Do You See Colours When Playing Piano? A Discussion Of Synaesthesia

Synaesthesia is a rare phenomena that many of us who don’t experience it wish we had, but for those that do, it’s both a blessing and a curse. Synaesthesia essentially outlines the occurrence when two senses such as hearing and sight collide in a surprising way in the brain and body.

For example, you may experience synaesthesia when you hear music, but as you play or listen, you may ‘see’ shapes or colours come into fruition. There are many examples of synaesthesia and it’s not just music that causes it, for example you might read the word “street” and taste strawberries, or certain smells may cause you to hear a particular sound.

For those who don’t experience synaesthesia, it can be a difficult concept to explain, however from a musician’s perspective, it can be both a blessing and a curse. Today we want to delve into the ways you can identify synaesthesia and how it affects pianists across the globe who do experience it.

Using Synaesthesia In Music

Musicians who do have synaesthesia may see it as a positive tool to help both their compositions and overall immersion in music, from a composition perspective, you may find that particular notes simply flow better based on the colours, tastes or smells you may be feeling.

If the colour palette feels right then chances are, so does the piece.

When Synaesthesia Isn’t So Great…

The problem with synaesthesia and why some see it as more of a curse is because you can’t turn it off…Whilst being a fantastic tool when writing your own compositions, it’s not uncommon for those with synthesia to also experience the phenomena when in public.

For example, if a particular sound gives you a foul taste in your mouth or smell, that can be pretty distracting and make you feel physically sick. The interesting part here is that synaesthesia is fully personal to the individual, whilst some may find Mozart to be a beautiful warm blue or to smell like wild flowers, to others…it may smell like rubbish!

This is true in compositions too, if the composer is looking to directly create a tone that from a technical perspective flows perfectly, but from their synaesthesia is horrible, then learning that progression is significantly harder…It can even stop some people from wanting to play altogether!

Can You Train Yourself To Develop Synaesthesia?

In short, yes! Whilst many are born or develop synaesthesia throughout their lives (fear is one common way to trigger synaesthesia), it is possible to essentially ‘train’ your brain to experience some form of synaesthesia – Berit Brogaard, professor of philosophy and psychology and the University of Miami has developed this concept that synaesthesia can be developed in later life by putting the body under specific conditions and training.

“It’s really just associating two things into a single category. You pick a category and you start associating things in that category, which could be sound, and things in the other category, which could be colors. So once you start associating those things, you’re building new pathways.” – Source

Composers With Synaesthesia

There are a number of composers who are believed to have been synthesists, for example Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus: The Poem of Fire has been openly shown as an example of Scriabin’s colour synaesthesia

Other examples include György Ligeti, who was incredibly open about his synaesthesia, stating that for him: “Major chords are red or pink, minor chords are somewhere between green and brown.” Even Franz Liszt, who also said: “Piano music should only be made for the Bechstein” is also quoted as saying during his performances: “A little bluer, if you please! This tone type requires it!”

So there you have it, a little insight into the world of synaesthesia and how it has affected some of the greatest composers to ever live! Do you have synaesthesia? Or do you wish you did? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch on social media using the #MillersMusic, or for more information on our pianos, visit our showroom or contact our experts today!

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