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Q & A: color and music tone wavelength scales

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Most recent answer: 07/22/2008
Q:
how can i relate musical sound notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B) to colours of light through a prism (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet)using their wavelengths as a common element they possess. Basically i would like to know what musical note corresponds to a particular colour based on wavelenghts if this is at all possible to do in a science.
- femi (age 35)
Toronto, Ontario, canada
A:
Other than the fact that they are both monotonically increasing sequences, there is no scientific reason to relate them.  The ratios of the wavelengths of notes on the well-tempered scale (that preferred by Bach) are related by twelfth roots of 2.  The wavelengths of the colors of light are determined by the human subjectiveness of  "what is red" or "what is blue".

That being said, there is a good correlation between the two.   If you make a plot of one versus the other there is almost a perfect straight line fit.   Remarkable.

LeeH

(published on 07/18/2008)

Follow-Up #1: More on sound and color

Q:
Thanks lee! What would be the least and highest on the sequence in terms of wavelength for color(white light through a prism) and that of music tone (tuning fork equivalent in terms of the 7 notes). Can u briefly explain the relation by the twelfth roots of 2 using the ratios of wavelenghts.Is this like saying there are 12 major scales each having a relatively minor scale. What is the perfectly straight line fit and what possible plots can be used against the other(musical notes and colors of light visible through the prism) in terms of these 7. Can you also please suggest helpful reads or sources that can help me with a more indepth understanding? Basically what i want to do is make paintings that make musical sense in analytical structure.
- femi (age 35)
Toronto, Ontario, canada
A:
Yes there are 12 major scales in the western 12 tone system. 
The relationship between the twelfth roots of 2 and the equal-tempered scale is nicely explained at the following URLs:


One of the problems you will have to address in your goal of relating sound to colors, or vice versa, is that the sound spectrum (7+ octaves on my piano) is far greater than the one octave available to human vision.  I suppose you can fold them over.  That's where you can be creative.    Good luck.

LeeH

(published on 07/22/2008)

Follow-up on this answer.