Does SYNESTHESIA Make You Better At MUSIC?

What Is SYNESTHESIA -- And Will It Make You A Better Musician?

Tommaso Zillio

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synesthesia color sound music

Some composers (most famously Franz Listz, but the list is long) maintain that musical keys have colors. Colors like "D minor is blue and G# major is red".

Recently some YouTubers have made a great deal about all that, claiming that connecting colors and musical keys helps you make more emotional music.

So, on this note, have you ever heard of something called Synesthesia?

  • If listening to music makes you see colours in your brain (actual colors), then you probably have it.
  • If what I just said sounds insane, you probably don’t.

While it may sounds crazy, it’s an actual thing and, surprisingly around 4-5% of people have it. Including yours truly (*)

People with Synesthesia (simplifying a lot) experience sensory stimulations on senses different than the one originally stimulated. That is they can "see the color of sound", or "taste the color", or "touch the shape of a mathematical equation".

But the most important question for us, of course, is: how can you give yourself synesthesia?

Simple: (**) hit yourself in the head with a hammer. If instead of synesthesia, you get brain damage, hit yourself again. Keep repeating this process until the head trauma makes you see pretty colours instead of causing you to wake up in the emergency room. It’ll work eventually, I promise. (No it won't. Don't try that!)

So that covers how you can give yourself Synesthesia, but will it make you a better musician?

That's probably a good question to have the answer to before you hospitalize yourself!

Check out the link below, and I’ll explain Synesthesia further, and tell you once and for all if it will make you a better musician.

(*) To be precise I do not have pitch-color synesthesia (which is the most common one), but I have half a dozen other types (there are around 80 types of Synesthesia)

(**) My lawyer insists I write: "Disclaimer: none of this is medical advice, or indeed any advice at all. I am not recommending any of the procedures described in this email. The content of this email is to be considered comedy and poorly written comedy, at that and should not be taken seriously.Self-inflicted blunt trauma to the head can be dangerous even if deserved. Proceed at your own risk. Don't shoot me, I'm only the guitar player."

While you may not know just yet if synesthesia makes you a better musician, what I can absolutely say for sure is that understanding chords across your entire fretboard will absolutely make you a better musician. So, if you want to be a better musician, check out my Complete Chord Mastery guitar course

Video Transcription

Hello internet, so nice to see you! I have an interesting question for you today.

Is the colors associated with scale degrees, etc. And what do you think of visual colors in relation to sound?

Okay, let me start with a story there was these evening with three great composers, and they brought all of them in their diaries. The three composers were Nikolai Rimsky, Korsakov, great Russian musician, composer and his two students, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. If you've never heard those names, you're not really a musician, you want to go and google those people.

And they were talking at certain points Stravinsky, the student and car cycle, the teacher were talking about associating notes and keys with colors, and they were discussing if C major is red, or orange, or it's green, and they were discussing out, they were seeing all this. And the conversation went on for a while until Sergei Rachmaninoff. He was sitting on the sofa, saying nothing I said, then point interrupted them and say, wait a moment. You guys are serious. I thought you were pranking me.

Because I did not see any color. Okay, here's the thing. There are some people out there. And when you play them a note or a key or a sound, they associate these with a color. Okay? That's a condition called synesthesia. I say condition is not a pathology, because there is no distress in having it most of the time. Okay. And this is one of the many kinds of synesthesia. How many people are like that out there?

And nobody knows. Sometimes it's some sort of a one every for some survey, say one in 10,000. So essentially, we don't know, okay, and that many different kinds of synesthesia, okay, I have synesthesia myself, I have several different kinds of synesthesia, not this one of the colors. So I don't see the notes or colors.

But for instance, I see see timbers or color. So for me, the sound of the trumpet is a clearly distinct orange, okay. And they have several other Association. Okay, but the notes, don't give me any color feeling. Particularly for every pair of senses, you can find people who get a stimulus in one sense, and they perceive it as a stimulus in another sense.

Okay. So there are all the possible combinations plus a few other interesting things. First of all, we have a problem here is that if you ask all those people with synesthesia, especially if even just the one who associate notes, with colors, and you ask them, What are the colors of every note, and let's say you pick only the people who really have synesthesia, and we can know which one they are, because we interview them, we let one year pass, and we interview them again.

And if they're synesthesia is real, they give you the exact same answers. And if a synesthesia is not real, they give you a different answer, because they're making them up on the spot. But we take all the people who are perfectly consistent that the C note is always red, or the C note is always green, whatever. And then we compare them.

And there is no correspondence. It's something that it's internal to the single brain, it's not that there is a natural color for the C note, a natural color for the D note than something so forth. Every person has a different association. So that's the first thing. If you want to associate colors with notes, you can, there's no problem with that. But it's not something universal, there is nothing that connects this thing.

Okay. Second, there is another problem. We have reversed, like the comment was saying they're associating seven to seven notes with the seven colors, too bad that we don't have seven notes. And we don't have seven colors.

I mean, we have seven notes in a scale, but we have 12 notes in the chromatic system, we have 24 notes, if you take the in the Hindu system, and chromatic system we have other if you go in Africa, there are people who are then there are there are population, whatever our system with five notes, every octaves, and so on and so forth. So we don't have seven notes. Not only that, but we don't have seven colors.

The guy who the idea where we have seven colors was when a new tone separated the spectrum of the solar light with a climate of prison. And he wanted to have seven colors because in his idea seven was the perfect number seven notes scale seven days in the week and seven kind of a magic number. And he was a bit mixing his magic in the science and so there are seven colors.

And so he's distinguishing between blue an indigo, and incidentally, the Indigo of neutron is just a dark blue and he was calling blue what today we call sin or cyan. I never not pronounced that. Okay, so anyway, big maths there. But we don't have seven colors. You don't see only seven colors. Okay? You have a monitor that can have 64 million colors. So it's not seven color. Okay? So you see that there's not a correspondence at all the whole way we perceive sound and how we perceive color.

It's completely different. Okay, we're gonna see in a moment and the third thing is this. There is there is absolutely zero usefulness of using any of these to write music, except that maybe you can have some I don't know, interesting idea by writing some music about something blue and blue is a specific key. So you don't have to choose the key. But beyond that, it's really hard to make it useful, musically, because your feeling of blue is confined to your own brain, and anybody else will, is not guaranteed to have the same feeling of blue.

Okay, so just making these clear, there is no real usefulness. Now, several composers have composed their own tables. And even if you check those two, even for them, the colors are completely different. Some of them went went to eat in an intuitive way. So exactly what their brain was telling them the association, the natural association, in their perception system, are the one that is scientifically like, let's divide the octave, in 12 parts, and then let's divide the spectrum of light into 12 parts, and then see what color correspond.

I mean, sure, but it's the reason is there's really no real correspondence there. Now, here's the thing, if you have synesthesia, good again, I have, I'm not complaining, it's kind of a neutral experience. It's not better or worse. And it's actually I was surprised other people did not see see, see or hear things in the same way.

But again, it doesn't make any difference. Because once you understand how, for instance, at the major chord is generally happier in the minor chord, you don't need to associate with a color to make it work. You can internal in your brain to apply some mnemonic device, but you don't have to understand how other people think about that. If you don't have synesthesia, you're honestly not losing that much.

Okay, so again, don't feel bad. If you don't have it, like, don't feel like you're not special, you could have a very keen sense of hearing anyway, you can write amazing music anyway. And if I have to be perfectly frank between currency Korsakoff you're serving ski and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff is my favorite. I mean, even if I like the other two a lot, but mine is my favorite.

And you didn't need any synesthesia or color association to compose absolutely great music. And of course, at this point, somebody was gonna is gonna tell you that sound is just frequency. So the higher the frequency, the higher is the pitch of the note.

And color is just frequencies. And the higher is the frequency, the more you go from red to blue, or violet. So of course the two things work well together. Now, and then we can go and see exactly why. Because see, that's the thing. You can hear sounds from around for the earth. So 40 vibrations per second.

Up to around him, you could probably go over it and the slipper can hear 30 Actually, I can't I start hearing around 50. Okay. And then young people can hear up to 20,000 hertz. So that's 20 kilohertz, okay? I can't, my hearing at this point is around 16,000. Okay, the older you get, the more you lose the top end. Okay, and you're never ever getting it back. So, but let's say you have what I mean even even assume you can hear slightly more than that sounds like less than that you can probably have a factor of 1000 in between them.

Okay. If you now an octave is a factor of two. Okay, if you take these and multiply by two you have 60 then you have 120 And then you have 240. And if you keep going here you arrive here around nine octaves give or take, okay, it's actually from here to here. It's nine octaves and a half. A factor of 1000 is 10 octaves, okay?

If you do your calculation, two times two times two, the 210 times is 1020 4000. Okay, so here's the point, you have a round the nine to 10 octaves, let's say 9 or 10 octaves. That's an important thing for hearing because hearing doesn't make any sense without the octaves because for you, every time we double the frequency it's the same note just how you that's a G, that's a G and the next fitness agenda next is the same No, it's not something like these NCDs which is a different loss.

So our hearing is based on this idea of compressing the octaves and thinking is the same thing every octave okay, you cannot escape from that. For light though, other than frequency you use wavelength here, but you see from the other than 80 nanometer. Okay, and am my article writing up to 750 nanometer, okay, that's red. That's that's the limits are not exactly like it's not here most people can actually see less than that.

Occasionally you find people who can see more, okay, this is red, this is very deep red. This is a very deep violet. Okay. And everything is in between the peak of the vision is around 400, which is nanometers 400 which is a yellowish green. Okay? Now these, it's not even to us that this is not even a single octave.

This is like saying that we have, let's assume you meet an alien from Mars. And they said they can hear the notes from this seat. And they can hear these these these these, these, these, these, these, these, these are these. But not those last two, and nothing else, and they cannot hear nothing else.

That's our limited we are around 10 frets, okay, that's how many colors we see in the whole electromagnetic spectrum we see around the equivalent of 10 frets on your guitar. Do we really want to think that all these all those notes can be compressing just 10 frets and it makes sense. And it's not even a single octave? We don't, we don't have any any idea what it is to perceive an octave of color because we cannot see even an octave.

Okay? It's, it's, it's bad. Okay, essentially, those things are completely different. And let not not only get started because anyone, because the in the notes, of course, you can compose multiple frequencies to create different kinds of notes so that you have a different sound like a trumpet has different harmonics, then a guitar, and so on and so forth. And you can do something similar with the chord or something, there's another harmonics. And if you mix any of those two, two or three of those frequencies, you get other colors.

And so you have all those things, things so that if you put a green light and the blue light here, yeah, sorry, a blue light and a yellow light green. And if you put a red light and the blue light of purple, purple doesn't exist to just you know, it's not violet purple is what you see when you see a red light and the blue light at the same time.

But there is no frequency in the whole spectrum, that it's actually purple. So purple technically does not exist, not a spectral color. Okay? And a number of other colors are not spectral colors. You just see them because you're trying to make sense of all these signals. So it works in a completely different way.

Music Works in harmonics that record in different octaves, Vision words, that's just by mixing light, regardless of the Arctic's there is no correspondence whatsoever, even at the physical level go figure when you go into the eyeball or to the eardrum and then everything goes straight. All those correspondences are really interesting. And they can give you good ideas. I'm not saying no.

And honestly, it is fun to sit down with friends and say, oh, here is this chord. I hear this chord is kind of a yellowish green. Okay? It is fun, it is interesting, but ultimately, it doesn't really help you making music and you don't need it to make music either. So it's fascinating. But they would recommend if you want to write music, actually write music and let go of all those things. Unless those things give you some inspiration.

Okay, that's the thing. If you want to write music, incidentally, the best thing would be to actually know your fretboard and your chords, how to put chords together into chord progression that would be a much more useful skill and knowing if the if the chord is blue or green and how do you do that? Well I have a course it's called complete chord mastery, the link is on one of the corners of the videos here.

Click there, read through the pay the intro page. See if you like it. I totally recommend it. It takes everything from scratch and teaches you how to put those chord progressions together and then eventually how to write music. And with this, I hope you had fun learning about synesthesia and the association with sound and color. This is Tommaso Zillio for, and until next time, enjoy.

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