Musicophilia, musical hallucinations and synesthesia

It recently dawned upon me that something I thought was normal all my life is not. For as long as I can remember I’ve always had music playing in my head – during literally every waking moment and frequently in dreams too. I’m not talking about ear worms (when one gets a song stuck in their head, although I get that too). I mean like a constant soundtrack that only you can hear.

In my case it’s often about three quarters of a bar looping over and over, changing gradually. Often it will start as a longer phrase but will progressively narrow into just a handful of notes, often looping around at an odd point. Or the next bar will fade in over the top of the previous one while it’s still playing.

I’m aware that it’s in my head rather than a real sound occurring in the room. The timbre is usually somewhere between humming and breathing mixed with an orchestra. It gets extremely vivid when I’m tired or stressed, to the point where it can keep me awake. Sometimes at moments of extreme emotions (positive or negative ones) I start to perceive colours too, in the same way that anyone can see anything in their mind, but it’s always the same colour (a neon green on a background of very pure white and black).

I also have synesthesia – the sensation of perceiving colours and textures in relation to music. I wrote about it for Guitar World here.

I know I’m not alone with this stuff, but I know that not everybody has it either. There’s a book called Musicophilia: Tales Of Music And The Brain by Oliver Sacks which talks about a lot of these topics. You can order it here. It includes a lot of case studies of people with various music-related problems, quirks or sensations.

I don’t really consider this stuff to be a problem, although it can be kind of annoying when I’m stressed out and need to focus my mind but instead there’s this constant and ever-strengthening stream of sound happening in my head. But for the most part it’s just a welcome little companion. It’s kind of nice to have your own internal soundtrack.