The Riddle of Mind, Music and Color

From Mozart to Metallica, music comes in many varieties for nearly every kind of music lover. With so much diversity in musical preference, it might be surprising to discover that while musical preferences may be diverse, most people associate specific genres and tempos of music with the same colors no matter who is listening to them.

Research completed in 2013 at the University of California in Berkley gave us a first glimpse into the riddle of how minds interpret and associate music and color together. Jaunty cheerful pieces like Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major was more associated with bright yellows and oranges, while Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, a slower more somber tune, was linked to dark blues and grays.

Interestingly enough, cultural background did not seem to have an effect on the color associations. Participants throughout the United States and Mexico all linked the pieces with the same colors. This suggests that humanity as a whole shares and emotional color palette especially when it comes to music and color. These findings may explain how music can be universally accepted and understood across cultural barriers.

During the study, researchers used a 37 color palette and found that people tended to pair up-tempo music in a major (think happy) key with lighter vivid yellow colors. Conversely, music in a minor key (sadder, more somber) would be associated with darker, grayer, bluer colors. Amazingly by the completion of the study researchers could predict color selection with 95% accuracy based on how happy or sad the music was.

This stands to have incredible impacts on creative therapies, advertising and even music related gadgetry and software. Future studies hope to expand the groups polled into countries farther from the U.S. like China and Turkey to determine if music really can be a global common ground.

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