When it comes to changing the pitch of a sample, pitch bending and pitch shifting are more or less the same thing. In my experience, pitch shifting often refers to the process of changing the overall pitch of a sample or sample sections (MIDI/Audio), while pitch bending refers to the gradual change of pitch over time or rapidly, before returning to the original pitch. You can therefore bend the pitch of a sample by automating the pitch-shifting parameters. Keep this in mind as any parameters that create pitch shift can therefore be used to bend the pitch of your samples.
Here are five ways you can pitch shift/bend in Ableton:
- Clip Editor – you can use Ableton’s clip editor to manipulate the pitch envelope of both MIDI and audio clips. This is Ableton’s primary pitch shift/bend technique
- Sample Editor – you can use both of Ableton’s sample editors to pitch shift only your samples
- MIDI arrangement view – this technique is exclusive to MIDI samples and here you can change the pitch of individual notes, chords, or whole MIDI clips
- Effects Plug-ins – you can change the pitch of your clips using some of Ableton’s pitch and audio effects, or use third-party effects plug-ins
- Using MIDI Controllers – this is the easiest way to create pitch bends in Ableton, as Ableton will record all inputs from your MIDI controller
This technique is fairly easy to employ. Especially when pitch-shifting audio clips only. It is especially useful to create pitch bends for both MIDI and audio clips. Here is how you shift the pitch of an audio sample with this technique:
Clip Editor: Pitch Shift (audio)
This can be done in both arrangement and mixing view
Select the audio clip you want to pitch shift.
In the clip editor, you can now shift the pitch of your clip as you wish
Note 1: if you do not warp your clip, you will find that you are also changing the tempo of your sample. This can be a creative production tool but I suggest handling pitch and tempo separately. If you want to learn more about changing or automating tempo, look at this tutorial.
Note 2: This knob shifts by a +/- 1. This means that the sample is changing by +/-1 semitone. If your sample is C, if you move to shift it down to -1, it shifts to B
Clip Editor: Pitch Bend
This technique allows you to create pitch bends via creating pitch automation. for both MIDI and audio clips, you will need to go to the envelopes edit view.
Step 1: For MIDI clips you will need to select the MIDI controls
Step 2: Select pitch bend
Step 1: Select the ‘clip envelop’ control
Step 2: Select the transposition control option
Note! for this to work on audio clips, the clip needs to be warped
Now with these parameters activated for both types of clips, you can create pitch automation to create pitch bends
Note! this technique only allows the editing of one clip at a time. If you have multiple clips on your track, you may need to load them into your track in the arrangement view, and consolidate them before you begin pitch shifting/bending
You can use the native Ableton sample editors to allow you more control over your audio samples, this technique is only effective for pitch-shifting/bending audio samples. The two sample editors are Simpler, and Sampler. Here is how you use them:
This is Ableton’s entry sample editor. You can find it in the instruments folder in Ableton’s browser, or as an added feature in the Drum Rack
You can shift the pitch of an audio sample using the ‘transpose’ control. This affects your entire sample.
You can create pitch bends through automation this way:
Step 1: enable the automation controls in the arrangement view.
Step 2: select the transpose control
Step 3: Create pitch automation to achieve the pitch bend effect
This is Simpler’s bigger brother, allows you more control of your samples, and even further creates instruments from your samples. Just like Simper, it can be found inside the instruments folder
Once it is open and your sample is loaded, you can pitch shift it using the detune parameter. You can fine-tune your pitch using the ‘scale’ parameter, and by selecting the key of your sample
If you need any more information about Ableton’s sample editors, have a look at this elaborate tutorial here.
MIDI Arrangement View
This technique is intuitively simple, and with a little knowledge of music theory, you can create complex-sounding clips by exploring the relationship of different notes. It is however static and cannot be used to create pitch bends unless you utilize the first technique (clip editor). This is how you shift pitch using this technique
Step 1: Select your MIDI and open the piano roll
Step 2: highlight the specific notes, chords or the whole arrangement, and use the up/down arrow buttons on your keyboard to change their pitch, or hold down Shift while doing this to move them up/down octaves
If you look at my tutorial on the differences between VST 2.0 and VST 3.0 plug-ins in Ableton, you will see that there is a difference between the VST MIDI and Audio effects. These come into play even on the pitch. This is how you use the effects to pitch shift/bend:
There is one pitch shift MIDI effect, and this is the Pitch plug-in. you will find this effect in the MIDI effects folder in the Ableton browser.
Once you have this effect loaded into your MIDI track, you can change the pitch of this effect so that any note or chord is now shifted to your preferred pitch
You will see that there are two more controls on this effect; Range – which affects notes to a certain pitch, notes that go above this range will not be played, or pitch-shifted. Lowest – which is the lowest note that will be playable or affected by this effect
Note! some VST plug-in instruments allow you to pitch shift/bend in the plug-in without needing an effects plug-in
These are plug-ins that act or react to produce a desired effect depending on the type of plug-in effect it is, some of these plug-ins have such a strong effect on the audio input, that they change the pitch or create pitch bends altogether. If you use these plug-ins on MIDI tracks, you will see that they load after your instrument plug-in. Here are a few in-built pitch-shifting effects plug-ins native to Ableton:
This effect is found in the pitch & modulation sub-folder in the Audio Effects folder in Ableton’s browser. Each of its parameters is geared to affect the pitch of your sample in one way or another. It allows you to fine-tune your pitch modulation. And with automation, you can create pitch bends.
Though this is a delay effect plug-in, it has in-built pitch shift effects that affect the incoming audio. This plug-in also allows you to randomize the pitch shift effect creating a pitch bend-sounding output. This is a very creative plug-in if you are looking for something that can add artefacts to your audio or MIDI samples
If you record using a MIDI controller, you will notice that some of them come with MIDI effects like pitch modulation wheels, delays and sustain pedals. Ableton is very intuitive in detecting these effects when triggered during recording. They will be mapped in your clip editor, MIDI control, and envelope view, and can then be adjusted after recording. This includes pitch shift/bend controls.
Pitch shifting and bending, though similar, both have their case uses. You can use the static MIDI notation technique to affect your pitch during arrangement to create changes in the production between sections, or even use effects plug-ins to push this technique even further and come up with more complex sounds to make your productions unique. You can also use pitch shifting and bending if you are sampling audio clips to make these samples your own. Whichever your use case, remember to have fun!