Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education and International Services


Curriculum and Instruction PhD

First Advisor

Anneris Coria-Navia

Second Advisor

Sean Day

Third Advisor

Jay Brand



Synesthesia is a neurological condition characterized by over-abundant neural connectivity between commonly highly specialized areas of the brain. The developmental form of the condition often results in automatic and consistent cross-sensory associations between perceived stimuli and commonly unrelated brain regions. This research contemplates the specific form of music notation-to-color synesthesia and its impact on early stages of music education. Synesthetes with this mode of the condition tend to involuntarily yet consistently associate music-notational concepts with colors, thus rendering their assimilation of these concepts unique and individualized. The purpose of this study is to determine the extent of these individualized experiences from original narratives.


This study entails a grounded theory qualitative approach, through which 12 from participants were interviewed cross-culturally (7 featured nationalities). All participants were adults with music notation-to-color synesthesia who experienced music instruction in a Western cultural context. Data collection methodology involved a written survey, inperson (or live Zoom) interviews, and shared document analysis. Qualitative analytical methodology was used via coding strategies to discover surfacing themes, emerging issues, and commonalities among the narratives.


Five overarching categories of commonalities were identified in this study. Firstly, participants shared generalities of synesthetic perceptions of music notation involving color, such as their awareness about their condition, the qualities of their experiences, the conceptual basis of their associations, among other characteristics. Interviewees also alluded to the mechanisms involved in the perception of music notation, such as the positive impact of their music notation-to-color synesthesia on memory as well as the negative implications of synesthetic incongruence. The spatial location of synesthetic perceptions varied among participants. Interviewees reported projecting on the page of music and associating in their "mind's eye"—two common themes in the literature. Some participants, however, have also mentioned a middleground location that does not fit only one of these categories. Finally, this study analyzed themes relating to the implications of this form of synesthesia for music education, with attention to awareness on the part of educators, instructional intentionality, validation, reinforcement of student individuality, and conscious use of the condition. Moreover, other themes and future research possibilities were analyzed. --


This study arrived at two grounded theory models. The first comprises a grounded theory of the experiences shared by participants. This theoretical model articulates the salient themes, such as positive and negative traits of notation-to-color perceptions and spatial location of perceptions. In special, this theory argues for a tendency for conceptually-based notation-to-color synesthesia among participants. The second grounded theory model advanced in this research entails an educational approach that would benefit awareness and intentionality in addressing students with music notation-to-color synesthesia. It discusses philosophical foundations, a theoretical framework, and methodological considerations that may transform how music notation-to-color students are accounted for in curricula. The study concludes by offering pedagogical suggestions derived from the methodological considerations. Firstly, it advances a linear process for identification, verification, and addressing of synesthesia. Secondly, it proposes the elimination of excessive notational information and gradual learning as initial strategies that could benefit music notation-to-color synesthetes in learning new notational elements.

Subject Area

Synesthesia; Intersensory effects; Musical notation; Music--Instruction and study


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