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Colours, Music and Emotions: Interaction and Influence; From mid-1800s to Modern Day

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Ann is interested in the Arts, particularly the connections between them. Colours, music and emotions are essential within the arts.

Sound Colours

John Keely's 'Sound Colours', the connection of wave lengths

John Keely's 'Sound Colours', the connection of wave lengths

My research into the connections between colours and sounds, including music, has come across an overlap into the area of relationships between colours and emotions. Not a huge leap of faith, you might think, but it widens the umbrella.

Sympathetic Vibratory Physics’ (SVP), discovered and developed by Mr John Keely (1827-1898) in America, was an area of research influenced by a Mrs F J Hughes who explored harmonies and colours. She took inspiration from ‘Christian scriptures and the scientific study of nature, especially the ideas about nature and evolution proposed by her great-uncle, Erasmus Darwin, and her cousin, Charles Darwin’.

I find this diversion into spiritual matters, emotions, alongside science and nature, an interesting one. The link to Darwin surprised me, though it probably shouldn’t have! It was the emotional inference which led me to investigate further.


How did these 'Sound Colours' come about?

Bear in mind that the colours illustrated above are ‘of light hues (such as in a rainbow) and not of pigment (as in paint) which are held as opposite’.

To explain ‘opposite’ in this context, colours are seen because our eyes recognise differences in the wavelengths of light, therefore coloured light is partly the reason why objects look different from one another.

Pigments, however, as in inks and paints, mix in a different way to coloured lights. A pigment reflects light of one particular colour. Mix two coloured pigments and fewer colours are reflected. That’s why, if you mix three or more pigments in your paint tray, you get a browny sludge!

Mrs Hughes believed that:

‘each musical note is given an equivalent color, said to be based on the ratios of their corresponding wavelengths’

— Mrs F J Hughes

This led Mr Keely to conduct experiments in order to show on a disc the various colours of sound, each note having its own colour, and to demonstrate in various ways "that the same laws which develop musical harmonies develop the universe… The inaudible vibrations of matter and its higher states, affect the magnetic needle”’. All this in turn has some effect on spiritual matters and emotions.

There was some contention expressed at the time regarding these views, and some doubt cast upon their validity.

Nevertheless, Keely, using his research instruments, conducted a series of experiments using light, sound and colour. He caused those ‘inaudible vibrations’ to alter the vibration of light so as to produce sound colours.

What fascinating experiments!

At least some of these ideas were validated much later.


The Many Colours of Sound

Moving on a few years to 2016, an article by Meghan Neal, from New York, was written for ‘The Atlantic’ online magazine. She explains that, in audio engineering, there is a ‘rainbow of noise colours, each with its own unique properties’.

Musical sound waves ‘are spaced so that they are pleasant to listen to, harmonious in tone’, at least usually, whereas everyday noises occur at random and are not necessarily pleasing! Immediately, we have a reference to emotions.

Sound waves consist of ‘frequency’ (speed of vibration per second) and ‘amplitude’ (size of the waves). The variations of noise are named by referring to the colours of light.

So now we have coloured noises.

We’ve all heard of ‘white noise’ but there are grades of noise, all given a colour, all varying in audible frequencies, from white noise (loosely all frequencies at once) to black noise (described as ‘the colour of silence’).

When we listen to noises, be they music or something else, we experience emotions - they can grate on the senses, they can soothe, they can lift our spirits, or they can sound sinister.


It seems that ‘pink noise has been found in most genres of music,… the structure of DNA, the rise and fall of the tide, the flow of traffic, and variations in the stock market.’

Do you find that surprising? I do. I can’t quite get my head round the presence of ‘noise’ in DNA or variations in the stock market!

Maybe it's because noise has ‘energy’. White noise is ‘way too bright’ and pink noise sounds ‘more balanced’; these are references to reactions. In other words they kick-start emotions.

Pink noise

  • can be used to help people get a deeper sleep, a better night’s rest.
  • is one of the most common signals in biological systems.
  • has also been found to be endemic in human response.

‘Music contains pink noise. So music is like tides, not in terms of how tides sound, but in how tide heights vary.’

So we see that the colours of sound can be used to help, or hinder, our emotional state. They represent the sound waves created by specific noises, so a colour or light-wave frequency is used to describe the sound-wave frequency with which it is in harmony, so referred to as a ‘consonant-colour’.


Colours of Noise

The figure shows the colour coded relative power spectral density (PSD) for brown, pink, white, azure and violet noise normalised at 1kHz

The figure shows the colour coded relative power spectral density (PSD) for brown, pink, white, azure and violet noise normalised at 1kHz

A Simple Overview

Having looked at a specific colour of noise, let’s broaden the outlook to the general concept.

The 'colour of noise'

  • refers to the power spectrum of a noise signal, different colours of noise having different properties;
  • as audio signals they will sound different to human ears, and as images they will have a visibly different texture, so
  • each application requires noise of a specific colour,
  • similar to the concept of timbre in music.

An example would be ‘if the sound wave pattern of ‘blue noise” were translated into light waves, the resulting light would be blue’.


What do sound and light have in common?

The answer is ‘the nature of vibration’.

Although sounds that a human can hear have a much lower frequency than light that is visible to us, there is a range of sound frequencies that have corresponding colours; that is, they are in harmony.

Sound is based on vibrations of air molecules. Light, and therefore colour, is based on an electromagnetic wave. “While ‘Frequency’ is a measure used for both, … the two types of waves have substantial differences.”

Despite the differences, “the Sound<>Colour link has been reported to be potentially useful …. in the treatment of synesthesia, music education, medication practices, and therapeutic music making.”

I wasn’t aware that treatment existed for synesthesia, indeed to me it would be a wonderful extra to see the abstract (days of the week, musical notes, etc) in colour. I’m surprised too that it could be treated. I understand, though, that some might see it as a curse, or not want to be seen as ‘different’. Let’s look at it more closely.


Chromesthesia

Synesthesia is when ‘the stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to an involuntary experience of another sensory pathway’. The more specific form of synesthesia referring to allotting colours to sounds is ‘Chromesthesia’.

Music and colour are two elements which can have a powerful effect on our emotions. If you put them together, then the effect is even more powerful. Sounds visualised as colours are called ‘photisms’, described as ‘oscillating fireworks that change in hue and direction with sound’. ‘Synesthetes with an aptitude for music typically have perfect pitch and the photisms aid in identifying keys or notes.’

We have seen that music and colour both follow a spectrum. Whether someone is a synesthete or not, he or she compares ‘low musical notes to dark colours (negative) and high notes to bright colours (positive)’. So even then we have an emotional connection.


Meanings of Colours

The Theosophist 'meanings of colours' of thought forms and human aura associated with feelings and emotions

The Theosophist 'meanings of colours' of thought forms and human aura associated with feelings and emotions

Emotions affecting Music-to-Colour associations

Just as I think I’ve got to the bottom of things, it seems we can look at it the other way round! Emotions might be the prime influencing factor.

Results of studies regarding music to colour associations have made it clear ‘that emotion plays a crucial rôle in how we interpret and respond to any number of external stimuli, including colors and songs.’ In other words, music-to-colour associations in most people are affected by emotion.

Ask yourself why fast, loud, high-pitched music can sound angry, as opposed to slow, quiet, low-pitched music which seems calm. Is it that we link, via our emotions, what we hear to how we behave?

It is observed that ‘faster, louder, high-pitched music might be perceived as angry because people tend to move and speak more quickly and raise their voices in pitch and volume when they’re angry, while doing the opposite when they’re calm’.

Next time you listen to a piece of music, concentrate on the emotions you feel, and see if the music corresponds in such a way. Do you associate any particular colours to the music? I know that some loud music feels to me as though the loud speaker is within my body - that makes me feel dizzy and uncomfortable.

Can listening to music become richer and more vivid by ‘seeing’ and ‘feeling’ it as well?

If we try to find a connection between, say, music and colour, our brains search for a common path. Emotions create a strong path because our thoughts and therefore our lives are influenced by them. We interpret and respond through our emotions. Can our emotions tell us what colour a particular piece of music is? Can the colour change with the intensity of the sound? Conversely, can a change of mood affect the colour?

In other studies of different cultures, it appears that ‘there were strong correlations between the emotional associations of the music and those of the colours chosen to go with the music, supporting an emotional mediation hypothesis in both cultures.’ Results from similar experiments showed ‘matches from emotionally expressive faces to colours and from music to emotionally expressive faces. … [providing] further support that music-to-colour associations are mediated by common emotional associations.’


Summing Up

We have explored a gamut of music, sounds, colours and emotions and how each can interconnect with another. Which is prevalent? Does it depend on the individual? Does it depend on the time or place? Does it depend on the music, or on the mood?

I think each one of us will answer that in our own personal way, for the very reason that each one of us is unique.

Does any of this resonate with you? Do these aspects interconnect for you? Can you explain what, specifically? Further, can you explain how or why?

There is much to work out in this most subjective and emotive of subjects. Add to the mix that each separate human being feels emotions differently, hears sounds to a varied degree and certainly sees colours in a different light! How many arguments have you had about shades of green or blue? Is turquoise a green or a blue?

There is no right or wrong. We see and feel as individuals and thank goodness we do. What sort of a world would we have without our unique personalities and particular reactions?

The trick is, to blend our colours to good effect, to resonate with each other in harmony and to moderate our emotions in sync, thus creating an orchestra of melodious, colourful unity.


Sources and References

https://svpwiki.com/music-note-or-sound-colors - my thanks to Dale Pond for his permission

https://svpwiki.com/Laws

Harmonies of Tones and Colours Developed by Evolution, Mrs F J Hughes, Marcus Ward and Company, 1883

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/02/white-noise-sound-colors/462972/ - Meghan Neal

https://www.factmonster.com/dk/encyclopedia/science/colour

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_noise

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colors_of_noise

https://www.flutopedia.com/sound_color.htm

http://www.bedtracks.com/blog/2015/11/10/the-relationship-between-music-colour-5-reasons-why-its-important

https://theconversation.com/every-song-has-a-color-and-an-emotion-attached-to-it-45537

https://www.pnas.org/content/110/22/8836

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromesthesia


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Ann Carr

Comments

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 02, 2021:

Thank you, Mary. Yes, this is a very subjective thing but I agree with you about colours for music! I appreciate your visit.

Keep safe and well.

Ann

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 01, 2021:

Ann, this is very interesting. Auras or energies have colours and some people can see these. I am not in that but I love to think of music having colours and I think these colours are personal. Well. at least, for me.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 01, 2021:

Venkatachari M: Thank you for your kind comment and your interesting input. I'm trying to work out if I respond to various things with colour, and I'm sure you're right about the 'spiritual feeling'. Yes, lots of sayings naturally associate colours with emotion- black, blue, red and green especially; I find the black and red is the most true for me.

It's good to see you today and thanks again for the compliments.

Ann

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on February 28, 2021:

Ann, this article is very informative and interesting. I do casually see colors in music and music in colors when I am deeply enjoying something. It's a spiritual feeling. And emotions certainly refer to colors. Sorrow and sad feelings are associated with black color. Whiteness is spiritual love and pink is natural to love. Anger reflects the red color.

Thanks for providing an insightful topic with your great research and intelligence.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 27, 2021:

Hi Doris! Thanks for your interesting input on this. By the way, the synesthesia article was Nell's, not mine.

Wonderful that you see so many colours in all that music. I shall have to encourage my emotions to add some colour next time I listen to a favourite piece of music. I can understand why you see black with Johnny Cash, as his voice is so deep and almost grating (though good).

Could be something to do with your middle name!

Glad you've learnt some new words. Thank you for your fascinating contribution to this, Doris.

Ann

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on February 26, 2021:

Ann, before I read this, I went back and read your article on synesthesia that I must have missed. Both are fascinating. I'd never given colors in this manner a thought, but I guess I have a little touch of chromesthesia more so than the synesthesia. I never thought about it, but every time I hear the William Tell Overture, I see a little blue light at first, then mostly yellows and reds flashing. I really did see dark colors with Johnny Cash, but thought it was only a suggestion of the "man in black." The Beegees, I see yellows. Elvis, I'm not sure. But I don't see months or time like the true synesthesia person does. My favorite color is red, and could it be because my middle name is Rose? Gosh, I just learned two new words today. I hope I can remember them. Thanks a million for the lessons.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

Lora: the piano concerto was Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto no.2 op.18 - beautiful!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

I have just read an old hub by Nell Rose, about synesthesia. She is a synesthete. I don't remember reading it before, which surprises me, but here is the link:

https://discover.hubpages.com/education/Rain-is-Pu...

It's interesting as of course it ties in with this article.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

Thank you, Ravi, for your kind comments. I'm glad you learnt something new. So did I. The research was fascinating but quite a lot for my little brain to soak up!

I appreciate your visit.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

Lora: thank you for your lovely words and your enthusiasm. You do realise, I hope, that it was you introducing me to Bliss that started all this, don't you?! Your fault! No, just joking; I'm really grateful!

I was on a roll but I'm putting on the brakes now as entering the science and techy area is not my comfort zone. However, I find it fascinating too and wanted to see why and how the connections are made.

You mentioned 'Rhapsody in Blue' - the perfect example of colour and emotion. That piece is close to my heart, as my Mum loved Gershwin and that was her particular favourite, second to one of Rachmaninov's piano concertos (can't remember the number of it). She played them both, often, on her piano at home. At her funeral, Rachmaninov played her into the service and Rhapsody in Blue played as we walked away. Those soaring notes at the beginning, the crescendo, is something that really stirs my soul. It pulls at the heartstrings and is definitely 'blue'.

I should have thought of that music as I wrote this, so thanks for the reminder.

I've enjoyed this journey into music and colour, so thanks again Lora.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

Thank you, Umesh. I found it quite surprising too! A complicated subject but really about basic things. It was the 'why's that interested me the most.

I appreciate you reading this.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

Hi, Flourish! Your examples of extremes in today's music bands is a great one. Country music and heavy metal - you can't get more of a contrast! And of course, we feel the emotions that go with both. I love both but I don't choose rock music if I need to be calm!

Thank you for your great input.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

Peggy, I totally agree that we feel emotions when listening to music. After all, that's why composers created it, to convey a message of some sort. I'm walking about trying to see colours in all sorts of sounds now!

Many say that talking to plants quietly and gently helps them grow (our Prince Charles for one!) and I believe that - our voices are a type of music I suppose, if we vary our intonation and range.

Yes, the colour chart was interesting for me, that there are so many degrees of emotion for each degree of colour; but then, I suppose that isn't really surprising.

Thanks for your valuable input, Peggy.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

Hello Dora! My research on colour and emotion was completely random, then it just drew me in; an example of where life takes us by surprise.

I like that you intend to take up that challenge. Do let us know what results you get! That would be very interesting.

Good to see you today and thanks, as always, for your support.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

manatita: Your comments are in tune with your poetry (of course!). I find your thoughts regarding 'consciousness' very apt, especially from the viewpoint of soul and being aware of feelings, a higher level of knowledge etc. It's an interesting extension of this.

I'm delighted with your comment. It was a difficult area to look at but invited itself to follow on from my other, simpler, explorations into colours. I thank you for your support and encouragement.

All this stemmed from me wanting to inspire other writers to use more specific descriptions for colour! That'll teach me, eh?

Yes, life is a team effort. It strikes me that we fellow hubbers make a good team.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

Pamela, thank you very much for your comments. I thought I'd bitten off more than I could chew, as I had to re-read much of what I found, then read carefully through many times what I had written here, before publishing. I'm going back to simpler things from now on!

Thanks for reading and for your enthusiasm, Pam.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

Thank you, John. I wasn't sure I'd made it clear enough, so you've reassured me. More people than I realised have synesthesia and I remember that about Nell. I would imagine that would be fun but I've also read that some don't enjoy having it.

I suddenly find that I'm in a world of colour-depth, looking at and feeling my surroundings more than ever! It's also made me more aware of my own reactions to music and outside sounds.

Thanks again for your support, John.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 26, 2021:

Good morning, Shauna! Thanks for your great input.

It was a daunting task, this one. I thought I was just extending the theme of my last two articles on colour but this one, by default, got a bit technical. I too had to read over and over to make sure I'd got it right and that it at least made a modicum of sense! I nearly didn't publish it as it's way past my comfort zone. However, the responses have exceeded my expectations, so for that I'm grateful. Who says comments don't matter?!

Yes, emotions put the world into perspective, don't they? Seeing red, green with envy, etc, are all words we use without really thinking about it.

Thanks for being the first at my door this bright sunny morning!

Ann

(PS - have sent Dana a copy)

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on February 26, 2021:

Great work as usual Ann and I learned something new today about the wonderful world of sound colors and their multiple hues. Thanks for sharing.

Lora Hollings on February 25, 2021:

What a fabulous job you did with this article, Ann. Our brains just seem to be wired to connect the music we hear with colors and emotions. I think about the songs, “Purple Rain,” by Prince, “Crimson and Clover,” by Tommy James and the Shondells, “Rhapsody in Blue,” by George Gershwin, and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” by Harold Arlen, just to name a few. I also found it fascinating about Mr. Keely and his experiments which showed that each note had its own color. And the same laws which develop musical harmonies develop the Universe. Simply amazing!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 25, 2021:

Very surprising but well conceived. Thanks.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 25, 2021:

I have heard about pink noise related to sleeping babies and offices too but not some of the other interesting information. I have no doubt that people who prefer bluegrass or neocountry vs. punk or death metal vs. classical music vs. zydeco all see it in different shades!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 25, 2021:

What a fascinating article, Ann. It is amazing that some people actually see the colors in music, but I think that almost everyone can feel the effects of different types of music. Supposedly, plants grow better with melodic symphonic sounds compared to loud rock music, as an example. Looking at that color chart, the different shades of red carry different meanings.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 25, 2021:

This is quite an interesting area of study. Thanks for the introductory lesson.I intend to take on the challenge: namely, "Listen to a piece of music, concentrate on the emotions you feel, and see if the music corresponds in such a way. Do you associate any particular colours to the music?"

manatita44 from london on February 25, 2021:

Ann, what an exquisite piece! You explain it very well, I think, for you have chosen a difficult subject, showing what the Heart feels, by using analysis.

Not easy. Yes, music is the language of the soul and experiments have been done with this, even on plants! The music you describe which you have an aversion too, also do the same to plants, which respond differently to soft, soothing music.

Colours are esoteric and each work with a particular frequency/vibration or Consciousness. Consciousness, as I said in my today's article, has many tiers/rungs. What distinguishes the Saint between you and I is Consciousness. You might say that he is further along the road and carries a colour or aura accordingly.

Your knowledge is far superior to the kindergarten student, but she too, has the same potential. It is only a matter of time. Yet diversity and gradients are necessary for the whole thing to work.

if you can imagine, your mom has four children, the older ones become very useful to help the younger ones. As such, it makes for a greater Team effort. Life is like that. Much Love

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 25, 2021:

What a fascinating article! I really enjoyed reading everything you wrote, Ann. It is so odd to think of musical colors in DNA or in the stock market. I also had to re-read many of the sentences as this was so new to me, and I will probably read it again as it was so very interesting.

I certainly agree that music and color have an impact on our emotions. Thank you for a wealth of wonderful information, Ann.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on February 25, 2021:

Ann, what an interesting article. I had heard previously about a link between music and colour and that some people supposedly could see music in colour, but you really explained it in depth.

In a comment on the poem I wrote in response to your challenge to use different colour names, Nell Rose actually mentioned that she experienced synesthesia. I hope she reads this. Thank you for sharing.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 25, 2021:

Ann, this is some pretty heavy stuff. I had to read very slowly and re-read many sentences to understand the various correlations. It became more clear once emotions came into play. I think we can all relate once our feelings become involved.

The emotive explanations of the various colors is very interesting. The first thing I though of was the phrase "it made me see red", which means a thing or circumstance caused great anger. Sure enough, red on the chart denotes anger.

This is a very interesting piece, Ann. To say it's thought-provoking is a gross understatement.

Well done, my friend!

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