Understanding Music Theory Through Colors

RainbowStruggling to understand a music theory concept? Sometimes, all it takes is a tweak to the way material is taught for a student to really grasp it. Here, Pittsburgh voice teacher Jennifer V. reveals her unique ROYGBIV method…


Has your child ever come home in tears because they just couldn’t master a skill they learned in school? You listen, wipe their tears and tell them “Tomorrow is a new day,” and “I know you can do it!” But the next day he or she comes home upset about the exact same thing.

What do you do? As a teacher, it’s my job to change the curriculum so that the student can understand it. Not everyone learns the same way, and I am going to show you a way I teach singing and music theory that sometimes works when the traditional concept doesn’t.

Music and the Brain

Let’s start by talking a little about how the brain works. It’s an incredible, complicated mass of circuits that make it possible for us to create, think, understand and feel. Our brain is divided into two sections; the right and the left. In appearance, they are mirror images of each other, but the functions of each side are different.

The right hemisphere communicates non-verbally, using images and by selecting matching stimuli, has highly developed spatial abilities, is intuitive and imaginative, and is concerned with emotions and feelings.

For individuals who are right-brained, sometimes the traditional concept of music theory and even reading music can be very difficult. It can be very overwhelming to the mind to understand the constant changes in the music. In order to relieve these anxieties, I take the concepts of theory and apply color patterns to them. This creates an opportunity for the right hemisphere of the brain to participate more, and allows the left to focus on understanding the rhythm and language of music.

We begin with the acronym of ROYGBIV, which is Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.  In the very first lesson I incorporate those colors to the notes as the following: C D E F G A B. The patterns change by one color or note based on how many accidentals are needed to create the formula.

For major and minor scales and cadences, the colors are simply changed from light to dark to signify major and minor. This caters to the aural abilities of the student. When I play a D major triad, I ask my student to describe it; they often tell me it sounds “bright and happy.” Then I play an A minor triad and the student often describes it as sad and dark. Major scales and triads sound happy and bright, and so should the colors that describe them. Minor scales and triads are exactly the reverse of this, using dark colors.

I have been working with children and adolescents all over the country for 3 years now on this, and when nothing else helps them learn music theory, this often does. I offer this concept in my music lessons in the Pittsburgh, PA area and I will continue teaching it in the years to come. Everyone should have the chance to experience the musician within them, and the ROYGBIV concept offers another door to understanding.


Pittsburgh voice lessons with Jennifer V.

Jennifer teaches singing, music theory, opera voice, speaking voice, and acting lessons with students of all ages in Pittsburgh, PA. Her education and licensing includes a Bachelor’s degree in Music and a Master’s degree in Classical Performance Wichita State. Find out more about Jennifer, or visit TakeLessons to search for a music teacher near you!


Photo by CJ Schmit

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