Auditory-visual synesthesia

If the synesthetic concurrent is (or includes) colour, it can also be called Chromesthesia.

Alternative names for Chromesthesia are Sound-colour synesthesia, Music-colour synesthesia and Coloured hearing

This is one of the types of synesthesia that can be called "visualised sensations" or "coloured sensations"

With this type of synesthesia, sound and/or music trigger visual perceptions. The most common visual concurrent is colour, experienced alone or together with other visual components such as shape, texture, spatial position and movement or direction. These other concurrents may also occur without colour being involved.

Projectors and associators

The visual experience may be projected (the colours or shapes are seen physically, superimposed on reality) or associated (they are seen in the mind's eye, or a strong impression of the colour, shape, etc. is perceived although nothing is actually seen in external space). Associator synesthetes are the clear majority: it is estimated that at least 90% are associators while up to about 10% of synesthetes have projective experiences. Some synesthetes have both types of experience, projection and association, although most have never experienced physical projection of their colours and shapes into their actual vision.


Prevalence and inducers/concurrents

Auditory-visual synesthesia is one of the most common types of synesthesia and it is estimated that up to 40% of synesthetes could have one or more of its subtypes. It covers many different experiences, with a variety of specific inducers (general sounds, musical notes, instruments, chords, genres, the human voice, etc.) and concurrents (colour, shape, texture, position, movement etc.).


Using auditory-visual synesthesia to enjoy music

There is no doubt that for auditory-visual synesthetes the experience of listening to music, attending live concerts or playing an instrument is greatly enhanced by their synesthetic perceptions, and although a few are occasionally overwhelmed by the extra input, for the vast majority it is a source of special enjoyment that often gives them an advantage in creative pursuits: many paint their musical impressions and some musicians have even found a way of incorporating it to their own creative compositions.


Using synesthesia in the process of creating music

Corin Anderson (CoriAnder) is a music professional who has learned to translate visual images, such as abstract artworks, into music by “reverse-engineering” his synesthesia. You can find out more and listen to his electronic music here (his album Photisms will be released in 2024), or discover more about his approach, process and techniques in his PhD paper, A Compositional Exploration of Auditory-Visual Synaesthesia (Edinburgh Napier University, 2023).


Types of auditory-visual synesthesia (the links go to a description and examples)

Tone-colour (musical note-colour) and other visual concurrents

Chord-colour and other visual concurrents

Timbre-colour and timbre-shape (musical instruments)


Song-colour and Musical genre-colour

Key signature-colour

Musical mode-colour

General sounds-vision (colour/shape/texture/position/movement)

Voice-colour (and other visual concurrents)

Click here to go to the page listing more than 30 types of musical synesthesia, including non-visual types

The following types of synesthesia are triggered by hearing WORDS, so they could perhaps be considered auditory-visual:

Phoneme-colour and word-colour experienced on hearing words spoken

Ticker tape synesthesia

Some questions and answers about auditory-visual synesthesia:

(click on each question to see the answers)

What is the definition of “chromesthesia”? What types of synesthesia does it include?

Do all synesthetes see the same colours, shapes, etc. in response to the same sounds or musical stimuli, or are they very different?

They vary enormously from person to person. What might be black lines for one are morphing blobs of different colours for another, while someone else might see their visual field filled with blue light. It is true that deeper, lower sounds generally tend to produce darker colours and higher-pitched sounds lighter colours, but apart from that there are few similarities.

Is it pleasant or unpleasant?

It is normally considered a natural, pleasant experience. It often creates an exceptional appreciation of music and is greatly enjoyed, although it can also be neither pleasant nor unpleasant if the synesthete is not focusing on the visual experience (with background music they are not paying much attention to, for example) and in this case unless their synesthesia is very strong it can go virtually unnoticed. However, some people are prone to having a sensory overload if faced with too many stimuli at the same time, and others can find it impossible to concentrate with music playing (they cannot drive or study with music on, for example), or they may not like some of the colours or shapes in particular.

Is it useful?

In most cases, having auditory-visual synesthesia is a source of pleasure and great musical appreciation. For some, it can be a help in composing music and they even go on to be successful professional musicians. For others it guides them on finding the right notes when they sing (many tone-colour synesthetes have absolute pitch), helps determine their musical tastes – which may be different from those of the majority – or simply adds to the pleasure of listening to music or even to the sounds of nature.

Does the volume of the music affect the experience?

Yes, although not in the same way for everyone. For some synesthetes very loud or live music creates a better and more intense visual experience, with brighter colours, while for others it is impossible to listen to loud sounds as they feel "attacked" by aggressive shapes or find it too unpleasant and painful to be able to see anything at all. As the volume of a song gradually fades to zero, some synesthetes’ colours become more transparent before finally disappearing, while for others they get lighter and lighter, or more muddied, or the shapes become smaller or they move into the distance to become lost on the horizon… there is a great deal of variety.

What kinds of music do people with auditory-visual synesthesia most enjoy?

Any type of music, depending on the person, as some react to the timbre, others to the musical notes, others to the singer’s voice, and so on. For some a simple melody is the best but others enjoy a large number of different instruments being played at the same time as it creates a much more interesting panorama of shapes and colours. Some genres often mentioned by synesthetes are electronic music, as it is more textured (EDM, glitch, psytrance, vaporwave for example) and classical music, although there are many more favourites. This is my personal playlist of tracks that have produced the most exhilarating experiences for me as a timbre-shape/colour and auditory-tactile synesthete: as you can see, it’s quite varied.

Is it consistent? Does a synesthete always see the same thing when he hears the same sounds?

Basically, yes. There can be some differences in the experience depending on the degree of focus and relaxation, sound quality, whether a song is played live, on the radio, by a different band, etc., but the visual response tends to be the same or very similar in the same circumstances.

Can it occur at the same time as other auditory or musical synesthesias like auditory-tactile or sound-to-smell?

Yes, many synesthetes have more than one type of auditory synesthesia at the same time. For some, their strongest type dominates and cancels out the others in response to a particular sound stimulus, while for others interesting combinations are produced where visual concurrents coexist with smells, tastes or touch sensations.

What is the definition of “chromesthesia”? What types of synesthesia does it include?

The term chromesthesia refers to any type of synesthesia in which the inducer is sound or music and the concurrent is (or includes) colour. For a list of types, see the page about chromesthesia

Some auditory-visual experiences that raise the question “Is this synesthesia?”

Seeing figurative images or landscapes on listening to music

Seeing or thinking about a kind of “music video” on listening to music

Seeing spontaneous, consistent images while concentrating on playing an instrument/learning pieces

Seeing a flash of light with closed eyes on hearing a loud or sudden sound

Seeing the singer’s words visually on listening to a song

This page last updated: 22 May 2024

This page is about music-color synesthesia, auditory-visual synesthesia, sound-color synesthesia, seeing colors with music and colored hearing
This page is about music-colour synaesthesia, auditory-visual synaesthesia, sound-colour synaesthesia, seeing colours with music and colored hearing


  1. This is great.... thank you.

  2. I am a musician and experience tones, chords, harmonies, and associated musical dynamics in different colors shades and hues. Its helpful in expressing musical intent in studio recording or live performances to accompanying musicians. Very enjoyable.