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Visual Music: Keeping the Audience Engaged

Music is a fascinating phenomenon. It conveys both the perfection of physics, and the full range of human emotions. And yet, classical music is a tough sell to the average listener. Many people dismiss classical music because they think they don’t have the training or experience to understand the music.

Luckily, many technologies are emerging that make it easier for the average listener to appreciate classical music. The use of visual music in live concerts can help communicate the meaning of the music, keeping audience members interested and engaged. With visual music, classical concerts can be a more rewarding and enjoyable experience, even for first-time listeners.

How can a visual show the structure of music? Color is one answer. Color can be used to visually reflect changes in the musical harmony. Different colors can be used for each of the twelve pitches (A, A#, B, etc.), making it easy to detect both the individual notes of a piece and the broader harmonic patterns through the the visual.

The best visual music creates a seamless marriage between the visuals and the music. The first step in creating a strong relationship between sight and sound is to ask the question: why does the audience need to hear this music?

For a classical sonata, the answer might be that the audience will leave having experienced a feeling of structure and balance. The visuals can help show that balance by illustrating the departure from and return to the home key. In a Beethoven Sonata in E major, the sections in E major might be predominantly red, by coloring the E major diatonic scale a consistent shade of red. A harmonic modulation to G# minor could then be reflected by coloring A# and Fx green. When the music eventually modulates back to E major, the audience will see the visual become red again, emphasizing the return home.

In a piece from the Romantic era, the visual emphasis might instead be on the chromatic details that make the music beautiful. Visual music can help the audience pick up on these details. In a Chopin Sonata in B major, a noticeable color could be chosen for each of the pitches outside the home key. For instance, setting D natural to purple will make it easier for the audience to recognize a “blue note” in the melody (a moment where a minor interval is unexpectedly used in the melody or harmony).

In contemporary repertoire, the freedom of the harmonic structure can be reflected in a more eclectic choice of colors. Since the harmony of contemporary music is less restricted by rules, the visual music can use whichever colors most effectively portray the spirit of the music.

SeeMusic is one new technology that lets you easily choose your own color for each of the twelve pitches. By directly linking the colors in your visual to the harmonic content of your music, you can be sure that the audience will be more focused on what your music is trying to say.

Whatever technology you use, adding a meaningful visual to your musical performance will increase the likelihood that you’ll get your message across, and keep your audience engaged.

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