5-3-5 Exercise: Working with music

Listen to four or five very different pieces of instrumental music.  Each piece should different in mood, instrumentation and style.  Select music that is sustained and listen once perhaps making some notes.  Now work following the music. Work fast and intuitively.  You can translate sound into colour, silence or airy sounds into pictorial space

Now do several paintings.  Make an honest assessment of your work and your experience in your learning log.

In bold italic below I have reproduced the brief notes I made when listening to each of the four pieces of music.


Notes: Jazz 1

Slow piano passages with pauses rising scales with stops and then scales to quiet, occasional bass as descending scales to reach bottom.


Notes: Jazz2

Easy listening selection – changes in tempo from fast to slow – plodding then accelerating again.  Piano bar music – moods and thought trains influenced by this jazz – setting slow quiet contemplative  mood. Then snapped out by change in tempo to fast.  


Vivaldi – Four Seasons with Vanessa May:

Different moods and tempos for wach of the seasons.  The uplifting joy of Summer – the coming anticipation of new life with Spring – the slowing sombre mood of Autumn and then the cooler tones of Winter.  The colours each season invoke are painted as hanging curtains on a yellow ground.  The yellow is reminiscent of the bright gold of summer and the dying leaves in autumn.


Classical Movie Themes:

Braveheart, Titanic, Rocky, French Connection, Bridge over the River Kwai etc. (instrumental)

Various different tunes so lots of different moods and feeling.  Colours and shapes to represent music – size of objects to represent tempo etc.


Earlier in this course I did some research on Paul Klee – Painting Music.  This research is can also be found in Part 3, Page 67 of my Learning Log.  The on line link is :


Paul Klee Painting and Music by Hajo Duchting

1997 Prestel-Verlag, Munich – New York, ISBN 9 783791 318721

Another book from my personal library I reference during this exercise was Klee, by Douglas Hall, Phaidon Press Ltd, 1992, ISBN 0 7148 2730 4

“One day I must be able to improvise freely on the keyboard of colours: the row of watercolours in my paint-              Paul Klee

To summarise what I gleaned from these books and a re-reading of my notes in Section 3 on Klee – Painting Music

Klee used his ability to employ a few basic elements to build a composition representing linear and musical rhythms, he uses shape, colour and line to represent the ebb and flow of the music.

were visualised by rising and falling lines.  The different instruments, musical tones and harmonies were visualised by the colour and tone.

The first two pieces were visualised in a manner similar to sound is output in a graph with spikes and rapidly moving lines.  These seem however to be a bit to random and obtuse.  After these two pieces I sat back and thought how I might visualise and represent the music without using line.  The third painting is the result – the Four Seasons.  The colours are depicted as either rolling shapes or handing shrouds of colour.

The changes in shape to depict the rise and fall of the melodies and harmonies within each piece of the Four Seasons.  The colours also represent the seasons in a more graphic form with the use of both warm and cool colours.

As an experiment I showed the paintings to one of my sons and asked what type of music it might represent.  He was correct on three of the four; movie themes were too specific for him to guess!

This exercise was extremely useful and highlights the use of colour tone and shape as a means to depict feeling.  The process is more difficult than just ‘scribbling on a sheet of paper.  You must empty your mind and then let the music fill your mind so that it starts to become visual images rather than just sound.  Then the process is to distil these images into a legitimate format and reproduce on the paper to in effect capture the sound as shape, colour and tone.

Scribbling on a sheet is how I felt the first two paintings in this exercise have turned out.  I then had another look at some of Klee’s work which he painted music.  This work was not wild gyrations of a pen or a brush across the sheet but more ‘composed’, thoughtful and insightful of what the music was making him feel rather than representing the sounds as graphic (my mistake in paintings 1 and 2).

Listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons I listened to what he was saying in his music to us the listener.  He was using sound to represent the smells, colour and the time of the year.  I just need to buy into his process to hear this before I could in effect then see it.  Once I felt I had started to do this I was able to start to use colour and shape to depict his melodies of the Seasons.

The final painting was a further pushing of these visualisations of sound to shape and colour.  The strength of the dark lines and overlapping shapes with the various tones and colours represents the structure and organisation of the music.  The semi-regular patterns in the painting visualise the harmonies as they repeat and echo through the piece.

I am happiest with the outcome of this final piece, satisfied with the third and nearly put pieces one and two through the shredder!  A way to visualise the music would be to prepare a series of different coloured shaped – circles, triangles, lines, squares etc. all with mixed colours and sizes.  Once these were prepared then empty your mind, start the music and use the coloured symbols placed on a sheet to present what you are hearing.  This way you could react immediately to the piece.