According to the OED:

  • The word "chromatic" has been applied to music with lots of accidentals since at least the 17th century.
  • In the 19th century, a "blue note" was one that was incorrect; starting around the time of the First World War, this came to be applied to the "seemingly incorrect" flatted notes in jazz and blues.

Is it just a coincidence that these are both color metaphors, or did the one derive from the other?

1 Answer 1


A couple quick internet searches (which took me here, for example) supports my guess that the term blues refers to melancholy of the music/lyrics (caused by blue devils). A blue note then is something characteristic to that music. One could also think that blue notes are blue because they often sound "sad", being flatter than usual.

The term chromatic usually refers to out-of-scale notes being more interesting thus making the music more "colorful". So, neither is derived from the other. We just happen to have color metaphors for both sadness and interestingness of music (and in general).

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