Images seen in creative/musical trance


I have recently come across several cases of an interesting phenomenon which I think is a firm candidate for being considered a type of synesthesia. It consists of the visualisation of pictorial images, random but usually very consistent, by people in a state of heightened concentration when playing a musical instrument – particularly if they are creating, memorising or learning a piece of music – or when concentrating on a creative task of another kind with musical accompaniment. It would seem to be a rare phenomenon, as yet unknown, although it may perhaps achieve more recognition with more cases being brought to light in the future.

The images perceived are figurative (places, people and objects) and they are usually random in nature, although in some cases they may correspond to autobiographical childhood memories. In many cases – or in all cases perhaps – they are consistent, i.e. the same images are associated with the same musical sequences. It appears to happen when the person enters a special state of profound concentration and/or relaxation induced by a creative process such as playing a musical instrument, particularly on learning to play the instrument itself or on studying and memorising new pieces of music.

It could be considered a type of synesthesia with musical sequences as an inducer: time will tell. In general, synesthetic visualisations are abstract rather than figurative; however, some pictorial manifestations are usually accepted as being synesthesia (see the next paragraph below and the page on figurative images as a synesthetic concurrent), which would open up the possibility of its future acceptance. As it is not a known phenomenon at the present time there are no studies on it or, as far as I am aware, any mentions in the literature. Most of the people who have reported it say they also have other types of synesthesia, so there may be a correlation, but sampling in the general population would of course be required to determine to what extent it affects both synesthetes and non-synesthetes.

It actually bears a fairly close resemblance to sexual/romantic synesthesia (due to the type of images visualised, the similarity it appears to have with hypnagogic imagery and the special state of trance/concentration/relaxation required to experience it), although it seems to be more consistent than the latter, as the same pictures repeat on different occasions in response to the same stimulus and this is not usually the case with sexual synesthesia. It is interesting to note that there is a dual inducer of the experience: the musical sequences and also the particular mental state given rise to by playing an instrument, creating and/or memorising.

Here are some descriptions written by people who experience this phenomenon:

I'm curious to know if others and indeed if all pianists see random images or think of certain things/people when they play a piece. I get it with every piece I play, but it's nothing that's connected to the style of the's much more abstract than that. (...) The last few pieces I've learned (and it's always at the same part of the piece) I have had flashes into my head of random images such as - a crocodile, my sister, a girl at my work who I have never spoken to, my friend's ex boyfriend (again..don't even know him that well), a boat on the water, a woman waiting for her husband to come back from war..and the word banana. (...) The only way I can describe it is as if you were recalling your dream from the night before and images flash into your head.”

(Source: this forum on the classical piano website Piano Street. 2017.)

I have musical chromesthesia and usually see colors for music, but Bach's music tends to be colorless for me. Instead of colors, I'll get images associated with some of the sections (I never see a color and an image at the same time), and I need to be actually playing the piece in order to see them. Also, once I gain muscle memory for the piece, I won't see the images anymore (but the exact images come back if I forget and relearn the piece).”

Jacqueline, the girl who experiences this phenomenon, has shared her perceptions with us in this fascinating video (2021), “How my synesthesia interprets WTC Prelude No. 6”.  (There is also a direct link to see the video at the end of this page)

On learning to play an instrument
“My brother bought an electric keyboard thing (…) and he gave it to me and I had NO idea how to play it, so I would just watch those mini videos on YouTube and just copy them and then keep playing it until I remembered it. (…) Something that I didn't notice at first but was kind of weirded out by when I realised, was what I thought or saw when I played [certain songs]. (…) I would associate certain sections (I think melody might be a better word) within the song with a pretty specific image that I would see in my head.

So for an example of the song I most experienced this with, Dancers on a String, I would remember the song in sections, like 2-5 notes, with an image and when I was playing the song I would mentally be like 'okay now is the pear part' without even realising how strange that was. Some of the specific imagery I would see consisted of:

- a red barn with many black widow spiders and clocks
- tiny little cubes of pear, like the texture of a pear and were light green
- someone big with their face like squashed against the screen as if I was looking through a camera

As you can see, these were bizarre.

In Swan Lake I associated one short section of like one or two notes with an old dust lamp you would find in like a grandmas home and it was yellow, and I associated another later section with like death hounds trying to chase someone.

I have no idea why I see these things so vividly, and I don't think it's unique to a certain note, as I play the same note in different songs and I don't see the same imagery. My dad suggested that maybe its how I remember certain patterns. I don't think I have this with actual music, or anything else. Its just specific to when I'm playing the keyboard and trying to remember how to play.”

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2021.)

Autobiographical images

I definitely experience this every time I play. I see random images from my childhood. And I mean random. One is looking under the sideboard at a neighbour’s house which must have been from when I was 6 or 7. Several relate to particular places in my old secondary school. Another is at the top of the stairs at my auntie’s house. It’s always the same set of places but there are probably about 100 different places. (…) It’s interesting that there are no images from after the age of about 13 or 14 which is when I stopped having piano lessons.”

(Source: This comment on Reddit/Piano. 2021.)

Personification of chord sequences/parts of songs

“I play in a band and (…) my fellow guitarist asked me how (…) I can seemingly remember chord sequences or parts of songs if I don’t play them for a couple of weeks. (…) I told him that I can remember parts because they are all people to me, and if I can remember the person I can remember the part. (…)

The whole thing is involuntary and I can't influence how the personification presents itself. Sometimes they are pretty vague personifications which I would struggle to describe visually but will feel a certain way like a strong masculine presence for instance. Others however can be very vivid and specific and I could describe exactly as they appear physically and also what kind of person they are.

Personifications seem to be strongest for me with anything in the key of E.

I'm not sure at what point the personification manifests itself, it's not something I've been able to consciously pinpoint. It could be that is appears the very first time I play a chord sequence and I only really become aware of it as I repeat it or it could be that it takes a couple of plays through to manifest. It's possibly a chicken or the egg situation.

As far as I'm aware the personification doesn't grow stronger or fade in any way, they manifest and remain the same regardless of how much I play the chords.

(…) The most useful part is the strong association the personification and the music have together, which means that I can remember chord sequences and guitar parts easier than I may do otherwise. It can also be difficult giving up on parts that don't fit or work in a song because I've this strange bond with them as they are like friends to me in a way. I can let them go though as I know they don't really exist."

(Source: This post and comments on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2023.)

This account is also related to Personification of musical sequences.

Creative writing + music

I was on the midst of plotting a short story that I was wanting to write while listening to music when suddenly an image flashed for a second then disappeared. The image was a valley of white lilies. It felt as if I saw the song as a picture then vanished as quickly as it came. It distracted me from further imagining the rest of my story so I surrendered and went to listen to other songs and to my surprise, it happened again. Another song I felt / saw was a landscape of a candy land which is again, very befitting the song. The next song I played showed me a dim dark room with an endless staircase and a lone lightbulb swinging from the ceiling.”

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2021.)

The video "How my synesthesia interprets WTC Prelude No. 6”, by Jacqueline Cordes.


  1. Damnit this one is the closest to mine I can find, so I guess I'll just say this one is it!
    Essentially, certain songs, and only certain parts of them, when I LISTEN to them (not play, I wouldnt know for that part as I don't play, but I DO PRODUCE (lots of songs under the name LiVeen where I try my best to enhance the synesthesia effect once it starts happening) ), especially with certain types of sounds etc, I'll get this thing where I kinda "sink" into a trance-like state where I see a certain "scene" play out.
    I don't really get a choice in the matter, especially for the songs I produce to enhance this effect. Eventually while producing, I cant even finish the song, and I have to backtrack, add the finishing touches, mixing, mastering, and THEN re-add what I took out and just hope it works.
    But the scene can get really vivid sometimes, and it's always the same scene for the same song/sections. It's always been in, like, a short loop. Almost like those drawn gifs where its an animation only like 1 second long. The scenes usually have a feeling of suspense, mystery or similar to them, and they're always really "moody" for lack of a better term.
    One of the most common ones I have both for my own, and for others music, is a bus stop, seen close up, from the front left of it, it's raining, its dark, and there's not much else around it.
    There's a few trees around, a street in front of the stop (I think, I only see the edge of a sidewalk, but its a bus stop, come on), and theres some moody, almost neon-like foggy white-ish lighting coming from the sides and top.
    Standing in the middle, a bit to the front, is a blond, weak-looking, thin woman with somewhat messy hair. Google "Holly Henry" for a decent representation of the kind of look she has.
    She looks almost like she's in "shock". Not afraid, but more like something has happened, and she's suffering from the aftershock of it, waiting for the bus to take her to safety.

    This scene is just a 1-2second loop, kind of. But it pulls me in so hard that I can't get out of it at all unless the triggering part of the music stops.
    For reference, several others in my family have some form of strong synesthesia, associative that is, while my oldest sister has 1 projective one where she feels what something is like on her toungue (possibly other things too, havent asked much). I grew up in a really music-focused family, always falling asleep to, and waking up to, my fathers guitar playing, or music playing. And I used to have the same dream every single night for years as a kid where there were a shitton of colors around me, and they were HUGE, overwhelming, but not scary. I used to think of it as a halfway-nightmare-dream. This might be related, but I'm not sure.

    I discovered this synesthesia through producing music (Construct is the song that started this journey of discovery, if you end up looking me up), so maybe its the same as whats written in this article. But I don't get static images, only short loops, with emotions and some more vague senses added onto them. It's definitely somewhat of a trance-like state though.

    1. Very interesting, thanks for telling us about your experience! Yes, I agree it seems to fit in with this phenomenon.