What is synesthesia, the rare gift of hearing or hearing colors?

Artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Jimi Hendrix and even Kanye West are said to have experimented with this curious human perception of the senses.

It’s not very common to come across someone who claims to be able to smell or hear colors, but while it might sound crazy, this interesting perceptual ability is real and is called synesthesia.

People with synesthesia may “see music”, “taste colors” or “feel color” differently from other people; that is, they can naturally merge their senses, achieving unusual creativity. Several artists, such as Vincent van Gogh and Wassily Kandinsky, or musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Lady Gaga and Kanye West, are considered synesthetes.


What is synesthesia?

The term synesthesia comes from the Greek and means “mixed sensations”. In neuroscience, it is the ability to jointly perceive color tones, sounds and intensities of flavors or colors, that is, the ability to perceive two merged senses. This condition is present in around 2 to 4% of the population, and according to a study by the University of Edinburgh, it is estimated that one in 100 people are synesthetes.

Examples of Synesthesia

– See colors while listening to music

– Touching soft surfaces can cause a sweet taste

– Feel the love of a color

– Hear sounds by seeing colors

– Feel something bitter with a sad song

Synesthetic artists

As mentioned, some artists, writers, inventors and musicians, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Vincent Van Gogh, Marcel Proust, Jimi Hendrix, Franz List, Richard Wagner, Duke Ellington, Nikola Tesla, Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams , Marilyn Monroe and Virginia Wolf, among others, are considered synesthetes.


Kandinsky, for example, took this natural ability in his art to another level and created a collection of abstract paintings that express the way he associates each musical note with a color.

“The sound of the colors is so precise that you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would express a bright yellow with low notes or a dark lake with high notes”, said the painter.


In the case of guitarist Jimi Hendrix, he is known to have created his chord, C7 #9, known as “The purple chord”, which can be heard in the classic Purple Haze.

Types of synesthesia

There are two broad categories, cognitive synesthesia and synesthesia proper. From these, five of the most important types are derived, which are:


– Grapheme-color synesthesia

– Time-color synesthesia

– Music-color synesthesia

– Sound-color synesthesia

– Note-color synesthesia

Story originally published in Spanish in collective culture

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About Bernice D. Brewer

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