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Is audio red or yellow?

Audio is a complex sensory experience that engages multiple parts of the brain. While audio itself does not have an inherent color, researchers have explored how different sound properties may be linked to color associations in the mind. This article will examine the evidence behind audio-color synesthesia, cultural color associations for sounds, and whether certain audio frequencies correspond to red or yellow wavelengths of light.

What is Audio-Color Synesthesia?

Synesthesia is a blending of the senses in which stimulation of one sense triggers an involuntary perception in another sense. In audio-color synesthesia, hearing a sound involuntarily evokes the visualization of a specific color. This cross-wiring of the senses occurs in the brain.

Approximately 1 in 2,000 people have audio-color synesthesia, which tends to run in families. The specific color associations are unique to each synesthete but remain consistent over time. For example, a violin may always evoke deep purple, while a flute appears light green.

Researchers have identified possible causes of synesthesia involving increased neural connections and cross-communication between brain areas processing the different sensory information. Brain imaging shows that hearing a sound triggers increased activity in the visual cortex of synesthetes compared to non-synesthetes.

High and Low Frequency Sounds

Studies have explored whether certain frequencies of sound elicit consistent colors for synesthetes. There is some evidence that high-frequency sounds tend to be associated with lighter, brighter colors, while low-frequency sounds elicit darker colors.

In one study, synesthetes linked sounds ranging from 250 to 4000 Hz to a spectrum of colors. Lower frequencies corresponded to reds, oranges, and yellows, while higher frequencies were associated with blues, greens, and purples. Ultra-high frequencies above 4000 Hz elicited lighter pastel colors.

Audio Frequency Color Association
250 Hz Red
500 Hz Orange
1000 Hz Yellow
2000 Hz Green
4000 Hz Blue

However, the associations are not completely consistent across synesthetes. One study found a population of synesthetes who linked high frequencies to red hues and low frequencies to blue hues. So while patterns emerge, there are individual differences in the audio-color mappings.

Musical Instruments and Color

Beyond distinct frequencies, musical instruments also elicit color perceptions for synesthetes. Research shows some commonality in the colors associated with certain instruments across synesthetes:

  • Flute – Light green or blue
  • Piano – White or red
  • Guitar – Red or orange
  • Violin – Purple or blue
  • Trumpet – Yellow or orange
  • Saxophone – Blue or purple
  • Drums – Red or brown

The timbre and tone quality of each instrument appears linked to color associations.

Sound Properties and Color

Beyond frequency and musical instruments, studies have examined other sound properties that may shape color associations:

Sound intensity – Louder volumes tend to elicit brighter, more saturated colors. Softer volumes are linked to paler, muted hues.

Harshness – Harsher, rough sounds likestatic are associated with orange and brown. Smoother sounds elicit cooler blues and greens.

Consonance – Consonant, pleasant chords are associated with bright yellow. Dissonant chords elicit darker browns and grays.

Researchers propose that properties like loudness and harshness impact limbic system emotional processing, which may relate to warmth or coolness of color associations.

Music Genres and Colors

Studies reveal some patterns between music genres and characteristic colors across large samples of synesthetes:

Music Genre Common Color Associations
Pop Bright yellow and pink
Rock Red and black
Rap/Hip-Hop Red, orange, and gold
Classical White, purple, and blue
Jazz Muted red, grey, and brown
Electronic Silver, bright green, and turquoise

The texture, instrumentation, and rhythms of different musical styles may elicit characteristic color associations.

Cultural Audio-Color Associations

While synesthetes have their own consistent audio-color perceptions, cultural associations between sound and color also exist. These likely arise from common metaphors and descriptive language.

Research shows some shared tendencies in certain cultures to link sounds with color words. For example:

  • High pitches described as “bright” linked to lighter colors
  • Low pitches described as “deep” associated with darker colors
  • Smooth, soft sounds termed “cool” matched to blue and green
  • Harsh, abrasive sounds termed “warm” associated with red and orange

But other cultural associations for sounds vary more widely:

  • Bells are white in China, but yellow or blue in other cultures
  • Whistling winds are red in Mongolia but black in China
  • Thunder is red in Japan but blue in China

So while some audio-color links persist cross-culturally, many associations derive from specific descriptive language used in different cultures.

Red and Yellow Frequency Ranges

Red and yellow exist at the lower frequency ranges of visible light spectrum. So do low-frequency sounds relate to these hues?

Red light has wavelengths from approximately 625-740 nm. Red’s long wavelength equates to a low light frequency of 405-480 THz.

Yellow light ranges from 570-590 nm in wavelength. This corresponds to a higher frequency of green light at 508-526 THz.

For comparison, the human hearing range is commonly 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.

There is no direct correlation between sound frequencies humans hear and red or yellow light frequencies. For example, a 1000 Hz tone sits far below red’s 405 THz frequency.

However, there are still patterns in audio-color associations:

– Low audio frequencies tend to elicit perceptions of red or orange in synesthetes. This may relate to metaphors like “low” = “dark”.

– High audio frequencies elicit lighter yellows or greens. This may associate with “high” = “bright” metaphors.

So while the frequencies do not match directly, there are shared tendencies to link low auditory pitches with low frequency red hues, and high auditory pitches with higher frequency yellows.

Factors Beyond Frequency

Frequency is not the only factor determining sound-color links. Research highlights other influences:

Timbre – Instrumentation and sound quality impact color. A tuba and violin at the same pitch elicit different hues.

Loudness – Volume affects brightness and saturation of color. The same note played loudly or softly evokes different shades.

Rhythm – Faster rhythms elicit brighter, more saturated colors than slower tempos.

Musical key – Even at the same pitch, major keys feel “brighter” than minor keys and may elicit warmer hues.

Emotion – Soundtracks in movies are designed to emotionally color the scenes. Warm, aggressive, sad, or upbeat sounds can evoke color associations.

So timbre, volume, rhythm, musical key, and emotion all likely interact with frequency in influencing audio-color perceptions.

Purposeful Color Associations

Composers and musicians at times purposefully link sound and color. Here are some examples:

  • Rimsky-Korsakov – Orchestral work linking instruments and melodies to colors
  • Olivier Messiaen – Used color language to compose and discuss music
  • Duke Ellington – Described chords and instrumentation in color terms
  • Billy Joel – Linked piano keys to colors when composing melodies

The composers mapped pitches, keys, or instruments to color representations systematically to visualize the music. These associations differed from synesthetes’ involuntary perceptions but intentionally paired sound and color.

Applications of Audio-Color Research

Understanding how people associate sound with color has several applications:

Designing multi-sensory experiences – Audio-visual displays, media, performances, and products can leverage sound-color insights.

Aiding learning – Associating aural info to colors may assist learning and memory retention for some.

Improving accessibility – Converting audio frequencies to colors could make sound information more accessible to color-blind or visually-impaired individuals.

Informing analytics – Using color spectra to represent audio data like music, speech, or acoustic signals can support analysis and visualization.

Therapy and interventions – Custom sound-to-color associations may have therapeutic benefits for some neurological or mental health disorders.

Overall, audio-color associations provide a window into cross-sensory processing in the brain. Researchers continue working to better understand the neurological, perceptual, and cognitive mechanisms behind the intriguing links people form between hearing and seeing color.


While audio itself has no inherent color, patterns emerge in how our brains associate sounds with color perceptions. For synesthetes, consistent audio-color mappings exist idiosyncratically for each individual. Certain cultural associations also link auditory concepts like pitch and volume to color descriptors like brightness. Research shows connections between low frequency sounds and red/orange hues, while high frequency sounds elicit lighter greens/yellows – but many other factors beyond frequency also influence audio-color pairings. composers, musicians, and artists have intentionally linked sound and color for creative and analytical purposes. Overall, the relationship between what we hear and what color we see reveals fascinating aspects of cross-sensory and metaphorical thinking in the human mind.