (two piano keys) away from B flat, while C is only a half step (one piano key) away.

Playing A Flat Major

With the notes in mind, let’s take a closer look at the details of A flat major.

Remember, as long as you know the root note and the major scale formula, you can figure out the remaining notes of the scale, which will, in turn, allow you to puzzle out any of the other techniques we’ve mentioned here.

Scale Position, Sharps, and Flats

We mentioned that the notes of A flat are Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, and G. That’s important because these notes are the foundation of everything you’ll do here.

Since the notes of the scale cannot change, the position of each note within the scale is also set. B flat, for example, will always serve as the second note of the scale, and A flat will always be the root note (the first note of the scale, for which the scale is named) [3].

In scale degrees (a notation describing pitch class), here’s how the scale looks [4]:

  1. Tonic: Ab
  2. Supertonic: Bb
  3. Mediant: C
  4. Subdominant: Db
  5. Dominant: Eb
  6. Submediant: F
  7. Leading tone: G
  8. Octave: Ab

You’ll notice that there are four flats in the scale: Ab, Bb, Db, and Eb. On sheet music, you’ll see four flats noted by a key signature at the start of the music, which automatically means each of those notes is flat.

Intervals

If you’ve been paying attention, or you just know your intervals, then you can figure out what the intervals of A flat are.

For those who don’t know, an interval is simply the space between notes. So, the intervals of A flat are as follows [5]:

  • Tonic: Ab
  • Major 2nd: Bb
  • Major 3rd: C
  • Perfect 4th: Db
  • Perfect 5th: Eb
  • Major 6th: F
  • Major 7th: G
  • Perfect 8th: Ab

Don’t be too worried about the names of the intervals. These names serve to describe the sonic qualities of the interval–perfect fourths and fifths ring in a way other intervals do not, an observation first noted by Pythagoras.

Chords

Now, if you know the notes that make the scale, you can start doing fun things with them like constructing chords.

In piano, a chord is simply a group of three or more notes that can be played together to create a harmony [6]. That’s good news for you because these particular groupings of notes always sound good when played together.

Luckily, as long as you know the notes of the scale, you can figure out the notes of the chords, since chords are constructed from each note of a scale and cannot contain any notes except for the ones in the scale.

So, the chords of A flat major are:

  1. Major: Ab major, Ab major 7th
  2. Minor: Bb minor, Bb minor 7th
  3. Minor: C minor, C minor 7th
  4. Major: Db major, Db major 7th
  5. Major: Eb major, Eb dominant 7th
  6. Minor: F minor, F minor 7th
  7. Diminished: G diminished, G minor 7th flat five

Spelled out, that means the notes of the chords are:

  • Ab major: Ab, C, Eb
  • Ab major 7th: Ab, C, Eb, G
  • Bb minor: Bb, Db, F
  • Bb minor 7th: Bb, Db, F, Ab
  • C minor: C, Eb, G
  • C minor 7th: C, Eb, G, Bb
  • Db major: Db, F, Ab
  • Db major 7th: Db, F, Ab, C
  • Eb major: Eb, G, Bb
  • Eb dominant 7th: Eb, G, Bb, Db
  • F minor: F, Ab, C
  • F minor 7th: F, Ab, C, Ab
  • G diminished: G, Bb, Db
  • G minor 7th flat five: G, Bb, Db, F

For those who can feel their head spinning, it’s a lot simpler than it looks. Each chord contains three or four notes and is named for its root note. For a clearer understanding of the, A  flat major chord read it here.

When you add the sevenths, you get the four-note chords, but since the chords can only contain the notes of the scale, the pattern of note progression in the chords is always the same.

Inversions

Now, let’s say you wanted to tinker with your chords. One of the easiest ways to do this is inversions.

Let’s say you want to play the Ab major triad chord: Ab, C, Eb. Playing an inversion basically means shifting your hand so that a different note begins the chord, which is why there are only three ways to play the triad chord (root, 1st inversion, and 2nd inversion).

The first inversion goes C, Eb, Ab. Place your hand on the notes of the root position, then shift your hand to the right and resume the notes of the chord, et voila: the first inversion!

The second inversion goes Eb, Ab, C. The same premise applies: shift your hand two places to the right.

Note, however, that you can shift your hand to the left as well, so long as you maintain the notes of the chord.

Learn Every Scale

Who knew you could do so much with those seven little notes of the A flat major scale?

Better yet, there are still 88 more keys for you to learn and play. If you need tips, tricks, and guides to help figure it out, check out our blog for more posts like this one taking you through everything you need to know about this amazing instrument.

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