Get to know the 'Chord With Two Names.'
By Lana Cooper
The Ab chord (sometimes written as A flat) has a bright, almost perky sound, despite its “flat” moniker. That quality makes it a natural fit for building a soundscape within uptempo rock and pop songs.
While that “flat” can be deceiving, the Ab chord also goes by another name: the G# (or G sharp) chord. Let’s learn a little more about this chord, some different ways to play it, and some songs where it makes an appearance.
Flats and sharps in a scale are really just a matter of perspective. These half-tones on the musical scale are either a half-tone lower than a full note (a flat) or a half-tone higher than one note up on the scale (a sharp).
Since the Ab is a half-tone lower than the A note (a whole tone), it sits between the G note and the A note. Depending on the scale, the same exact note could be an Ab (a half-tone lower than A) or a G# (a half-tone higher than A).
Now that you have a better grasp on the concept of flats and sharps, let’s hone in on the Ab chord and learn a few ways to play it.
Listening to the Ab chord, it conjures a cheerful brand of recklessness and fun. Fortunately, with a little practice, it’s a fairly fun chord to learn to play.
One of the most popular ways to play the Ab chord is as a barre chord.
This barre chord starts on the 4th fret, giving it a higher sound than many chords that call for you to position your fingers on the (most commonly) first, second, and third frets.
To play the Ab chord, barre your index finger across the 4th fret. Then, stretch your ring finger over to the 6th fret of the fifth (A) string. Your pinky finger lands on the 6th fret of the string next to it (D). Finally, place your middle finger on the 5th fret of the third (G) string, and strum all six strings to hear the full version of the Ab chord.
Strum six strings down from the low E string
For beginners or guitarists with smaller hands, comfortably mastering barre chords can be a challenge. However, with practice, it’s certainly achievable.
Until you’re able to build up your dexterity to play a barre chord with ease, there’s an alternate, easier way to play the A flat chord that only uses four strings:
Strum three strings down from the G (3rd) string
In this version, omit playing the low E, A and D strings. Instead, place your index finger on the 4th fret of the B string and the 4th fret of the E string. Add your middle finger to the 5th fret of the G string directly next to it.
This version is easier to play and also starts on the 4th fret, but lacks the full tone of Version 1. The finger pattern is almost identical to Version 1. Once you find yourself comfortable with this version, you can try barring your index finger to play the full version.
The Ab chord is made up of the notes Ab, C, and Eb - including two flats in one chord.
Now, if you’re calling the Ab chord a G# (because a chord by any other name would sound just as sweet), the names of the notes in the chord would change, but the tones would sound exactly the same.
The notes that make up a G# chord are: G#, B# and D#.
Because the whole note B is only a half-step above a C in terms of tonal quality, the “C” note is called a B# in the G# chord. Check out the following chart below to see “The Chord With Two Names” and its corresponding notes:
| Chord | Note 1 | Note 2 | Note 3 | | ---------- | ---------- | ---------- | ---------- | | Ab Chord | Ab | C | Eb | | G# Chord | G# | B# | D# |
The Ab chord pops up in quite a few heavy rock and peppy pop songs. Train your ear to listen for the chord in some of these songs:
The A flat chord makes an appearance in several very different, but equally recognizable rock songs. Deep Purple’s “Hush” uses the Ab chord to great effect to heighten the feeling of an obsessive type of love on this ‘70s classic rock beast. Alternative rock legends Stone Temple Pilots weave the Ab chord into “Interstate Love Song,” using it to (literally and figuratively) drive the riff-laden track.
The Ab chord lends some perky punctuation to “Always Like This” by Bombay Bicycle Club. The indie rock tune is more of an upbeat, rhythm-propelled jam, but the subtle guitar work allows the Ab to peek through.
“Spooky” by Atlanta Rhythm Section, is also (as the band’s name would indicate) is another example of a song fueled by rhythmic riffing, as well as an opportunity for the Ab to work its atmospheric magic.
To hear the Ab chord played as a G#, check out Tesla’s “Modern Day Cowboy,” which makes use of an arpeggio - deconstructing a chord to be played as a series of single notes, as well as more advanced guitar techniques like 16th note triplets and palm muting. The G# heightens the tension in this underrated example of heavy metal storytelling.
The Ab chord also appears under its alias G# in a more instantly recognizable dance-floor classic: The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno.” In this Grammy-winning song that was featured in the film Saturday Night Fever, the E chord transitions to a G# chord.
With time and practice, you’ll be able to expand your chord vocabulary to include the Ab (or G#), as well as new guitar skills. Ready to keep learning? Check out Fender Play for more tips, tricks, and songs to level up as a guitarist.
If you'd like to learn how to play even more chords, browse Fender Play's chord library, learn about chord types, and find tips on how to master them.
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