A mapping between musical notes and colors

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Created 09/15/2010 (9:28 pm) | Updated 03/18/2013 (12:13 pm)

bpert said:

If you take A = 440 Hz and keep doubling and doubling until you get into the range of light you will find ROYGBIV = F, G, A, Bb, B, C, D, E, F. Try it yourself.

So I did!  If you take the frequencies of each note in Hz (in equal temperament) and multiply them by 240 (40 octaves), you get a number in the THz, which would fall into the visual range if it represented the frequency of an electromagnetic wave instead of a sound wave. “A typical human eye will respond to wavelengths from about 390 to 750 nm.” Does it match up with ROYGBIV? Kinda.

Note Freq (Hz) +40 oct. (THz) Wavelength (nm) R G B Color HTML name
F♯4 370 407 737 174 0 0 dark red
G4 392 431 696 255 0 0 red
G♯4 415 457 657 255 0 0 red
A4 440 484 620 255 102 0 orange-red
B♭4 466 513 585 255 239 0 yellow
B4 494 543 552 153 255 0 chartreuse
C5 523 575 521 40 255 0 lime
C♯5 554 610 492 0 255 242 aqua
D5 587 646 464 0 122 255 sky blue
D♯5 622 684 438 5 0 255 blue
E5 659 725 414 71 0 237 blue
F5 698 768 390 99 0 178 indigo

I used this Python code to generate the RGB values for each wavelength, and Wolfram Alpha to find the nearest named HTML color.  Should find the nearest color names from the XKCD color survey instead (and “nearest” should be defined as distance in L*a*b* space, not in RGB space).

Since the starting point of F♯ is arbitrary, basically all this means is that our visual range covers about 1 octave.  Our audible range is 9–10 octaves, for comparison.

12 Responses to “A mapping between musical notes and colors”

  1. Adam Says:

    This is interesting… The use of colors in teaching pitch sensitivity has been recognized as an effective way of teaching music. I am personally using the method in a program I an writing to teach notes on the guitar. I am attempting to “gamify” guitar learning in a similar way to how popular video games function. Using colors was the basic idea, but I think using this color seq

  2. DEBORAH Says:

    INTERESTED TO KNOW MORE INFO HAVE ALWAYS WONDERED THIS MYSELF AND I THINK I HAVE A NATURAL TALENT NEEDED TO BE EXPLORED TO CONNECT MUSIC AND ART/COLOUR I SOON WILL BE TEACHING BLIND AND HAVE DONE IN THE PAST HOW WONDERFUL WOULD IT BE IF I WAS TO USE MUSIC TO TEACH ART AND COLOUR AMAZING
    I HAVE BEEN TEACHING MANY YEARS AND NOW AM ART THERAPY TRAINED AND WORK WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
    CHEERS DEBORAH

  3. z Says:

    what about green? you dont have a true green on there

  4. ZetaCron Says:

    I’ve been looking for something like this for YEARS!!! I’m glad I’m not the only one that thought it was possible. Now all that has to happen is for it to be thrust into the general populous!

    As other people have said, this will make an EXCELLENT learning tool.

    Although, I’m surprised to see that both G and G# are red, but I guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, so to speak.

  5. R. Endo Says:

    I came across your site looking for a conversion of wavelength to RGB! I came up with the same values notes to visible light wavelength using Excel.

    P.S. My family name is “Endo”

  6. Endolith Says:

    Cool. My screen name has absolutely nothing to do with my real name. :) It’s a type of archaea/bacteria.

  7. Joseph Says:

    I have been working on a color scheme that is working very well for myself and my students. Im still looking for corralations with roy g biv. My colors are easy to remember especially if you like or play golf. It goes like this, “Your tee-ing off first you look out and get Clear(A) on where your going to hit that ball. Your ball disappears into the Black(B). But lucky for you it lands on the Green(C) There is a Red(D) White(E) Blue(F) Flag in the hole sitting in a Gold(G) cup…… Try these colors for yourself and see if it helps….

  8. lorri Says:

    i was listening to fm radio in tucson. they were interviewing musical prodigies. a young woman said she visualizes different colors to different notes. naturally. the whole group of youngsters were amazing, and i thought what wonders!

  9. Endolith Says:

    Probably chromesthesia, and not the same colors as this.

  10. Luit Froops Says:

    It is interesting how the fifth sounds are the opposite colors.

    Thanks for this content !

  11. Piano de colores y texturas de Xul Solar | sonopuntura Says:

    [...] http://www.endolith.com/wordpress/2010/09/15/a-mapping-between-musical-notes-and-colors/ [...]

  12. michael bello Says:

    I would love to “hear” some Van Gough, using a painting as a “score”. Different strokes of the same color and placement on the painting gives us the length of notes, the key centers and where certain keys come back.

    Or use the RGB to break down chords? White is C- or Ab Major = G,G# Red, C Green, D# (or Eb) Blue. A major chord or it’s relative minor!

    Now reverse and visualize Beethoven’s 9th!!! Ha!

    What kind of symphony or painting or video could be created by mathematical equations twisting our information intake to a different sense?

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