Synesthesia and me

Some of you may have heard of synesthesia before. While it is of course not exactly how The Onion depicts it, there are many forms of synesthesia and people who have it (about 3.7% of the population) can have one or many of the 60+ forms.

Synesthesia is a neurological occurrence in which the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive input leads to another automatic and involuntary sensory or cognitive output. The classic example, which I still remember from the first time I heard about synesthesia, is a child asking her classmate, “Isn’t the letter A the prettiest pink?” In this case, the cognitive input is the child reading the letter ‘A’ on the page, and every time she does so, she sees it as a particular color pink, which is her cognitive output.

As I said before, there are at least 60 types of synesthesia, as there are so many sensory inputs to experience—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch being just a few of the basics—and just as many sensory outputs as a result. In all of the cases, synesthesia results in an addition of senses, not a replacement. Therefore seeing the letter ‘A’ (also known as a grapheme) did not mean the child saw a splotch of pink in her book; rather, she saw the letter ‘A’ as the rest of us do, but she additionally saw the color pink. According to one source, this grapheme-color synesthesia is present for 62.51% of all synesthetes, making it the most common form of all synesthesia.

Now that I’ve given you a brief understanding of this as a whole, it’s time to bring it back home. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I do have synesthesia; however I do not have this most common form, and although I’ve known about the condition for years, I never realized until this past year that I was one of the 3.7%.


For years upon hearing of synesthesia, I generally thought there was only the grapheme-color, grapheme-personification, and music-color. Being a musically and artistically inclined person, I was naturally drawn to the music-color one, as I didn’t see many downfalls of it. Besides the general idea of “wow, seeing colors while listening to music would be cool!,” I thought it would make things easier in singing and music theory as it would probably give me perfect pitch (That note sounds green—must be a C# then!). Beyond this however, my knowledge of synesthesia was slim and since I didn’t have these types, I assumed I didn’t have any of it.

But then one night as I lay awake in my dorm room attempting to fall asleep, I felt my leg jerk as it sometimes does while I try to fall asleep. Instead of putting it out of my mind, I picked up my phone and scoured the Internet for a reason why this happened. I then came along this page which explains all the things the brain and body does during the transitional stage from wakefulness to sleep, also known as hypnagogia. I learned that what I was looking for is called the hypnagogic jerk, and also learned about the Tetris effect that I have experienced many times after being at the ocean for hours.

The most notable thing I found tucked away in this article was one particular sentence: “Sometimes there is synesthesia [when falling asleep]; many people report seeing a flash of light or some other visual image in response to a real sound.” As I read this, I realized I experience this all the time while trying to fall asleep in a dorm room—someone slams their door, I see a flash of white light. If the radiator makes a surprising click, I see another flash of white light.

I then understood that there were many more types of synesthesia than I thought, and not to self-diagnose, but I probably had at least one of them. Since that day I have periodically researched synesthesia on my own and found that I definitely have four types, and possibly even six or more, though these two extra are questionable. Since I didn’t want to diagnose myself (I am definitely not a doctor), I did talk to my neurologist that I see for migraines and asked her what she thought of what I experienced, and she did agree with me that I have it based on what I told her.

My types

The first type I have is general sounds to colors, which makes up about 14.72% of the synesthete population. This includes hearing someone slam a door or hearing the radiator click and simultaneously seeing a flash of white light as I already mentioned. Sometimes I’ve also noticed that when the radiator makes a more metallic click I see cyan. Once, when my teeth were hurting, the radiator clicked and I saw wavy lines instead of a flash of light. Unfortunately, these sounds happen so quickly that it’s difficult for me to tell what I am seeing. I haven’t seen fireworks since I realized I have synesthesia, but I think this is perhaps why I never liked them as a child as I remember complaining that they were too loud and bright.

The second type I have is kinetics to sounds. The list I have says this is about 1.07% of the synesthete population, however there may be a lot more people who have this than scientists thought. The main result of this is when I see something move I hear accompanying sound effects, even if the object isn’t supposed to make sound. For example, if I see a computer screensaver moving, I may hear a whooshing sound. Sometimes I leave a webpage open on my computer that has movement such as .gifs and when I see it moving out of the corner of my eye for a while, I find myself having to take it off the screen because the sound is too annoying.

Opposite of this, sometimes when I hear sounds I see movement in my mind’s eye. This sound to kinetics type is present in about 1.05% of synesthetes. This tends to happen when sounds change from pitch to pitch; for example, if the faucet is dripping and it makes two distinct drip sounds, I will see an up-to-down movement, with the lower-pitched sound correlating with “down” and the higher-pitched sound correlating with “up.” This also translates to another type, musical sounds to spatial coordinates, which occurs for an unknown percentage of synesthetes. When I am listening to music, particularly with music that I know fairly well, it is almost like I’m seeing a miniature roller coaster in front of me in my mind’s eye, but there is no visible track, just the movement of an intangible object moving in various infinite directions.

The last definite type of synesthesia I have is called “ticker-tape,” which occurs in about 21.91% of the synesthete population. When I speak or hear someone else speak, it is almost as if I have captions running across my vision. Because of this, the spelling of names are important to me. Somehow “Kaitlin” and “Katelyn” sound different from one another. I’ve also realized that my want for captions while watching television or movies is for good reason—if I have captions made for me by a computer, my mind doesn’t have to think as much to create its own captions, as the ones on the screen replace the ones in my mind.

Then there are types that I’m still not sure if I have them, but they crop up every once in a while. Once or twice I’ve felt pain and seen a pulsing light in my vision, which would be part of pain to colors, making up 5.26% of synesthetes. I am also still trying to determine whether or not I have sound to touch synesthesia (the percentage of which is unknown), since sometimes I feel something towards the back of my head when the radiator clicks. Sometimes I do hear a musical chord and think “that’s brown, like my boots,” or look at a color and think “that’s a French Horn sound.” Once I ate a piece of dark chocolate and thought, “that tastes blue,” and sometimes I’ll be sitting in bed and I feel like I’m tasting a cube. Additionally, sometimes I wonder if I’m having synesthetic hallucinations as result of the air conditioner’s constant white noise sound at night or if it’s the ringing I already have in my ears.

Partly because the types I have are less common and partly because it’s unnecessary to do so, it’s difficult to test myself to know I have this. At the same time, it’s a difficult thing to fake, as faking it would result in different effects each time. It’s also hard to fake something that can sometimes be an annoyance to myself, like seeing the radiator click annoyingly every night when I’m trying to fall asleep.

This is an ongoing learning process for me, and this will probably be the case for the rest of my life. Though research about this is pretty minimal and for the most part amounts to “we’ve researched this and it exists,” I hope at some point in my lifetime scientists will learn exactly how and why it exists, as so far I believe they have not found a conclusion. If anyone has any information on the subject that I may not know about, please let me know, even though I still have yet to read the copy of Wednesday is Indigo Blue that’s waiting for me at home. Until then, I will continue to lament the fact that the slamming of the door across the hall is increasingly and annoyingly bright.



Marketing Female Bands in the Sixties

As I have said before, I was in a music history course last semester. As I am also in an honors program here at college, I was required to create an honors-worthy project that had to do with the course. As I am also a graphic design major, I was interested in studying how bands were marketed with their album covers. I am also interested in gender differences and therefore looked at how female bands were marketed. The timeframe I chose—the 1960s—is due to the class’ studied timeframe. I do not claim to be an expert in gender studies, as I’ve only taken one course in the matter, so please don’t take my essay as proof of anything.

So far I have posted two other essays, “Country Music’s Northern Redemption” and “Technology and Music in the Early Twentieth Century.” If you liked this essay, you may like those as well.


How I listen to music

Being a musically-inclined person, one would think I would be and should be listening to music whenever possible. Of course I love listening to music and hear music in many things at any point in time. I even heard a “symphony”—albeit a very odd one—in the MRI machine two summers ago. I also often hear music just by looking at movement.

But of course there are times when I listen to music by my favorite artists. The majority of the time that I play music occurs in the car, as I’m usually by myself and I need something to help pass the time as I travel. This always involves singing and/or moving my head in the direction of the music. Other times I listen to music are, rarely, at home with music playing on my computer while I read or do something else.

But then there is one other form of listening to music that occurs most frequently—and by “listening” I probably mean “hearing.” This requires no electronics, as the music is played in my head. This happens almost constantly; if you were to ask me if I had music playing in my head at a certain moment in time, I may have to think for a few seconds before responding but I would most likely say yes. Music plays in my head so much that I tend to tune it out the majority of time, just like my headaches and the occasional ringing in my ears. However, when this occurs, the music tends to repeat over and over without much of a change. Having the same thing playing on a loop can get tiresome, but I tend to be either too lazy or uncaring to do anything about it.

For the most part, then, unless I’m in the car I don’t remember to just listen to music for the sake of listening—if music is such a constant, why bother seeking it out? Sometimes I do think to myself, “I should put some music on,” but I don’t usually act on the thought. Again, listening in the car is mostly just for something to do. When I do actively listen to music, it tends to be for the purpose of seeking out more of a variety of songs or for a music class. But I’m mostly content with the constant stream of music unless I accidentally get an annoying song in my head, so for now I’ll save some power, keeping the radio “off” and my head “on.”


Technology and Music in the Early Twentieth Century

Due to the nature of my majors in college—Graphic Design and Music Studies—I tend to not write many papers. However, if I am to write any papers it is most likely for them to be about music. My last paper I added to this blog, “Country Music’s Northern Redemption,” was written as a midterm paper for my music of pop & rock class. The following paper, “Technology and Music in the Early Twentieth Century,” was the final paper for the same class. In the paper I discuss how music and the technology behind its recording changed in relation to one another, sort of like “form follows function.” In some cases, function follows the form when it comes to music technology.

Soon I will be uploading another essay relating to popular music history, so check back soon!


NaBloPoMo 14.2: Country Music’s Northern Redemption

Last year I uploaded to this blog one of my essays from my music history course and it centered on the music of Doctor Who. As timely as it is to bring this up again, what with the 50th anniversary special almost a week away, I just received my most recent music essay back from my professor today.

For this paper we were to choose any topic that pertained to popular music in the 1920s through the 1960s. Since we were studying country music and I have been listening to The Abrams Brothers for the past few years, I decided to write about the history of country music and how its origins have survived until this time.


How choir shaped me

If there was one way to define me all throughout high school, it would be that I was in choir. I began in Women’s Choir, which was the non-audition choir, because I was unable to choose classes when coming into high school. In sophomore and junior year, however, I was in Concert Choir, which was the audition-only choir.  In senior year, I could not fit Concert Choir into my schedule because it was the same time as Calculus. During all four years I was also in small ensembles, both jazz and Madrigal-esque, which helped me grow even more as a musician because I could not rely on others around me for my melody.

Because I could not be in Concert Choir in my senior year, I was very upset when I learned that they were going to Carnegie Hall. Imagine being upset all year that you have to be in the non-auditon choir with people who really don’t want to be there and don’t try to remember their parts, while you just want to have a great time being a part of an ensemble in which everyone can effortlessly create beautiful music. Naturally I was very unhappy when I learned that I the one year I was in the best choir, they would go to the mecca of performance, Carnegie Hall. Fortunately, the next day, the choir director asked me if I wanted to go with them as long as I learned my part on my own, and naturally I said yes. I still felt a bit of the “outside looking in” phenomenon, even if it was only in my mind, because I didn’t have choir with everyone every day despite that I knew everyone, but I didn’t care. I was doing what every musician hopes to do.


We practiced, practiced, practiced.





Come graduation, I had another nice surprise. I was selected to receive the Choir Award above all of my peers. I was shocked: I was certainly not the best singer—I there were plenty others who were better than me and had solos and had bigger roles in the spring musicals—but because I was in so many ensembles and did so much for the department (and my parents helped a lot), I received the medal.


Three years ago, high school graduation day, there I was.

My choir director was also very inspirational to me and he helped me a lot through high school, if only just by talking. I am a person who likes and needs some constants in my life, and I was fortunate to have one teacher throughout four years that I appreciated and could go to for help. On the rare occasions I can visit my high school now that I’ve graduated, I always make sure I have time to go say hello and chat. Our pianist was also my other favorite teacher, being the sweetest person in the world, although I did not get to spend as much time with her because she was also an elementary school music teacher. Now she’s at the high school full-time though, and I’m glad she no longer needs to travel so much every day to do her job.

And now my choir is in the running for the New Jersey Christmas Choir Contest for the 101.5 radio station. I love them so much, and I hope that they are able to win and receive a cash prize and new piano. So please, vote for my high school choir, West Milford Concert Choir, today until noon tomorrow.