The A flat major scale likely won’t be among the first you learn on the piano. However, as you master this and other scales, you’ll become a versatile musician who can write and improvise in any key.
Get to Know the A Flat Major Scale
In 1806, poet and composer Christian Schubart wrote that A flat major was the “key of the grave” and that “death, grave, putrefaction, judgment, eternity lie in its radius.” It’s moody for a major key, and you’ll start to get a sense of that as you practice the A flat major scale on the piano keyboard.
If you write music and want to create a song that sounds unique, you might consider writing it in the key of A♭ major. It’s the least popular major key. That said, quite a few notable musical works have been written in the key. These include Beethoven’s Piao Sonata No. 12, Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 14, and Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag.
Structure and Formula of the A Flat Major Scale
Plenty of musicians simply memorize scales without understanding how they work. But if you want to be a well-rounded musician, it’s a good idea to get familiar with how scales, chords, etc., relate to one another.
Even if you don’t know it off the top of your head, you can discover the A♭ major scale using the major scale pattern of whole-step and half-step intervals. Start with the root note (A) and follow the pattern W-W-H-W-W-W-H. Each W represents a whole step (or whole tone), and each H represents a half step (or halftone). Following that pattern, we get the A♭ major scale:
A♭ B♭ C D♭ E♭ F G
As you can see, the scale contains four flats. When looking at a piece of music, you’ll be able to tell if it’s in the key of A♭ major. If it is, the key signature will show a flat symbol in place of A, B, D, and E on the staff by the treble clef, bass clef, alto clef, etc.
Each of the individual notes in the A flat major scale has a corresponding scale degree, too:
- 1. A♭ (tonic/root note)
- 2. B♭ (supertonic)
- 3. C (mediant)
- 4. D♭ (subdominant)
- 5. E♭ (dominant)
- 6. F (submediant)
- 7. G (leading tone)
Often, piano players will include A♭ as the last note in the scale. Since this one is one octave above the starting note, it’s known as the “octave.”
How to Play and Learn the A Flat Major Scale on Piano
When you learn any scale, it’s important to make sure you master the correct technique early on; it can be hard to master it later! Knowing a scale and being able to play it on the physical piano keys can be two very different things. Here’s how to play the A♭ major scale with each hand.
- Start by finding A♭ on the keyboard. This is the second black key to the left of C. Play it with your middle finger.
- Now play B♭ (the black key to the right of A♭). Play this one with your ring finger.
- Next, cross your thumb under your fingers and play C.
- Then play D♭ (the black key to the right of C) with your index finger.
- Next play E♭ (the next black key) with your middle finger.
- Cross your thumb under your fingers again and play F (the second white key to the right of E♭).
- Now play G (the next white key) with your index finger.
- Finally, play A♭ (the black key to the right of G) with your middle finger.
- Start by playing A♭ with your middle finger.
- Next, play B♭ with your index finger.
- Then play C with your thumb.
- Cross your fingers over your thumb and play D♭ with your ring finger.
- Next play E♭ with your middle finger.
- Now play F with your index finger.
- Then play G with your thumb.
- Finally, cross your fingers over your thumb one more time and play A♭ with your middle finger.
As always, be sure to use the same fingering ascending and descending. This scale is a bit more challenging than others to play, as there’s more crossing your fingers over your thumb than in other scales. There’s also more switching between white keys and black keys. When you’re new to the instrument, this can be a challenge. But it’s a great way to build upon your dexterity!
As you practice, play one octave at a time before adding an octave higher or lower. This video lesson offers a quick video guide to playing it, too.
Relative and Parallel Scales
Each major scale has a relative minor scale. Relative major and minor scales have the same notes, but they are ordered differently. The relative minor scale of the A♭ major scale is the F natural minor scale (F-G-A♭-B♭-C-D♭-E♭). Parallel scales share the same first note, so the parallel scale of A♭ major is the A♭ minor scale.
Chords of the Scale and Their Scale Degrees
We saw above that each of the notes in the A flat major scale has its own scale degree name. Likewise, each scale degree also has its own chord.
Luckily, there’s a formula you can use to figure out what triad chords are in a given key. Go down the scale and assign the Roman numerals I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, and vii°. Lowercase numerals indicate minor chords, uppercase numerals indicate major chords, and the degree symbol indicates a diminished chord. So following that, we can discover the main piano chords in the key:
- I. A♭ major (A♭): tonic
- ii. B♭ minor (B♭m): supertonic
- iii. C minor (Cm): mediant
- IV. D♭ major (D♭): subdominant
- V. E♭ major (E♭): dominant
- vi. F minor (Fm): submediant
- vii°. G diminished (Gdim): leading tone
In many chord progressions, you’ll see variations of these chords used. Seventh chords, slash chords, and suspended chords are all options. If you write music, don’t be afraid to experiment!
Songs in The Key of A Flat
Want to really get a feel for the distinctive mood of this key, try listening to some of these popular songs in A♭ major.
- 1. “Buzzcut Season” by Lorde
- 2. “Because of You” by Kelly Clarkson
- 3. “Wild Ones” by Flo Rida
- 4. “Firework” by Katy Perry
- 5. “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel
- 6. “Ignition – Remix” by R Kelly
- 7. “Take a Bow” by Madonna
- 8. “I Want You Back” by Jackson 5
- 9. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler
- 10. “Laughing With” by Regina Spektor
Common Chord Progressions in A Flat Major
Now that you’re familiar with some famous songs in A♭ major let’s look at some useful chord progressions in the key. There are some interesting ones in the songs above. Lorde’s “Buzzcut Season” has a somewhat complex pattern of IV-V-vi-V-vi-I-V-I-vi-V-vi-V (D♭-E♭-Fm-E♭-Fm-A♭-E♭-A♭-Fm-E♭-Fm-E♭). “Ignition – Remix” by R Kelly has an I-IV-I-ii-V (A♭-D♭-A♭/C-B♭m7-E♭7sus2) progression. And the verses of Regina Spektor’s “Laughing With” have a chord progression of ii-vi-V-I-V-vi-iii-IV (B♭m-Fm-E♭-A♭-E♭/G-Fm-Cm/E♭-D♭).
There are plenty of more straightforward A♭ chord progressions that sound great, too. Try I-V-vi-IV (A♭-E♭-Fm-D♭), I-vi-IV-V (A♭-Fm-D♭-E♭), I-IV-ii-V (A♭-D♭-B♭m-E♭), or I-iii-vi-V (A♭-Cm-Fm-E♭).
Hopefully, this list has helped you get started learning the A flat major scale. Remember to practice carefully and master technique first; speed will come later! But what do you think? Do you have any advice for new piano players just learning the scale? Let us know in the comments, and please like and share if you found this article useful!