Linking music to colour © Getty Images

Linking music to colour

When you listen to a sad, reflective song, what colour come to mind? How about a happy, jaunty tune? Researchers have now shown that people tend to associate different colours with different songs, depending on how they make us feel. What’s more, the effect seems to be hard-wired across different cultures, suggesting that it's a response we all share.

In a study led by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, nearly 100 volunteers from Mexico and the US were asked to listen to 18 varied pieces of classical music and pick the colour that best matched what they were listening to.


The scientists found that upbeat, lively music in a major key (such as Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major) tended to be associated with bright, vivid, yellower colours, while more downbeat, sombre music in a minor key (such as Mozart’s Requiem in D minor) was linked to darker, duller, bluer colours.


The research could lead to devices that generate animated imagery to match how we feel while listening to our favourite songs. It might also provide insight into synaesthesia, a rare neurological condition in which the senses become mixed together, causing people to taste words, for instance, or smell colour. Several famous artists and musicians have reported music-to-colour synaesthesia, including David Hockney, Franz Liszt, Tori Amos and Pharrell Williams.