Tone-texture synesthesia (musical note-texture synesthesia)

Perceiving a particular colour for the sound of each musical note (tone-colour or pitch-colour synesthesia) has often been reported, but there also appears to be a rarer phenomenon where some synesthetes distinguish the different musical notes by the specific texture they perceive for each one. As well as being consistent, and involuntarily and consciously perceived, the textures can be very idiosyncratic and difficult to describe. Maybe there will be more reports of it in future: time will tell.

Although yet to be reported, there are probably occasional cases of synesthetes for whom musical chords and keys each have their own particular texture, rather than (or in addition to) individual notes or pitches.

The synesthetes who describe these associations say that they have a very strong impression of a texture that flows or travels through their mind or body, and that the sound or note in question just “is” that texture: it is a fundamental property of the musical frequency.

Here are some descriptions written by people who distinguish the different musical notes or tones exclusively by texture:

“I've got perfect pitch, so notes are absolute-- I rarely mix them up. But what I've noticed is an unchanging connection between specific notes and textures. (…) For example:
A is like a plastic, smooth, but hard. There's a tad of sharpness that I can't quite place, as in, I feel like it should have jagged edges somewhere, but I can't think where because of it's overall plastic feel.
B flat and E flat are like paint, thick and smooth. They're the most pleasant texture. They're slightly different, although not much.
E flat seems a little thinner than does B flat.
B itself is sort of like a blade of a scissor.
C is actually really hard to place. I can't think of what it corresponds to. It's sort of a mix between F and G.
D flat is sort of like the head of a drum, tight, but responsive.
D is similar to C, only more well worn.
E has little feeling. Maybe like skin you're in the middle of slapping
F is gravely.. like a dirt road covered in latex.
F sharp is very similar to roughly sanded wood.
G is, well, deep. Like, it's really hard to place. Not rough at all.
G# has very little feeling, but it's got the depth of G to it.”

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2013.)

“Some of the textures I experience are almost indescribable, and it helps me differentiate similar sounds (like the notes on a piano), especially if I have familiarity with them, or they feel particularly different to the others.
There’s a range of about 2 octaves in the middle of the piano (the part I play the most), where I can differentiate each separate note almost perfectly because they each sound unique to me - I don’t have perfect pitch, but I associate each note with a slightly different texture so I can tell the difference. For example, the E below a middle C sounds fluffy, and the D below that kind of sounds spicy.”

(Source: a conversation with a Reddit friend, 2021)

In the case of tone-colour synesthesia the colours can also have textures, which are perceived by the synesthete as a basic property of the sound itself, the colour and texture forming a single perceptual unit. Here is an especially interesting example, created by Joshua Willis:

“It’s like the vibration at a particular hertz evokes a particular texture for me”, says Joshua, who perceives his textured colours as being subtle but distinct.

Go to the page on sound-texture synesthesia

Go to the page on chromesthesia

Go to the page on the musical synesthesias

Go to the page on auditory-visual synesthesia

Go to the page on auditory-tactile synesthesia

Go to the page on tone-colour synesthesia
(musical note-colour)

This page last updated: 08 August 2021

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