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A few days ago, to learn to play music, I bought a keyboard (Yamaha, EZ-30). It has lighted keys and all light red. It somehow felt wrong that all keys light up red.

If A lights up red, then C should light up yellow - that's how I would think (may be I am biased because of my inclination toward physics - red is low frequency, yellow is higher frequency).

My question: is there a standard coding of colors for the musical notes (like that of a resistor) or am I just thinking non-sense by thinking it in terms of colors?

I also think that since my keyboard is touch sensitive, a hard A should light up brighter than a soft A.

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I've never heard of a standard coloring. But as a related note, there is the concept, or phenomenon, of 'synesthesia' - by which some people correlate different notes with different colors. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia –  Ulf Åkerstedt May 21 '12 at 21:38
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This link shows some studies done on it this, but no real information about what it actually is. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colored_music_notation If there's anything, it's not standard. –  American Luke May 21 '12 at 21:42
    
I have also never heard of a color code for notes. There is however a system called "shape notes". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape_note –  Reina Abolofia May 21 '12 at 22:07
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Stephen Malinowski's Music Animation Machine has many visualizations that use harmonic coloring based on the perfect fifth: the tonic is blue, and then each increasing fifth is assigned an incremental hue from around a color wheel. In Music Animation Machine, you can select which pitch is the tonic, and it will change to blue. His Harmonizer iPad app uses the same color scheme with C fixed as blue. –  Bavi_H May 22 '12 at 3:20
    
Not all the 'C's are higher frequency than 'A'. There is a C two white keys higher, and another 4 keys lower. –  slim May 22 '12 at 8:59
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7 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

There is no standard for converting musical notes into colors. This would be an arbitrary process as there is no way to convert say "A" 440 Hz into a specific wave length of light. It might be interesting to perhaps make up your own. Many artists have tried to correlate color with sound so it is definitely a notion that has been around for a long time.

http://www.oskarfischinger.org/OF_Filmo.htm

http://www.insea.org/publications/music-art-project

http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/1577978

You might want to see how scientists use pseudo-color to assist in illustrating a condition or concept. Here is a wiki on this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False-color

NASA, NOAA, and many astronomy images use pseudo-color:

http://www.spaceweather.com/images2012/21may12/coronalhole_sdo_blank.jpg

Here's some off the wall thing I found about music, this might be the sort of tool you are looking to use:

http://www.gootar.com/theory.htm

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C'mon man, why are you linking pictures of the sun –  bobobobo Dec 19 '13 at 16:51
    
Because this image serves as an example of how scientists use pseudo-color to express variations of the data. –  filzilla Jan 8 at 17:45
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There's no standard. So I've come up with my own standard :) There are 12 tertiary colors and there are 12 tones in an octave. So that should be an obvious thing to map.

Here's an example of my little program

I map red to the keysignature's tone. Then the 12 tertiary colors take us up to the leading tone of the scale (12th in the octave, 7th in the major scale).

So the colors go:

  • 0 red
  • 1 orange
  • 2 yellow
  • 3 yellow-green
  • 4 green
  • 5 cyan
  • 6 lt blue
  • 7 blue
  • 8 dk purple
  • 9 purple
  • 10 pink
  • 11 magenta-pink-whatever

Stepping the "hue" of a color in 12 steps gets you those.

So a major scale would be: red,yellow,green,cyan,blue,purple,magenta minor scale would have yellowgreen instead of green, etc. (modified 6th and 7th color too) It works out pretty good.

The reason you don't want A as your base color is that C is usually your keysignature note and is the base of the scale.

So if there WAS to be a standard, it'd probably be this :) But if you go to pianoworld.com and ask THAT forum what color notes should be, you'll get back a BIG LOUD yell of =just black=.

Use whatever colors you want.

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Thanks for your insightful suggestions! –  Shashank Sawant May 22 '12 at 17:38
    
@P i (since I can't seem to add comments by your answer?) My colors were worked out with ole mspaint. In the color editor, Hue can go from 0 to 239. So I used Hue=0,20,40,60,80,100,120,140,160,180,200,220 for my color set. –  Stephen Hazel May 23 '12 at 15:29
    
Well, this guy reasons that F should be red –  bobobobo Jan 3 at 22:57
    
I'm not sure he's thought that out too well... On his lower diagram, F is orange. I'm not sure how he justifies starting the hue somewhere other than C=hue of 0? –  Stephen Hazel Jan 3 at 23:45
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Fantastic! I have found the music stack exchange!

I have been researching alternative musical representations for a while: looks like the colours I came up with a pretty similar to what Stephen outlayed.

You can see on my site: http://toneme.org/

In fact I have released a free iPhone app which puts the 12 pitch classes around in a circle: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chromatone/id466239553?mt=8

( There is actually a more advanced version of this instrument on the aforementioned site if you can be bothered to download the Unity plug-in. )

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As a kid in the late 60's and 70's I remember there was a standard color scheme that was widely used in organ beginner books. The color scheme was used at first by manufacturers in an attempt to make the music learning process seem simple and easy to assimilate. The colors were mostly used to help identify the notes in the lower keyboard which was electronically designed with the auto chord and auto rhythm functions. I'm not sure I remember correctly, but I think C=blue, F=green, G=red... If you look in "old" used book stores you may find some of these beginner books that came with WURLITZER and LOWREY organs.

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Thanks for the answer. But the above color scheme is quite counter-intuitive. C should have been red and G should have been blue (I am a student of science and in physics higher frequency visible light is near blue). I don't think I am a synesthete and I don't have an obvious relation from music to color - most of it is because of the relation of frequency to color in physics. –  Shashank Sawant Jun 2 '12 at 2:13
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There is a piano pedagogy method known as the "Rainbow Piano Technique" that assigns colors to different notes on the keyboard.

This color code includes a large number of distinct colors which are assigned to notes spanning a little more than 3 octave, including selected accidentals. Colors are not repeated at the octave. Color tags are meant to be taped to your keyboard.

The method then uses special scores with noteheads that are colored to correspond to the colored tags on the keyboard.

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A lot of music in the schools has the color coding for Boomwackers and bells. I have used these colors for keyboards as well. Red=C Orange=D Yellow=E Green=F Blue=G Purple=A Pink=B. This has worked well for my very young students 3 to 5 year olds. It also helps to identify C for all students when beginning my large group classes.

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To convert notes into colors in the most physics-inspired way, multiply the audio frequencies by 2^40 (40 octaves) to obtain terahertz frequencies in the visible range.

Starting from A=440Hz, this yields:

  • F#: 737nm (dark red)
  • G: 696nm (red)
  • G#: 657nm (unfortunately also red in RGB colorspace)
  • A: 620nm (orange-red)
  • A#: 585nm (yellow)
  • B: 552nm (green-yellow / chartreuse)
  • C: 521nm (green)
  • C#: 492nm (cyan)
  • D: 464nm (sky blue)
  • D#: 438nm (blue)
  • E: 414nm (blue-indigo)
  • F: 390nm (indigo)
  • F#: 369nm (deep violet)

To get around G (696nm) and G# (657nm) both translating red in RGB color space, and the deepness of F# violet: I would suggest using violet for F#, dark red for G, red for G#, and orange for A.

See:

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I don't think this really answers the question, I mean you giv A way of converting, but it's not a standardized thing, and it's not explaining that there is or isn't a color code for notes. –  Alexander Troup Oct 30 '13 at 20:17
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Shashank mentioned "my inclination toward physics - red is low frequency, yellow is higher frequency". What I have done is to provide the physics-based color-coding of notes by doubling the audio frequencies until they fit into the visible spectrum. –  Graham Nov 1 '13 at 12:00
    
an inclination towards physics doesn't mean that physics provides a colour representation between sound and light. By that logic I would imagine sound is a vastly lower frequency than light, so the conversion would be that sound is outwith the visible light spectrum, but no conversion is needed. Alternatively you could argue that the lowest frequency notes hear should map with the lowest we can see to give a spectrum. my point is, it's a made up mapping, and converting in a 'physics inspired' way is subjective, non-standard and unused. –  Alexander Troup Nov 1 '13 at 16:58
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The standard A note is 440Hz, the next A up one octave is 880Hz, and the A note up 40 octaves is 484THz, which is also the frequency of orange-red visible light, hence the natural mapping. It would only be a different color if you chose a different base frequency for A other than 440Hz, but that would be non-standard. –  Graham Nov 2 '13 at 18:52
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