MusiColour, the synthetic technique of combining visual arts and music through the integration of tones and colours, introduces a deeper level of interdisciplinary thinking. Matching each colour to a pitch allows for the accomplishment of a practical goal: turning artwork into music and vice versa. Enriching critical thinking and encouraging a deeper understanding of both art forms separately and together defines the most fundamental purpose of this document.


Visual arts and music have always served as a foundation of inspiration and creative thought. Through different combinations of pitches and colours, timbre and texture and other aspects of both music and art, the foundation for an additional platform of abstract thinking is introduced. The purpose of this document is to enrich critical thinking and instill a deeper meaning and appreciation for both art forms separately as well as together.

Philosophy of approach

Every person may have a different point of view on a song or painting, but rules still exist within art and music. For instance- one example is that red and green are opposites and they clash, accent and fight each other in a painting. An artist might choose to use these colours together to accent something or bring attention to one part of the canvas. Likewise, in music, there are intervals that are classified as dissonant and others classified as harmonies because of the way they sound together. There will also be analysis of abstract details that can be totally left up to perspective, which are the most important parts and give artists the option to experiment with different approaches to defining art with music or vice versa.

Definitions of Artistic and Musical concepts

In the visual arts, the essential tools for composing a painting or drawing are colour (tone, hue, shade, ect.) and shape. Shape is defined as an object within the painting, which could mean simply the outline of a geometric figure or a tangible item such as a chair. For determining the standard of colour, the aesthetic colour wheel will be looked at. As seen to the left; red, yellow and blue are primary colours and their combination create orange, green and violet. In order they spell out the acronym ROYGBV. The tertiary colours form the colours between each primary and secondary colour- they will be referred to as a combination of the colours that create them (for instance, the tertiary colour between red and orange will be red-orange).

The terminology of musical concepts are defined here to provide clarification for later parts of this document. Tempo is measured in beats per minute (BPM) and tell how fast the song goes. A crescendo is when the music gets louder; a decrescendo is the opposite. A sharp is a half step above the note and is denoted with a #; likewise a flat is a half step below the note and notated with a b.  A scale is a series of notes that span an octave. An octave is 8 notes apart, and is a full cycle in of notes (for example, one octave would be from one C to the next C). An interval is the space between 2 notes, and a chord is three or more notes played together (which would constitute at least 3 intervals).

The fact that equidistant values are being given to colours must be translated for notes as well, so the whole tone scale is used. The whole tone scale is a progression of notes with no semi-tones. An example of the C whole tone scale would be C, D, E, F#, G#, A#. The whole tone scale starting at C and going up to D, E, F#, G# and A# will be used for examples throughout the document as the standard. C will always relate to Red, D to orange, E to yellow and so on for consistency, but any combination of tones and colours works.

The Colours in Relation to the Notes in the Whole Tone Scale: Intervals

The combination of art and music is the linking of notes from the whole tone scale to the colours in the colour wheel. You can start with any note or any colour, but the tones you link to colours must be in order from there. For instance, if the first connection was from the note C to the colour Red, you would have to ascend the scale in whole tones and go around the colour wheel one colour at a time. If you skip around, then the effect of the intervallic relationship is lost. Once every whole tone is matched to a primary or secondary colour in order, all the properties of the intervals in the musical scale correspond to the properties of the combination of the colours on the colour wheel.

Example 1: The Tritone

For instance, the tritone, an interval that spans 3 whole steps and is between a perfect fifth and a perfect fourth, is the most dissonant interval there is. In terms of the colour wheel, a tritone represents three whole shifts over from the original colour. This resultant colour is the opposite of the first. Red and green are opposites, and when they’re put side by side, they clash with each other and accent each other- even in paintings the primary purpose of putting them next to each other is to accent something. For instance, if a red apple was painted, a green outline would make it stand out much more due to the properties of opposite colours. C and F# form a tritone and when matched to the colour wheel, if C is red then F# must be green. The tritone does the same thing within music that the colours do within a painting- the notes accent each other and clash.

Example 2: Major Third and Minor Third

A major third spans 2 whole steps and example would be C and E. On the colour wheel C is red and E is yellow. Both are bright and strong, so they complement each other in the same way C and E would, forming a major-sounding relationship that doesn’t clash. A minor third, however, does clash. It’s one half step down from a major third, so that would yield C as red and Eb as yellow-orange. Red is so much stronger than the yellow-orange that it’s overpowering and there’s an imbalance. Similarly, the minor third interval in music is dissonant, so there’s correlation between the two.

Multiple Notes Forming Multiple Colour Relations: Colour Chords

Just like musical chords, Colour chords are a series of 3 or more colours that relate to each other in the same way notes within a musical chord do. The intervals and relationships between notes in chords are what form the sound you hear when a chord is played. The same relationships are formed in art when you see multiple colours together, because they play off of each other just like the notes of a chord do.

Tones Colours
C Red
E Yellow
G Green-Blue
Bb Violet

C-E; Red and Yellow – Major Third (previously mentioned)

E-G; Yellow and Green-blue – Major third (previously mentioned)

G-Bb; Green-Blue and Violet – Minor third (previously mentioned)

C-G; Red and Green-Blue –This interval is a perfect fifth in music, and while it’s not quite dissonant, it isn’t harmonious either. In ancient times the only interval the choirs used was the perfect fifth because of its ethereal sound. Red and green-blue form a very strange relationship just like a perfect fifth. The colours don’t clash, yet they’re not complementary of each other either.

E-Bb; Yellow and Violet – Tritone (previously mentioned)

C-Bb; Red and Violet – The flat seventh is another dissonant interval because of how close it is to the octave. When analyzing it though colour, Red and Violet are very similar, but the slight difference in the colours causes them to clash with each other.

With all of the above relationships happening at one time, a colour chord is produced. When a musical chord sounds, the combination of the relationships between intervals shape what is heard. The same goes for Colour chords- the combination of all the relationships the colours in the chord produce come together in the eyes of the beholder and shape what we see.

Timbre versus Texture; Tint versus Octaves and Intensity

The Timbre of a musical instrument is the core sound that it has and one way of differentiating between timbres in a painting is with texture. For instance, a trumpet sounds different than a piano which sounds different than a saxophone because they all have different timbres. Within a single song many different timbres are usually present. In a work of art diverse types of textures and brushstrokes can be used to draw attention to or provide contrast against each other. When translating a song into a painting, the timbre of the instrument can be taken into account to provide an interesting differentiation between different sounds on the canvas.

Tint describes the shade of a colour (dark or light) and can represent the height of the note, and can differentiate octaves. Red can be a very light pink or a very dark maroon without turning the least bit violet or orange. There are different ways to use tint, an example being the portrayal of high notes versus low notes. So a light pink could be a high C, where a dark pink could be a low C. It’s also possible to use tint to portray the intensity of the music, or crescendos and decrescendos, or any number of things. It’s up to the artist to form the connection that works best with the song and allows him to portray the song in the painting as accurately as possible.

Tempo versus Freeze Frame: An Approach to the Flow of Time in Regard to a Picture

While music isn’t frozen in space and time, Art is, and a connection is needed to effectively translate one to another. Music is a flowing art that is always changing and moving, and relies on the passage of time to operate. A painting is a picture of a single moment in most cases, and it doesn’t move or change as time passes. One fairly generic approach is to present the passage of time from left to right. Each inch of canvas represents a beat and one places the colours according to their position within the song. The concept of depth within a painting or a circular passage of time are another two possibilities to experiment with. The goal is to articulate the flow of time within the song in a still painting. A flow of time is prerequisite to the placement of shapes and colours within the painting.

The same goes for art to music translations, and when analyzing a painting, one must keep in mind that the colours in the painting are physically stagnant. Putting them together needs some creativity to space the different colours out, and make them into tones and rhythms.

In Van Gogh’s painting, “Starry Night”, one may look at the greens, blues, and different tints that form the hills and the small town at the bottom right corner as the rhythm- the small ticks on the roofs representing the subdivisions of the beat. The stars in the sky represent melody. The different shades of white and yellow represent the frequency of the notes within the meter. This is by no means a ‘correct’ analysis or an ‘incorrect’ analysis- it simply is one way of looking at the painting from a musician’s perspective.

Shapes versus Melody: Portrayal of Musical Themes

Shapes can be used in artwork to represent melody in the music it is depicting because the shapes in a painting form the subject and main focus of the painting. Most music has melody, whether it’s a singer or a violin section or a piano solo. The main themes in a single melodic line occurring within the song are characterized as the melody (Not to be confused with harmonies which may follow the same rhythm as the melodic line but are different pitches; Or countermelodies, which are secondary melodies that occur in songs and are not the main theme or are not as important as the melody). Naturally, the melody would have only one colour per note, and the placement of these notes depend on the way one decides to portray time within the picture. The chords within a song support the melody, so if this is translated into colours, the colour chords must support the melodic colours. Shape serves to distinguish the differences between melodies and chords within artwork. For instance, the word ‘love’ which is used in quite a few songs could be represented by a unique shape that the artist feels portrays the word well. The colour of said shape would reflect what pitch it is being sung with. One way of translating the crescendos and decrescendos of a song is to change the size of the shape.

Case studies

Coming soon…


By consciously relating visual colors to their auditory counterparts, a vastly influential and creative world unfolds before the artist. It is though connections that humanity learns and grows; we see this both in early development throughout childhood and life as a whole. Indeed, they are present ubiquitously: making connections is what we do. By tapping into this hidden potential, a new age ushers in to greet us, one of tangible sight and sound interwoven with equal measures of emotion and logic.