Most people don’t associate the color pink with the sound of a doorbell, or the smell of apple pie with the color purple, but for some these kinds of associations are common. Approximately 1% of the world’s population experiences the phenomena described as synesthesia, a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers the awareness of another. Neurologist Dr. Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., describes it as “the rare capacity to hear colors, taste shapes, or experience other equally startling sensory blendings.” A person with synesthesia may experience seeing the color yellow and smelling the scent of honey, or hearing the music note C sharp and seeing the color green. The form synesthesia that associates sound with color is called chromesthesia.

Hearing Colors or Picturing Hearing?


Chromesthesia is a form of synesthesia described as “color hearing.” A case study revealed that a person with chromesthesia will have a “visual color experience as well as an auditory sensation” when they hear a certain tone. In other words, the person will see sound as color. This occurrence is common for many artists.

The Art of Synesthesia


While synesthesia does have some drawbacks such as confusing your left with your right and difficulty with numbers, it has proven to be beneficial to many people, particularly artists. A study at the University of Bern in Switzerland states, “synesthesia may facilitate the expression of creativity.” The study also showed that synesthesia is consistently linked to art. Author Vladimir Nabokov, musician Billy Joel and hip-hop producer Pharrell Williams are a few examples of artist that experience synesthesia. Williams, who has chromothesia, describes it as an indispensable “gift” that allows him to make music. For him, hearing the music and visualizing the associated colors are essential to his creative process.

If you feel the need to enhance your hearing – or color – experience, Audicus is here to help.

Sources: Synesthesia: Phenomenology And Neuropsychology, WebPub at Allegheny College, A Case Study of a Chromesthetic, Sage Journals, University of Sussex Synaesthesia research, Institute of Psychology, University of Bern, Psychology Today

by Lemicher Mack

5 responses to “Hearing Colors and Seeing Sound

  1. I would listen to music, both classical and contemporary, and hear colours. For example, my favourite song by twenty øne piløts is Trees. Whilst listening to this song, I hear blue and green mixing and swirling. I once said to my friend, “This song makes me hear green and blue. What colour do you hear?” and she just stared at me like I was crazy, so I assumed I was. Thank God I’m not, and now I can tell her I’m special and rare.

  2. I have chromosthesia, but I never knew it something special. I recently heard about it and did some more research. My friends are fascinated by my “unique” talent and are constantly asking me to tell them the color of a song!

  3. Just recently told that the colours, dimensions and shapes knocking around my head while listening to music was actually this!! I overlooked this and deemed it insignificant my whole life and assumed most were like this and never even spoke of it. Also explains why months etc have shape and colour to me also and other weird niches. Started playing guitar also and it’s proving to be a huge benefit for music as other articles have highlighted. My mums the only other person I know with similar experiences so good to read some of the comments. 🙂

  4. I’ve never thought anything of this little phenomenon until about two years ago when I was watching a Marina and The Diamonds interview and she mentioned that she had this condition. Suddenly I realized I do the same thing without thinking all the time and researched it. My parents think it’s strange but they’re also really fascinated that I can associate music, numbers, letters, days and months with colour. The funny thing was, I never realized there was anything abnormal about it but I think it really enriches music for me. A bunch of my friends have Synaesthesia and we will occasionally have debates about which colour goes with letters of the alphabet, it’s quite funny to other people. But I’m pretty sure I’m the only person I know with Chromesthesia.

  5. I have it,i have had it for years. As long as i can remember,it scared me so i told no one.I have only found out in the last two weeks.What it is.

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