This question Is there a color code for notes? includes a few standards for colouring notes, to make it easier and faster for our brains to tell the difference between notes.

For example: C = blue, D = green, E = yellow, etc.

This would obviously help children learn to sight read faster, and increase the speed at which they can sight read thereafter. In fact, it seems unlikely it won't help adults - even experienced musicians.

Once a standard is settled on, some instruments can adopt the colours too, e.g.: learner piano keyboards can colour their keys.

Historically colour hasn't been practical for all paper sheet music. But paper sheet music is slowly dying, to be replaced sooner or later with digital displays (tablets, etc).

But I'm not seeing colour being used like this much yet.

Is it just us old musicians underestimating how important this would be to young musicians? Or is there some actual reason not to colour code all notes in digital sheet music?

  • I used to use a 'rainbow' system with kids, using the the 7 colours systematically to introduce notes. It worked well, but eventually, it becomes confusing with many notes. That said, so does black on white on occasions!
    – Tim
    Mar 10 at 9:02
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    "To make it easier and faster for our brains to tell the difference between notes" - is there any research that shows that it does make it easier, for musicians of any level? I can easily imagine that it's useful to start children off with notation when using an instrument that actually has the note colours marked on it. Beyond that, the fact that 1 in 12 men are colourblind is probably enough reason not to do this unless there are some genuine 'findings' that it does make things easier.
    – topo morto
    Mar 10 at 9:31
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    Is the music really digital, if the music display software cannot read the music and play it? And if it can, couldn't it colorize the notes too? Or maybe display ads on top of it, if the digital rights holders want. Mar 10 at 9:31
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    Just to continue from my previous point - we could colour-code the numbers 1-9 in maths books. But I doubt it would be a useful aid to recognition. I could be wrong though!
    – topo morto
    Mar 10 at 9:35
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    This was closed as a duplicate but I don't think it is a duplicate of that question. There's an obvious similarity in color corresponding to notes, but the actual question is different.
    – Edward
    Mar 11 at 5:42

It's unnecessary, the benefits would mostly be confined to children, musicians would find it just ugly, and it would be a mayhem for anybody with synesthesia that happens to assign different colours. For them, it would be like saying out loud the colours (not words!) in this chart

Colours and word-meanings scrambled

Likewise, even for those without synesthesia it would only work if there was actually a uniform standard. But there is no single governing body of music that could hope to establish such a standard – even if there was broad agreement that a colour code were a good idea, people wouldn't be able to agree on which one it should be.

And even these difficulties aside, I'm not convinced that this would really help in anything but simple child's tunes. In such simple tunes, half-way experienced musicians have no difficulty anyway, in black&white, whereas in complex ones the colours would just mash together. Colour vision is great for picking out single features from a differently-coloured background, but for understanding fine details we mostly rely on only brightness (luma).

Finally, if scores were colour-drenched then this would preclude using colour for other, domain specific purposes – highlighting specific notes independent of their pitch.


One reason is that this would exclude people with color vision deficiencies.

Since this a comparably frequent condition, color-coding notes at default would make sheet reading much more difficult for a rather high number of musicians or people who want to become musicians.

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    How would it prevent people with color blindness from reading the pitch based on the note position on the staff? It would be wrong to use color exclusively, but this is not what OP proposes. Mar 10 at 22:27
  • Well, written scores have been excluding blind people from music for the last centuries - although previously popular music was a common professional choice for blind people. However, that's a reason to adapt scores to blind people, not to stop using scores. If coloring notes were a useful feature in scores, the existence of color blind people would be a reason to adapt it to them, not to stop using colors.
    – Pere
    Jun 21 at 12:12

If this were a good idea, wouldn't there be any reason not to just always colour-code letters in printed texts?

No, it would be a terrible idea, for many reasons, including but not limited to:

  • The colours you mention are harder to make out against the white background -- yellow, especially. Trying to make out symbols which have a poor contrast with their background is needless hard and takes more time. The performer sight-reading at speed cannot spare that time.
  • The colours would distract the performer.
  • There is no way in which colours would help. Performers can read notes perfectly well without the need for colours.

If all the notes are shown by color, why use staff at all?

The main problem I can see is that it would make transposition nearly impossible. Each musical key has certain relationships that are normalized with key signatures. But how do you go from key of green to key of yellow?

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