Pitch bending and pitch shifting are some of the most common ways to creatively manipulate pitch in music. Pitch shifting is a sound recording technique where the original pitch of a sound is raised or lowered. Pitch bending is a process where the pitch is changed gradually or rapidly and often goes back to its original position. Pitch shift is mostly applied to the overall sample or instrument while pitch bend is specific to certain notes or groups of notes.
In FL Studio, there are quite a number of ways to do this depending on the instrument to be used or the effect to be achieved. In this article we’re going to go through how to pitch shift/bend:
- Audio samples – This can be applied through the sampler channel.
- Piano roll – Applied to MIDI notes in the piano roll.
- Stock FL Studio plug-ins – Applied using the plug-ins’ master pitch control.
- Using a MIDI controller – Applied using the pitch bend wheel.
Once an audio sample is loaded into your project, the process of shifting its pitch is pretty straight forward. However, this is only applicable to samples and it is not possible to pitch bend. To pitch shift audio samples:
Step 1: Open the sampler channel. You can do this by double clicking on the sample in the playlist, or by clicking on the sample in the channel rack.
For this illustration, I want to pitch shift the ‘Airy Chords’ sample so I will double click on it to open the sampler channel.
Step 2: The next thing will be preparing the sample for the pitch shift by ensuring its length is not affected by the pitch or the tempo. Doing this will retain the sample’s original playing timing regardless of the pitch. This will be done via the Time stretching panel in the sampler channel.
First, click on the dialogue box next to the word ‘Mode’ that says ‘Resample’. This will open a drop down menu. Select ‘Auto’ from the menu.
This ensures your sample’s pitch and length are independent of each other.
Step 3: Now that the sample is ready, we can move on to actually shifting the pitch. I want the sample to play 3 semitones lower to make it a little bit darker. To shift the pitch, go to the knob with the word ‘PITCH’ under it.
It is important to note that this specific pitch knob in FL Studio shows the pitch in cents and not in semitones as we’re all used to. For Future reference, 1 semitone = 100 cents and since I want to shift the pitch down 3 semitones, 3 semitones = 300 cents.
A pitch shift on this knob is indicated by an orange circle around the pitch knob with the circumference and direction of the orange circle dependent on the direction and intensity of the pitch shift.
The pitch shift will be indicated in cents on the hint bar as shown below.
To pitch shift MIDI notes in the piano roll:
Step 1: Go to the piano roll window for the instrument to be pitch shifted.
In this case, I want to shift the MIDI created for the ‘EPiano Rev’. To open the piano roll I will click on the plug-in and open the piano roll by clicking the F5 key or by using the piano roll icon on the toolbar. It will look like a piano with three MIDI notes next to it as shown below.
The Piano roll window is now open.
Once the piano roll window is open select the notes to be shifted. Select notes by holding down the control key, holding down the left mouse button, and dragging your mouse cursor over the notes to be selected.
You can also press Ctrl + A to select all the notes in the piano roll. To select specific notes, press and hold the Ctrl and Shift keys and click on the notes to be selected. Release the keys when done selecting.
Step 2: Move the selected notes up by holding down the shift key and pressing the up arrow. This will move the selected notes up by one semitone. Continue pressing the up arrow to continue moving the selected notes until you achieve the desired shift.
To pitch shift down hold the shift key and press the down key continually until the selected notes are where you want them.
You can also shift the pitch in octaves by selecting MIDI notes, holding down the Ctrl key, and using the up and down arrows. Pressing the down arrow once while holding the Ctrl key will move the notes down one octave.
While holding the Ctrl key, press the down arrow again to move them down another octave. To shift them up one octave repeat the process, but this time use the up arrow instead.
To pitch bend MIDI:
Step 1: Open the piano roll window for the instrument you want to apply the pitch bend to.
Step 2: Here I want to apply pitch bend to make some bass slides. To do this, first, I’ll enable slide notes. This will make the next notes I click into the piano roll sliding notes and not just normal MIDI notes.
To activate sliding notes, click on the triangle located at the top left area of the piano roll that is just above the piano roll keyboard. (Shown in red below.)
When enabled, the triangle will turn to a darker shade of black and stay that way until it is disabled. When enabled it will look like this.
Now the next notes I click in will be sliding notes.
Step 3: All that’s left is placing the sliding notes where I want to create pitch bends. Apply this to taste.
Note: The length of the sliding notes will determine the duration it takes for the note to completely shift from the original note to the key of the sliding note. The shorter the sliding note, the shorter the transition, and the quicker the pitch bend. The longer the sliding note, the longer the transition, and the slower the pitch bend.
Most of FL Studio’s stock plug-ins have built in pitch knobs or faders in their GUIs that can be used to pitch shift. They can also be used to pitch bend as they are automatable and can be linked to external controllers. For this, I’ll be using one of my favorite stock FL plug-ins, Sytrus.
Step 1: Click on the plug-in in the channel rack to open the plugin.
Step 2: Next, locate the pitch knob or fader. It is usually a knob or fader with the word ‘PITCH’ above or below. (Highlighted in red below)
This is the plug-in’s master pitch control.
The master pitch controls in plugins are usually in semitones where 12 semitones = an octave and they cover 4 octaves (48 semitones). Use this to make sure the notes you shift/bend to are in the same key as your song.
All that’s left to do now is to apply your pitch shift/bend.
To pitch shift:
Move the pitch fader to shift the pitch to your liking. This will pitch shift all the sounds the plug-in produces.
To pitch bend, there are two options using the master pitch control found in stock FL Studio plug-ins:
- Pitch bend using automation.
- Pitch bend using external controllers.
To pitch bend using automation in FL Studio stock plug-ins:
Step 1: Right click on the plug-in’s master pitch fader in the plug-in to bring up the fader’s options.
Step 2: From the options select ‘Create automation clip’.
Step 3: A new automation clip for the plug-in’s master pitch control will now be added to the playlist.
Step 4: All that’s left to do is to manipulate the pitch automation to create pitch bends. For an in depth tutorial on how to do this check out the ‘How to automate pitch in FL Studio’ article.
Here is what I came up with after I was done automating the pitch bends. Since it is on a bass patch, I took a minimalistic approach.
To pitch bend using external controllers, for example, a MIDI keyboard:
Step 1: Right click on the plug-in’s master pitch fader to bring up the fader’s options.
Before moving on to the next step make sure you external controller (MIDI device) is connected and is functional in FL Studio.
Step 2: Next select ‘Link to controller’ on the fader’s option menu.
Step 3: The remote settings window will pop up.
While the remote settings window is still open, tweak the knob or fader on the MIDI controller that you want to control the plug-in’s master pitch.
If the linking was successful an orange knob will appear on the hint bar whenever the linked knob or fader is moved or adjusted. It will also show the pitch change in semitones.
Step 4: You will need to record in the automation using this method. Do this by clicking on the record button and selecting ‘Notes and automation’ once you are ready to record.
Step 5: Once you are done you will notice your current pattern clip will have the automation information. It will now look like this. The automation has been recorded as an event clip in the piano roll.
Step 6: Although you’re done recording automation, I would advise you to turn the event clip into an automation clip to make it less of a hassle to deal with. To do this open the piano roll containing the said automation.
Step 7: Next is to make the pitch bend automation visible. Click on the word ‘Control’ at the bottom right hand side next to the note velocities.
This will open up a menu. Select your parameter from the ‘Pattern controls’ section with the words ‘Master pitch’ after the title of your plug-in or preset. In my case it is Pattern controls> Afro Pop Reggae Bass – Main – Master pitch.
Now I am able to see the pitch bend automation.
Step 8: To turn it into an automation clip, click on the arrow at the top left of the piano roll window. This will open a drop down menu. From the menu go to Edit>Turn into automation clip.
It will now be added to the playlist as an automation clip.
In the section above we looked at how to link a plug-in’s master pitch control to an external controller, here we’re going to go through applying pitch bends through the dedicated pitch bend wheel on the MIDI controller.
If you have a MIDI keyboard, you’ll notice that most of them come with a pitch wheel. Although the pitch wheel may take different forms like a strip or a joystick, they all function the same. FL Studio does a great job of automatically identifying and mapping them to the channel pitch functions.
The channel pitch functions are located at the top right of the plug-in or sampler channel. (Highlighted in red.)
The pitch wheel on the MIDI controller is automatically linked with the pitch knob highlighted in red once you connect your MIDI keyboard. If it is not automatically linked, you will have to do it manually. Follow the step 2 and 3 as laid out in the last section to link the pitch wheel to the channel pitch.
To apply pitch bend:
Step 1: Set your range. This will determine the maximum number of semitones the pitch can be bent to by the pitch wheel. I will set it to 12 semitones so that the pitch is bent to an octave above or below the original playing point when the pitch wheel is pushed all the way in either direction.
Step 2: Now I’m set to start recording in my pitch bends. To start recording press the record button and select ‘Notes and automation’.
Note: While all of the parameters used to pitch bend can be used to pitch shift, not all parameters that pitch shift can be used to pitch bend as they cannot be automated or linked to external controllers.
One thing I really love about FL Studio is how many ways there are to do one thing. I suggest finding a way that best suits your workflow and needs and getting right to knowing the ins and outs and pros and cons that come with it. As always, have fun experimenting!