Synesthesia – the emotional quality of key

Synesthesia is the ability to experience with one sense, a perception made via another sense.  You see a sound  in your mind’s eye; or hear a colour – in your mind’s “ear”, perhaps!  By definition, this is subjective.  I’ve given it a try under hypnosis, as documented below – and I’ve also included Christian Schubart‘s Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806) – describing the emotional qualities of different musical keys – which, as it happens, seem to parallel my own – at least as far as my distaste for C-sharp, F-sharp and B.

My healing journey

My cousin Joanna, who is an accredited hypnotherapist and energy healer in the UK, came over and helped me find my own restorative energy.  She uses an alert-state hypnotherapy technique.  Following are highlights of the journey I took in the hypnotic state, with Joanna’s facilitation.  Obviously, this stuff is my personal experience – I’m publishing it in case it’s helpful to others, and because it was the inspiration for the color/tone chart, below:

I am in a grey box within a grey, rectangular steel structure.  It is like a prison.  Walking out of this institutional edifice, into the yellow sunshine of universal consciousness, the grey, bland cell around me that had disconnected me from my energy, dissipates – and begins to grow into a green energy, transformed by Nature.

We bring that green energy back into the institutionalized structure of grey in order to “heal” it.  As we do so, it transforms into a spiral, then a vortex, rotating anti-clockwise as viewed from below.  This green vortex of energy become a vortex of pink, as the grey energy of the other “inmates”/co-workers is gratefully dissipated and they regain their humanity – the pure potential of their life energy.  The old grey cells are dissipated back to the sunny yellow energy of universal consciousness.

The yellow, green and pink energies re-combine into a light-blue vortex, and this is the ultimate healing energy – the unlimited, universe-given energy which can heal everything, past, present, future.

Color/tone chart

Towards the end of the session – seeing the connection between the energies and colors in the “journey” and my work with sound and energy – I asked Joanna to pass me my guitar.  With eyes still closed and still in the hypnotic/alert state, I played each of the 12 notes of the chromatic  scale and called out the associated energies and colours – which Joanna wrote down.  Together, we mapped all of the notes to their energy states and colors, as experienced in the “journey”:


All the colour tones are pastel shades – as created from light, rather than the kinds of colors we can print or paint with.

The three tones which I consider “ugly” (B, C-sharp, F-sharp) all have the tri-tone (AKA Devil’s interval) relationship to one of the  “magic” tonics B-flat, F and maybe C), or are a diminished 2nd.  I think of those three notes like the plant that will kill you if eaten, but which can be used to create medicine.  And the section on Cancer treatment with tri-tones is a good example of this.

 Harmonic associations and colours

  • Light-blue (B-flat) is the driver tone which generates all else.  It is the universal Soul energy – that which endures from one life to the next.
  • Its 5th harmonic is F – which represents the Body – in pink.
  • And the 5th of F is C, which resonates in sunny yellow as universal Consciousness.

So, we have a “trinity” of Consciousness, Body and Soul.  Being as this fundamental, trinity relationship was experienced as a series of related, essential healing energies in a narrative, rather than a logical attempt to insert theology into all this – I see the “elegance” of this as evidence of alignment with truth.

  • The note, C (Consciousness) is also the 2nd harmonic of B-flat (Soul), as well as the 5th harmonic of F (Humanity – or biological life) – so Soul and Humanity converge at Universal Consciousness.  And Yellow (universal consciousness) was the first healing energy that presented itself in the narrative.
  •  The 2nd harmonic of F (body) is G (Nature/green) – a harmonious relationship between the physical body and the Nature which it lives amongst.  And indeed, in our narrative, the green/nature energy vortex became a pink energy vortex when other people in the “journey” were subjected to it – recovering their humanity.
  • D (brown/wood/earth) is a 5th above G (Nature) – so has a harmonic relationship with the energy of Nature, of which it is a product.
  • A (the human notion of godliness or nirvana) is the 3rd of F (humanity) – an appropriate harmonic, as the best a human being can aspire to.
  • E-flat is the 7th of F.  I had intuited that it was simply “hopeful” – which makes sense, as it aspires towards F (humanity).
  • The grey box of E is the tri-tone of B-flat, the “Devil’s interval.”  It is the prison-cell of institutionalized living.  It is the “scientific” view-point – detached and objective and, as such, it is ultimately a prison cell.  It reinforces the illusion that we are separate from each other and the universe that swirls through us.  It is the deaf ears – the cotton-wool of the cosmic state, and yet, sometimes it is good to take a step back and attempt to look at things in an “objective” fashion – just not all the time.
  • B (black/death), C-sharp (jealousy) and F-sharp (anger) – are not really part of the harmonic sequence, but they do provide a context for the rest of the colours.  As Joanna reminded me, it’s best to think of this holistically – we may not like these tones, but they are there – as the background of dis-harmony that we can fall into – and must strive to get out of.  To exclude these notes and concepts from music and poetry would be to “write songs only about Ming china” – in the words of Keith Richards.  In other words, nasty shit is part of life – resolving out of it is the ongoing challenge of our lives.  I also think it’s funny that if we put red, black and lurid yellow/green together, we have a pretty bang-up Halloween costume – so, again, these unplanned, hypno-trance associations of colour to harmonic resonance, seem to make elegant sense.

Practical applications

  1. I plan to set up a light-show that will project these colors whenever the corresponding musical note or harmonic is played.  It should be a very healing kind of concert once we get it set up!  Perhaps I’ll write some music that mirrors the healing journey we took, above.
  2. One could write all kinds of narratives and stories involving the energies described above (“he passed through a wood (D) and there, in a sun-lit (C) clearing amongst the trees (G), he found a beautiful young woman F and they lived happily ever after  (B-flat))” = D, C, G, F, B-flat, etc).  Actually, that’s a pretty nice chord progression!  In this way, we could create a new kind of symphonic, story telling music, deeply resonant with the universal psyche.  “Tone Poems” – for real.
  3. One could also examine the music of the greats – for example, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony – to see, from the perspective of the energies related to the harmonies being played, what is really going on energetically – and mythologically – through the narrative of a piece of music.

September 9, 2016

“Ideas on an Aesthetics of Tonality”

Here are highlights from Christian Schubart‘s Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806) – describing the emotional qualities of different musical keys.

I had seen this before, and it seemed a bit random until I grouped the entries according to the mixolydian harmonic notes which they contain (instead of just listing C major next to C minor, for example – which are harmonically un-related).  By doing this, we can contrast the passive, negative outlook for the Minor key against the robust, active expression of the same emotion in the Major key.

I also listed these major/minor groupings in order of musical fifths, starting with the keys related to our “magic” key of B-flat mixolydian, then its fifth – F, then its fifth – C, etc.

It’s interesting that Schubart’s findings closely match my own hypnotized synesthesia – with the emotional flavor of the keys getting steadily darker and less pleasant the more harmonically distant from B-flat they become – with the very last key in the cycle (A-flat major) actually described as “the key of the grave”!

Here is Schubart’s listing, organized as described above:

Keys based on B-flat mixolydian mode:

  • Eb Major (Bb myx – F dor) – the key of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God.
  • C Minor (Bb myx – F dor) – declaration of love and at the same time the lament of unhappy love. All languishing, longing, sighing of the love-sick soul lies in this key

Keys based on F mixolydian mode:

  • Bb Major (F myx – C dor) – Cheerful love, clear conscience, hope aspiration for a better world
  • G Minor (F myx – C dor) – discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike

Keys based on C mixolydian mode:

  • F Major (C myx – G dor) – Complaisance & Calm
  • D Minor (C myx – G dor) – Melancholy womanliness, the spleen and humours brood

Keys based on G mixolydian mode:

  • C Major (G myx – D dor) – Completely Pure. Its character is: innocence, simplicity, naïvety, children’s talk
  • A minor (G myx – D dor) – Pious womanliness and tenderness of character

Keys based on D mixolydian mode:

  • G Major (D myx – A dor) – Everything rustic, idyllic and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love,–in a word every gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart is correctly expressed by this key
  • E minor (D myx – A dor) – Naïve, womanly innocent declaration of love, lament without grumbling; sighs accompanied by few tears; this key speaks of the imminent hope of resolving in the pure happiness of C major


Keys based on A mixolydian mode:

  • D Major (A myx – E dor) – The key of triumph, of Hallelujahs, of war-cries, of victory-rejoicing. Thus, the inviting symphonies, the marches, holiday songs and heaven-rejoicing choruses are set in this key
  • B Minor (A myx – E dor) – This is as it were the key of patience, of calm awaiting ones’s fate and of submission to divine dispensation

Keys based on E mixolydian mode:

  • A-Major (E myx – B dor) – This key includes declarations of innocent love, satisfaction with one’s state of affairs; hope of seeing one’s beloved again when parting; youthful cheerfulness and trust in God.
  • F# Minor (E myx – B dor) – A gloomy key: it tugs at passion as a dog biting a dress. Resentment and discontent are its language

Keys based on B mixolydian mode:

  • E Major (B myx – F# dor) – Noisy shouts of joy, laughing pleasure and not yet complete, full delight lies in E Major
  • C# Minor (B myx – F# dor) – Penitential lamentation, intimate conversation with God, the friend and help-meet of life; sighs of disappointed friendship and love lie in its radius

Keys based on F# mixolydian mode:

  • B Major (F# myx – C# dor) – Strongly coloured, announcing wild passions, composed from the most glaring colours. Anger, rage, jealousy, fury, despair and every burden of the heart lies in its sphere
  • Ab Minor (F# myx – C# dor) – Grumbler, heart squeezed until it suffocates; wailing lament, difficult struggle; in a word, the color of this key is everything struggling with difficulty

Keys based on C# mixolydian mode:

  • F# Major (C# myx – G# dor) – Triumph over difficulty, free sigh of relief uttered when hurdles are surmounted; echo of a soul which has fiercely struggled and finally conquered lies in all uses of this key
  • D# Minor (C# myx – G# dor) – Feelings of the anxiety of the soul’s deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depresssion, of the most gloomy condition of the soul. Every fear, every hesitation of the shuddering heart, breathes out of horrible D# minor. If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key

Keys based on G# mixolydian mode:

  • Db Major (G# myx – D# dor) – A leering key, degenerating into grief and rapture. It cannot laugh, but it can smile; it cannot howl, but it can at least grimace its crying.–Consequently only unusual characters and feelings can be brought out in this key
  • Bb minor (G# myx – D# dor) – A quaint creature, often dressed in the garment of night. It is somewhat surly and very seldom takes on a pleasant countenance. Mocking God and the world; discontented with itself and with everything; preparation for suicide sounds in this key

Keys based on Eb mixolydian mode:

  • Ab Major (Eb myx – Bb dor) – Key of the grave. Death, grave, putrefaction, judgment, eternity lie in its radius.
  • F Minor (Eb myx – Bb dor) – Deep depression, funereal lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave.

Translated by Rita Steblin in A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. UMI Research Press (1983). Plagiarised from various
(acknowledged) sources by Paul Guy

Of particular note, in relation to my own synesthesia:

  • B-flat mixolydian: I say “soul”/God – he says, “conversation with God”
  • F mixolydian: I say heart/body – he says, “aspiration for a better world
  • C-major: I say pure consciousness – he says, “children’s talk
  • G-major: I have always thought of as a key which embodies trees and nature, and he says “rustic”

We do disagree about E-major – but in his day, things were sometimes tuned down a little (A=515 Hz), so his E may be closer to my E-flat.  Also, he describes B-minor as “patient”.

But Schubart’s description of B major matches my personal experience with band break-ups catalyzed by songs played in the key of B – “Anger, rage, jealousy, fury, despair and every burden of the heart”.  That seems to sum up what I’ve seen when we’ve played songs in that key!

It has been suggested that Schubart’s attribution of emotion to certain keys was due to the slight variances in the intervals between the notes in the temperaments used in his day.  The confluence of his findings with mine – based on harmonic, just intonation – and not a “temperament” at all, to me, reinforces the notion that the vibrations themselves carry a certain emotional weight, based on their harmonic association with our magic vibrations of 7.2 Hz for B-flat, and 5.4 Hz for F.

These emotional annotations give us a palette of colour and emotion for pure musical expression according to the vibrations of nature.  Although, I’ll stick with my own!