Rhythmic and melodic pitch variations are one of the reasons why real instruments sound more interesting compared to virtual ones. However, with pitch automation, we can try to replicate this while also coming up with interesting pitch variation effects. When it comes to automation, FL Studio has some of the best work arounds that make it easy and simple to use. In this article, we’re going to look at automating pitch in FL Studio using automation clips and how to tweak them to create interesting effects.
Automation clips are the easiest and most efficient way to automate pitch. First you will need to create an automation clip for the pitch, but before that there are a few parameters that need to be set.
Go to the step sequencer and click on the instrument/sample. This will load up the instrument’s interface or the sample’s sampler channel. (The steps are the same for both)
On the instrument’s interface, click on the gear icon on the top left of the window next to the instrument’s name to view the detailed settings. (It will turn green when you place your mouse cursor over it and remain green if the detailed settings are open.)
Now that the detailed settings panel is open, the next thing is to locate the pitch knob and set its range. The channel pitch is controlled by the knob at the top right corner with the word ‘PITCH’ under it.
You’ll notice that right next to the pitch knob there is a range setting that is set to 2 by default. The range allows us to set the maximum values in semitones that the pitch knob can shift the pitch to. When the range is set to 2, the pitch knob can only increase or decrease the pitch to a maximum of 2 semitones. Before you create the automation clip, you first have to set the range for the desired pitch automation.
To do this, place your mouse cursor over the number in the range and increase or decrease it by clicking, holding, and dragging it up and down or by using the scroll wheel.
For this illustration, I want the range of the pitch shift to be 24 semitones so I will set 24 as the range.
Setting the range to 24 will allow me to shift the pitch to a maximum of 2 octaves above or below my current playing point. This range is ideal for
Note: Since we’re dealing with pitch, it is important to pay attention to musical intervals. There are 12 semitones in an octave representing the 12 musical notes (C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B) so it is always good practice to keep the range as a multiple of 12 unless you’re going for a particular effect. With the range set to 24, when I play A4 and the pitch knob is all the way to the right, the pitch will shift to A6 which is 24 semitones or 2 octaves above the A4 note.
After setting the range, now create the automation clip. Do this by hovering your mouse cursor over the pitch knob and right clicking on it to open a pop up menu and select ‘Create automation clip’.
An automation clip for the pitch knob will now be created in the playlist.
Now all that’s left to do is tweak the automation to your liking.
After creating the automation clip, the next step is shaping it to create the desired effect. For this illustration, I’ll automate the pitch of a piano playing some chords to make them more interesting. I want the pitch to start high and move all the way down before it gets to the middle of the first bar then quickly come back to the middle point in the second half of the bar. Although it sounds complicated it is quite simple to execute.
For me, the first step when dealing with automation clips is a precautious one. Pitch automation clips in FL Studio use percentages instead of semitones, making it quite difficult to know the exact value in semitones of where you are. To avoid mishaps the first thing I always do is place my mouse cursor over the first control point, right click it, and selecting ‘copy value’.
Now whenever I make a mistake with a control point I can paste the value and return it to the middle point.
Since I want the Pitch to start at its highest point, I’ll drag up the first control point as high as it can go.
Next up is to create another control point. Do this by placing your mouse at the exact point where you want the next control point to be in the automation clip. It could be anywhere as long as it is in the automation clip. I want it to be in the middle of the first bar at the lowest point.
I’ll first create a control point on the automation clip at the middle of the first bar. (The control point is shown in yellow.)
After that, I’ll drag it down to the lowest point in the automation clip to make the pitch swoop down before it gets to the middle of the first bar.
In the second half of the first bar I want the pitch to shift back to normal before it gets to the start of the second bar. To do this, I’ll first create a control point at the start of the second bar.
Remember the value I copied at the start? Here’s where I’ll use it to return the control point I just created to the middle point of the automation clip. This will ensure that the pitch will return to normal by the time it gets to the end of the first bar.
To do this, I’ll place my mouse over the new control point and right click it to open the pop up menu. From the menu I’ll select ‘Paste value’ to return the control point to the middle point. (On the automation clip it is 50%)
Now the pitch will return to its original position by the time it gets to the end of the first bar.
All that’s left now is to smoothen up the transitions and fit them to taste. I’ll do this by adjusting the tension points (the small circles) that are between the control points. (The tension points are highlighted in yellow below.)
After tweaking the tension points here’s what I came up with.
Since I want the pitch shift to happen every time a chord plays and that happens every bar, I’ll cut the automation clip at the start of the second bar. To do this first select the slice tool from the playlist toolbar or by pressing Alt + C on the keyboard. The slice tool looks like a razor that turns blue whenever you hover the mouse cursor over it.
Select it and use it to cut the automation clip at the start of the second bar. The automation clip will now be split into two.
Switch back to the pen tool by selecting the pencil from the playlist toolbar or by pressing Shift + P and use it to delete the unwanted part of the automation clip.
Now my chords sound more interesting and I can move on to adding the drums to complete my loop.
Ever since the rise of digitally created music, musicians have had to go out of their way to make sure the music they produce sounds natural and realistic. Although DAWs like FL Studio have made the music creation process simpler and quicker, the drawback is that unless some measures are taken, the music may sound robotic and unnatural. This is because everything is quantized and on the grid.
To bring out the natural and realistic characters of an instrument being reproduced digitally, it takes some extra effort. One way to do this is by using pitch automation. Pitch automation not only adds an element of realness and movement to the song, it can also add interesting transitions and effects.
So next time you are stuck on a transition just load up a sample, create a pitch automation clip, tweak it, and you’ll be amazed at how it works wonders for the transition. Have fun experimenting.