Do You See What I See?

Laurie Rubin is a 33-year old opera singer who has been blind from birth.  She has interesting things to say about color.  Not only does she dream in color, but she experiences color when awake, through her senses.  Lemons smell yellow, snow feels white, and the key of B-flat is brown, because it reminds her of chocolate.  I had to laugh when I heard this, because I, too, sometimes imagine keys in certain colors.  I picture the key of A as yellow.  C is orange.  Maybe that’s because of the vitamins.  But D is green for some reason, and G is red!  I can’t blame that on vitamins.  

Maybe I should blame my mom.  She took me to see the movie Fantasia, that psychedelic light show starring Mickey Mouse, when I was about six years old.  Or maybe it’s because I play guitar.  Guitar chords make certain physical shapes and have vibrations.  Those shapes and vibes could give each chord a colorful personality of its own.  Probably, it’s just my brain’s way of getting more bang for the buck out of a song.  But I don’t always see those pretty chord-colors.  It just happens when I try and think about it.  Most of the time I just like the way chords sound. 

As an experiment, I made a list today of the major and minor musical keys from A through G-sharp (24 altogether).  I’m not counting special chords like major sevenths.  Just your basic A, A minor, B-flat, B-flat minor, and so on.  I then assigned a color to each key.  It was all just a mental exercise.  I didn’t reach for my guitar because I didn’t really want my hands involved.  I didn’t want the physical sensation of shaping my fingers a certain way, or even the vibration, to influence my color choices. 

I just sat here at my desk and pictured the chord as I would strum it on my guitar, and then I tried to hear the chord in my mind.  After you’ve played a chord like G a bunch of times, you get a pretty good sense of what that chord sounds like.  Then, I tried to see the sound of the chord.  Sometimes, a big, bold, primary color would immediately pop into my mind’s eye.  Or, one color would come to me first, but then another would be the obvious choice.  Eventually, I’d assigned a color to each one of the chords on my list – a sonic box of Crayolas! 

Next, I'm going to go listen to some songs with my eyes closed and see if my list checks out.  And I'm going to ask myself:  Why do we "see" sound at all?  Did this ability to picture what we hear develop as a survival mechanism, or is it just a happy accident?  And always, the age-old question:  Do we all see the same colors?  When you look at the sky, is it the same blue that I see, or are you really seeing red but calling it blue?  And what do colors look like to a blind person?  Will we ever be able to know what each other sees? 

Let us know what YOU see when you listen to music.  Do you associate certain musical keys -- or songs -- with certain colors?  And no, I’m not talking about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, although that’s probably a project that requires the 64-crayon box. 

Reminder:  Through February, we're offering our CD, Earth Tones, for just $4 (that's half price) through cdbaby.  Just go to to order it.  Or, if you live in the Tucson area, meet me for coffee and I'll personally hand you a FREE copy!


February 12, 2013 @06:19 pm
I actually don't think of colors when I listen to music. It's a little more abstract, or on the other hand, nostalgic, but I try to avoid that! And there's a rare nuerological condition called synthesia where the sensory inputs get rewired, and people taste shapes, hear colors, etc. But all in all, a fat Dm7 chord is clearly blue :)
Jim Bowen
February 11, 2013 @07:14 pm
Well, you are going somewhere with this that I have never been - associating music with colors. At least not since the late '60's. Major keys are obviously primary colors. Beyond that, you lose me. Minor keys are... what?...sad colors?

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