A mapping between musical notes and colors

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.

20 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. 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….

  7. 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!

  8. Luit Froops says:

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

    Thanks for this content !

  9. 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?

  10. Jason Johnson says:

    You are correct in this research but it is really even bigger than you think.

  11. Jason Johnson says:

    Endolith, How different really is Chromesthesia from Chromoacoustics? Think of it as energy being interpreted by our brains in more than one center (format) and thusly tied into a different conscious perception. You are correct they are not the exact same but related they are! And how!

  12. Jason Johnson says:

    What about Newton’s color circle from his book named Opticks? There he assigns colors to musical notes.

  13. Sam says:

    The true frequency of A is 432 based on the Schumann Resonance of 8Hz.

  14. ChrisT42 says:

    if you do the same math with A=432 and use medium wavelength of each color, you get a reversed version of this color scale (c= dark red and f#-g=green). Dividing by Pythagorean fifths yields interesting scales, as well.

  15. Nathan Brydn says:

    Similar to ChrisT42. I’ve been trying to get the HEX code or RGB code for the Solfeggio frequencies used in ancient music. It’s basically the same you have listed here for A=440Hz, except the tonal centre changes to A=444Hz or A=432Hz. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong and you seem to have figured it out. The frequencies are:
    UT – 396Hz
    RE – 417Hz
    MI – 528Hz
    FA – 639Hz
    SOL – 741
    LA – 852
    TI – 963

    A couple others that fall out of the THz to NM range are 174Hz, 285Hz … 1174Hz and 1285Hz. I keep getting the wrong answers. I found that 528Hz is lime green HEX code BYE202 and RGB code 176,226,2 for a reference.

    They’re supposed to have healing and spiritual significance. I just wanna change my Facebook background to these colours. Can you please look into this. If I get them first I’ll leave them with you.

  16. james soto says:

    This is great! I had written someyhing similar years ago. Unfortunately it was stored on a disc that was corrupted. Working on ideas for a painting project.
    Painting while listing to symphonic music.
    Reading in depth about Kadinski and relation to music and art.
    In addition, Kandinsky was considered a “synthe”, he could colors as sound. He believed there was communication between the artist and viewer as being available to both the senses and the mind (synesthesia). Hearing tones and chords as he painted, Kandinsky theorized, as an example, yellow is the colour for middle C on a brassy trumpet.  Black is the colour of closure, and the end of phrases. Also, that combinations of colours produce vibrational frequencies, akin to chords played on a piano.
    My task before this Friday is to match the frequency of notes to the frequency of colors on visual light spectrum. Wrote a program for this a few years back. Time to dust it off and fire it up.
    Time! Time should have a frequency as well. Another project.

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