An A Flat 7 Piano Chord is a four-note chord consisting of the notes A-flat, C, E-flat and G-flat. In root position it will have the A-flat on bottom, C as the lower middle, E-flat as the upper middle and G-flat on the top. As with any other chord it can be played in any combination and still count as an A-flat 7 chord (i.e. C, E-flat, G-flat, A-flat, or other combinations).
Additionally, the E-flat of the chord can be left out (A-flat, C, G-flat) and it still function as an A-flat 7. Typically when this is done it is played in the following orientation: C, G-flat, A-flat (from the bottom up). This orientation is one of the most common orientations for the chord in general, particularly in the case of an authentic cadence. If you’re thinking “what is an authentic cadence,” don’t worry, you don’t really need to know to play the chord and you’ll see one later in this article.
A short description of an authentic cadence is that it is a chord progression commonly heard at the end of songs particularly throughout classical music. When you play one, it will likely sound very final. If you already know a little bit of tonal harmony then you may know that an authentic cadence is V7-I. If that makes absolutely no sense to you, don’t stress about it.
What Does the “7” in “A-flat 7” Mean?
It is worth noting that this chord is more likely to be written “Ab7” with the lower-case “b” meaning “flat.” This will be true for all chords with “flat” in the title. To understand what the 7 is referring to, we must first break down what an Ab chord is by itself.
In this case, we know that the Ab chord is actually an Ab Major. We know this because in chord notation, if you just give the letter name of a chord (i.e. G), it indicates a major chord (G major). If the chord is minor, it will have a lower-case “m” (Gm) next to it to denote its minor quality.
Because it is a major chord, we know it has a major third on the bottom with a minor third on top. Ab (A-flat major) is built Ab-C-Eb from the bottom up.
The “7” of the chord means this is specifically what is known as a “dominant 7” chord. Without getting too deep in the weeds about what the means, suffice it to say that if you see just a number 7 on a chord, like you do with Ab7, that indicates that you are going to play a flat 7. The number itself refers to a note that is a 7th up from the bottom of the chord.
If you were to play an A-flat major scale, it would consist of the following notes in the following order: Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G-Ab. We can describe each note in that scale by its relationship to the starting note. Bb is a 2nd away from Ab, C is a 3rd, Db is a 4th, and so on.
If we count up this way, we will find that G is a 7th away from Ab. With our scale, however, G is neither sharp nor flat.
As we said earlier, though, Ab7 is a dominant 7th chord, meaning that we need the note G to actually be Gb. So, in short, Ab7 means we are going to play an Ab major chord (Ab-C-Eb) with a flat 7 (Gb) stacked on top.
What Does a Root Position Ab7 (A-flat 7) Chord Look Like?
As with any chord, “root position” just means that the name of the chord is going to be the bottom note. In this case, that means we’re building our chord on an Ab. In root position, the chord is built Ab-C-Eb-Gb
This chord can also be played in multiple different inversions. As this is a 4-note chord, there are 3 inversions possible rather than just 2 that you usually see with triads (3-note chords). The first inversion is where the root is moved up to the top, making the chord go from being Ab-C-Eb-Gb to C-Eb-Gb-Ab.
Second inversion follows the same format by going from C-Eb-Gb-Ab to Eb-Gb-Ab-C.
And finally, third inversion flips it one final time making the chord go from Eb-Gb-Ab-C to Gb-Ab-C-Eb.
Ab7 Without the 5th
As described in the introduction, Ab7 can be played without the Eb and still function as an Ab7 chord. The reason the Eb can be omitted is because it is the only note in the chord that can be implied by the rest of the notes.
If you have an Ab7 chord that doesn’t have C in it (Ab-Eb-Gb), then it is uncertain whether this is a major or minor chord because the 3rd of the chord determines quality. If you leave out the Gb (Ab-C-Eb), then you just have an Ab chord and no one will assume you wanted an Ab7 from that. Obviously, if you leave out the Ab, then you have left out the root and it could imply a completely different chord.
If you have the root (Ab), the 3rd (C), and the 7th (Gb), then it will be clear the 5th (Eb) is missing. The 5th of both major and minor chords is the same, so you can get away with not playing it. As such, this new 3-note version of an Ab7 chord also has inversions. Because it is a triad now, it will only have 2 inversions.
Technically, the root position of the chord would be Ab-C-Gb, but this version of the chord is seldom played in root position. First inversion, therefore, would be C-Gb-Ab, and this is the most common inversion of this chord.
Second inversion would be Gb-Ab-C, and while it is not very commonly played this way, it is a functionally correct version of the chord.
What Fingers Should I Use?
Any 4-note chord can be played with just one hand, but there are a limited number of comfortable hand shapes possible. Obviously, the chord has 4 notes and you have 5 fingers—there just aren’t an incredible amount of options there. As always, it is best to go with what feels the most comfortable and natural to you.
That being said, there are certain hand shapes that are typically more comfortable for most people. The fingers are numbered from 1 to 5, starting with the thumb, and this will be a helpful reference for forming comfortable hand shapes. The left hand is mirrored from the right hand in terms of finger numbers (both thumbs are 1, both pointer fingers are 2, etc.).
For playing the 4-note version of Ab7 in root position, it tends to be most comfortable to use 1, 2, 3, and 5. For the right hand, this means playing Ab with 1 (thumb), C with 2 (pointer finger), Eb with 3 (middle finger), and Gb with 5 (pinky).
If you have a larger hand with longer fingers, or just generally feel cramped by this shape, it is possible to use 1-2-3-4 rather than 1-2-3-5. But for most people 1-2-3-5 will feel the best.
Remember that no matter what hand shape you choose, it is important to keep unnecessary tension in the hand and wrist to a minimum. Play the chord with curved fingers and a comfortably straight wrist.
For the 3-note version of the chord, we will use a slightly different shape. If you are playing the most commonly used inversion of Ab7 without the 5th (1st inversion – C-Gb-Ab), you would use fingers 1, 4, and 5. Due to how close this configuration is, you may also find it comfortable to use 1, 3 and 4.
What Does Ab7 Look Like in Music?
If you are reading in standard notation, it needs to contain the notes Ab-C-Eb-Gb—but how they are oriented is irrelevant. You could spread the notes out as far as possible across both hands and play them in any order and it would still count as an Ab7 Chord.
Though, typically it will appear in one of the inversions described above.
Even without the 5th (G), it still functionally counts as an Ab7 chord, and its inversions look like this:
How Do I Know Which Inversion to Use?
If you are playing something written out in standard notation, then the specific inversion will be clear. If you’re reading a chord sheet or a lead sheet, and the inversion isn’t stated, then you are left with a choice between tone-color and facility.
On the fly, facility reigns supreme. If you’re sitting in on a jam session and reading a song you don’t know as well, go with whatever version of the chord comes out first. Once you are more familiar with a song, you can substitute different inversions to get ones that are more sonically pleasing.
When you’re thinking about facility, all you really need to worry about is what inversion is the easiest to reach from your current chord. Say, for instance, you are playing a Db (D-flat major) chord and you need to play an Ab7 chord immediately afterwards (here is that authentic cadence we talked about at the beginning again). Typically, this will mean that you are going to return to that Db chord after playing the Ab7 to complete the cadence.
If you are playing the Db in root position (Db-F-Ab) using a 1-3-5 hand shape, then the easiest way to transition to the Ab7 would be to play first inversion (C-Eb-Gb-Ab) with a 1-2-4-5 hand shape.
The thumb (1) slides down from being on the note Db to being on the note C, the pointer finger (2) plays the Eb it was already hovering over, the ring finger (4) plays the Gb it was hovering over, and the pinky (5) plays the Ab it was already playing. Remember that you can also play this chord without the note Eb allowing you to play C-Gb-Ab with either the 1-4-5 or 1-3-4 hand shape.
This sets you up to be in the closest orientation to the Db you left and will make for an easy return to Db to complete the authentic cadence.
When Am I Likely To See An Ab7 Chord?
There are a lot of contexts in which you may encounter an Ab7 chord, but most commonly, you’ll see it when playing songs in the key of Db. Ab7 functions as a dominant 7th chord in the key of Db, meaning that it is a chord built on the 5th note of the Db major scale and typically resolves back to the root chord of the key signature.
Db isn’t necessarily an uncommon key, but you are far more likely to play a song in D major, or C major, or G major than you are in Db major.
To play an A Flat 7 piano chord, you just need the notes Ab-C-Eb-Gb played in any order and you can leave out the Eb if you need to. Use whatever hand shape feels most comfortable, but there tend to be fewer options when playing a 4-note chord.
“Ab7” is what “A Flat 7” looks like on a chord chart or lead sheet, and it is a major chord. If it were a minor chord, it would be written Abm7.
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