36. What Should Be Coded by Color?
If we use colors or images, they should act as guides that can direct the viewer’s attention while viewing normal music notation. The graphics of the music staff and its auxiliary form should add to each another, not battle for primacy. A colleague in Ukraine helped me to understand this best.
Once she proudly announced that she’d been teaching children with a “colorful perception of music.” Her students write down music dictations with colored pencils. Each of the seven notes is assigned a separate color, and it must be marked down with the right pencil. During the dictation, the kids not only have to understand which note is being played, but also remember which color it has been assigned.
My god! When I tried to imagine what was happening in the students’ minds during such “innovative” dictations, it made my head spin. Color and sound aren’t at all related in our perception because color is perceived through vision, and sound through hearing. I’ve read many scientific articles about the subconscious perception of sound in relation to a color spectrum, but nowhere has it been written that separate colors can logically be fastened to certain notes. These ties simply don’t exist. Of course, we know of several composers that were born with a “music-chromatic perception,” such as Skryabin and Rimsky-Korsakov. But their color associations mostly didn’t coincide.
Hearing and the voice are responsible for the separation of sounds by pitch. Audio-chromatic associations are different for every person. They can even change depending on one’s mood! Because of this, color can’t be used as a focal point in the understanding of sound at all. Trying to rely on such a foundation will bring the perception to a dead end. No matter how hard the perception tries, it can’t tie one to the other.
Still, one often comes across attempts to coordinate each step of the music scale with its color, and to tie it to the keys and the music staff. But this barely helps the effectiveness of a lesson. First of all, under the laws of perception, a person can handle no more than 2-3 different colors (objects) at the same time. Memorization of seven different colors connected to their notes, in essence, is an entirely new and abstract language. Instead of aiding the student, this becomes a heavy and unnecessary burden for his memory. Secondly, as has already been explained, sound and color aren’t at all associated in a person’s perception. It’s like trying to teach Finnish by translating into Turkish.