Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Using Colors to Teach Music

How many of you have heard of synesthesia?

Well, it's a condition that affects some people with very interesting sensory issues (mostly all good). Here is a good explanation from

"Synesthesia is a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.

In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme → color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored, while in ordinal linguistic personification, numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities. In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be "farther away" than 1990), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map (clockwise or counterclockwise). Yet another recently identified type, visual motion → sound synesthesia, involves hearing sounds in response to visual motion and flicker. Over 60 types of synesthesia have been reported by people, but only a fraction have been evaluated by scientific research. Even within one type, synesthetic perceptions vary in intensity and people vary in awareness of their synesthetic perceptions. " (

I have synaesthesia and I know that often people with autism and Asperger's have it also. It's pretty rare and most synethetes don't realize that they have this unique condition until they realize not every sees colors when they see letters, etc...

Personally, it has helped me a lot in life, especially with respect to memorization and learning things. It also enriched my life because when I hear music, I see incredible landscapes of moving shapes and colors. Basically, I see sound.

Although I'm not lucky enough to have the type of synesthesia that would give me perfect pitch (basically see a very specific color when a tone is played), I still use colors to help me learn new songs. So I decided to try this method on my young students to see if it could help them learn music. I'm hoping that even if my students aren't born with synesthesia, we could maybe help them develop an artificial form of the condition if we assign colors to notes consistently, especially when we're learning new songs.

Currently I'm developing worksheets and games toward that goal. If any of you are interested in trying this new method with your child or student, feel free to contact me!