Vocal pitch correction is a controversial topic in music production.
It’s been an essential production technique for many years, however, skeptics still believe using it means you’re a bad singer.
For those who’ve never tried pitch plugins before, or you think vocal tuning is cheating, you’re missing out on the huge creative potential of this powerful software.
If you’re willing to experiment, plugins like Auto-Tune Access make it possible to bend and form the human voice to design a completely new instrument.
In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know to start using pitch correction creatively in your workflow.
What is pitch correction?
Pitch correction is a kind of processing that can change a vocalist’s tuning after the recording has taken place. People use it to improve vocal takes and create unique vocal effects like the signature “hard tuning” sound where the voice takes on a robotic quality.
Pitch correction is done using specialized plugins that analyze the audio and process it to adjust the pitch.
There are two major kinds of tuning plugins. Graphic tuners allow you to manually adjust the pitch center, pitch drift, and even the alignment and amplitude of each note.
If you’re used to editing audio and MIDI, graphic tuners like Auto-Tune Pro or Logic’s Flex Pitch, you will feel familiar.
Auto tuners perform this process automatically to match your singing to a key or scale without any extra work.
In these kinds of plugins, you set the intensity of the impact for all the notes in the track.
For instance, with Antares Auto-Tune Access, you may choose the important thing and play with the Retune Speed and Humanize controls until you’re happy with the sound.
The range this software offers can go from very subtle pitch correction with minimal digital artifacts to a full-on T-Pain impact.
Both pitch correction styles can be used in artistic ways in your music. If you like getting into the gritty details, the graphic style is your greatest bet.
However, if you just need a fast, easy method to get started with pitch correction and try it out, think about an easy tuner like Auto-Tune Access.
The way to use pitch correction creatively
With the basics out of the way, we’ll dive into my favorite methods to use pitch correction to create unique sounds.
1. Change the pitch center
Your voice is constantly changing as you sing, moving fluidly between notes.
Tuning plugins determine the pitch center of each note you sing relying on the fluctuations in your voice.
Every semitone is divided into 100 cents. The closer you bring the pitch to 0 ct, the closer to the right pitch you’ll get.
Unless you’re singing completely off-key, adjusting the pitch center only will help to create natural results.
While an auto tuner might morph the vibratos in your voice, a graph tuner will keep them intact.
If you’re using your pitch correction to sound more alien, moving the pitch center an octave up or down can be a good starting point.
You’ll immediately hear a change in a sonic detail that you could discover interesting, that can actually if you enjoy creating lo-fi textures.
2. Play with the pitch drift and modulation
If you love the fluctuations of the human voice and you want to keep them intact, these next choices might not be for you.
However, if you’re ready to start experimenting, these parameters are lots of fun.
Each pitch drift and pitch modulation allow you to completely flatten out any vibratos and glides in your vocal sound.
This is where the tuner becomes an artistic tool rather than a corrective one.
You can easily get a completely T-Pain-ed vocal instrument when you use pitch drift or pitch modulation tools excessively.
3. Shape the vowel formants
You’ll discover a formant tool in both pitch correction plugins and harmonizer effects.
Changing the formant can completely morph your vocals from a muffled underwater-kind sound to a thin mosquito-like tone.
If you’re working with a formant knob in an auto tuner or a harmonizer like the Sountoys Little AlterBoy, you can automate it to create the beginning and closing motions in your vowels.
The result is almost like a filter sweep!
4. Including layers and effects to create otherworldly textures
You should use vocal sounds to create long, synth-like lead or pad textures.
The trick is to use several layers to create a richer vocal sound.
For example, if you’ve pitch-shifted a take of your pad vocal, performed with a syllable like “ahh”, “mmm” or “ooh” an octave below, using another take to layer it a few octaves higher can help highlight the overtones.
However to really make these digital vocal instruments shine you’ll want some further processing.
From standard effects like reverb and delay to multi-effects plugins, it’s best to approach this sound design matter the same way you might work with a synth VST.
5. Adjusting the timing and separating notes to create percussive patterns
You’ll be able to even use pitch plugins to create percussive patterns from raw vocal tracks.
You can always load your vocal into a sampler or cut up the audio on the DAW timeline. However, the note separation and time tools in your tuner plugin can lead to some happy surprises
You can write a totally new melody, or create manual stutter effects if you’re searching for ideas to start.
6. Chop up the vocals to create new textures
Speaking of percussive vocal patterns, you might have heard about vocal chops – one of the trends that have entered the mainstream music world.
You can use a mix of every method mentioned above, as well as the built-in transposition and pitch shifting parameters in the clip editor in your DAW to create the vocal chops of your dreams.
Just keep in mind that there’s more than one way to go about it.
Mangling your voice can become one of the most fun things you look forward to in your process in case you keep an open mind!
7. Use harmonizers to play chords with your voice
Pitch correction is just the beginning when it comes to creative vocal effects.
You can take your chops, loops, and mangled vocal tones and turn them into polyphonic instruments with harmonizers like Soundtoys Little AlterBoy and Vocal Transformer.
Harmonizer plugins have plenty of fun settings to tweak and automate to create even crazier vocal textures.
The human voice is the most special sound source you’ll work in music production.
It’s so fluid that there’s a lot of space for creative approaches.
Whether you select to hard tune your vocals, give them a violin-like quality or warp the formants, pitch plugins provide you with access to singular sounds.
Now that you have some ideas for the way to use pitch correction creatively, get back to your DAW and create some vocal effects.