What color is your music?

There are recorded cases of hearing-impaired people “seeing” sound and reports of people who “hear” color. This is called Chromesthesia.1 Additionally, there are people who experience a physical reaction to color and sound. Musicians use color, texture, and even taste and aroma to describe sound. Do you experience visual color sensations in your music?

When I was a child, I recall a conversation with a friend about how I thought Wednesdays were purple. I don’t remember what was going on in my life then, but purple and Wednesday seemed like a good match. I still feel days as colors sometimes. Gray days don’t seem like very much fun. Orange and yellow days feel like high energy days. Green days are calm and perfect for long conversations with close friends. Shamanic practitioner, Joyce St. Germaine, talks a lot about the color pink being the color of unconditional love. When facing a difficult conversation, consider wearing pink or engulfing the individuals involved in pink energy. You may find that the situation diffuses itself on its own.

I have written in other posts about food, aroma and music. On occasion, I find myself talking to my teenage students about creating a dark chocolate sound. Youthful tastebuds don’t find this flavor appetizing. However, they can appreciate the dense quality of chocolate as well as its almost black color and silky sheen. The discussion of this imagery is in response to a need for a deeper sound. I can talk to students about how to technically produce a richer sound but with limited result. Instead, the use of imagery of color and texture helps them to achieve a more authentic, emotional connection between the music and their instrument.

I don’t claim to know how this imagery works. If you are not experiencing color in your music, you might try meditating on it perhaps while some music is playing in the background. You may also want to think in terms of the colors, textures and timbres you already use in your music, often referred to as “tone color.” Your collection of tone colors makes up your musical palette. Perhaps begin by quantifying your various tone colors and then associate them with actual colors. There isn’t a right or wrong way. It is another aspect of your artistry.

Please share your ideas about color in music. Do you naturally see colors in your mind’s eye when you listen to music? How many “voices” do you have in your violin playing? The organ has stops that the player uses to create specific tone colors to match the style of the repertoire. Violins don’t have stops but we violinists do have a bow which allows us to create a variety of beautiful tone colors. One of my favorite colors is what I think of as my “old style” that matches well with late 19th century music such as by Robert Schumann. I create a modal vocal style with a heavy slow bow and somewhat wide vibrato. It’s kind of an earthy brown color.

Children respond well to working with color. A fun game to play in a Suzuki group class is to randomly assign a color to each student. Students then demonstrate their colors by performing them in review pieces. The group tries to guess each color. Feeling or imagining music in color can help you connect to your music without engaging the technical, problem solving part of your brain. It is a subtle yet inspired way of connecting with the energy of the music.

1. Lemicher Mack. ‘Hearing Color & Seeing Sound: Exploring Hearing Science’ (October 8, 2021). Audicus.com. (Accessed: November 25, 2021).

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