The ♭VI (“flat six”) chord is yet another chord borrowed from the parallel minor scale. It is a bright sounding chord which adds some surprise within a major key diatonic chord progression.
Example ♭VI Progressions
♭VI chords often lead back to I. You may see a progression like I-IV-♭VI-I (C-F-A♭-C).
Other times you may see the ♭VI lead to the V chord. Still other times the ♭VI is part of a larger borrowed chord progression which we will examine in an upcoming lesson.
How the ♭VI Works
The ♭VI contains two notes outside of the major key. In the key of C a ♭VI chord would be A♭ major (A♭, C and E♭). The A♭ and E♭ are both outside of the key of C.
When the progression goes from ♭VI to I, some satisfying connections occur. In the key of C, the chord tones would go:
A♭ (root of A♭) to G (5th of C)
C (3rd of A♭) to C (root of C)
E♭ (5th of A♭) to E (3rd of C)
So, in the ♭VI to I progression, two notes connect by a half-step and another remains static between the two chords.
Another way you may see the ♭VI chord is stepping down to the V chord. In the key of C, this would be A♭ to G. Here, all three notes would move down a half-step. (There can be other explanations for this progression which we'll cover in later lessons.)
While the ♭VI is quite common, recently you don't run into it by itself as often as a minor iv or ♭III.
The ♭VI is often found in chord progressions with several other borrowed chords. There's no real reason for this. The ♭VI doesn't necessarily need those other chords to work well—it's great all by itself. It's simply what composers choose to use or not use. Songwriting styles and chord progressions can go in and out of fashion.
Exercises and Song Examples
Check out the bassline examples which explore the ♭VI sound. It's very pleasing and catches your ear. Also, check out the example ♭VI songs. There will be more songs with ♭VI chords in an upcoming lesson.
Again, if you're feeling lost in these borrowed chord lessons, it's OK. The main point is to know that most things are diatonic with a few non-diatonic chords used to spice things up.