In music production, pitch is how you identify the placement of a sound (the key), where it is “higher” or “lower” in the sense of notation. Pitch Correction is something you end up doing when sampling or resampling audio and MIDI clips. You will also find yourself pitch-correcting sections of your audio samples or MIDI notations to fix narration mistakes in performances, or to create harmonies as well as interesting tonal shifts.
There are three ways to pitch-correct in Ableton:
- Using Ableton’s Clip Editor is the fastest way to correct the pitch of an audio sample. It is fairly easy to use if you understand what the parameters of the clip editor do.
- Using Ableton MIDI arrangement view – this is a quick way but requires some knowledge of music theory to successfully correct the pitch of MIDI notation (chords or notes)
- Using a plug-in – you can use native or third-party plug-ins to alter the pitch of your tracks. For this tutorial, I will detail the process using Melodyne.
Ableton’s Clip Editor
The clip editor is only good if you want to pitch-correct audio clips. It is fast and easy to use if you understand the type of sample being used (percussive, melodic, harmonic, etc.) as well as the parameters of the clip editor. This is how you do it:
Step 1: Record or import your audio sample
Step 2: Double-click on your audio clip or click on the clip edit view toggle to open the clip editor
Step 3: Use the pitch parameter to change the pitch
Now, remember that the pitch knob changes your pitch by +/- 1 semitone. This means that if the pitch of your audio clip is in C, moving the knob up to the right by 1 unit (+1) will change the pitch to C#. Similarly, turning the knob left and pitching it down by -1 pitches the sample down to B.
This sample is pitched up by an octave (+12 semitones)
This parameter will affect what your pitching output sounds like. If you select an algorithm that does not match your sample type, your pitch changes will make the sample sound skewed and digitized. Unless this is your desired outcome, here is what these warp algorithms mean:
- Beats: This algorithm best suits rhythmic samples I. E. Drums and similar percussive sample types
- Tones: this algorithm is best suited to monophonic (melodic) audio samples, where there is a clear pitch I. E. Vocals, guitar solos, bass lines, etc.
- Texture: This algorithm best suits harmonic but still simple samples I. E. chords of a single instrument
- Re-Pitch: this algorithm is rather complicated, as it re-pitches an audio sample by first analyzing the difference between the tempo of the project and the sample, and then synthesizing the output to match the relationship between them.
- Complex & Complex Pro: this algorithm works best with samples that have complex elements. These can be full songs or specific portions of a song sample.
Tip! You can also change the pitch of a sample using Ableton’s primary sample editors
- Simpler or Sampler – the parameters are similar to the clip editor, and this makes re-pitching easy. the pitch shift here is renamed to transpose. Keep in mind the warp algorithms
- Sampler – the pitch change parameter here is called ‘detune‘
Ableton MIDI Arrangement
This technique is fairly straightforward. It is especially useful when you want to alter the pitch of a specific chord, note, or musical passage. This is how you do it:
Step 1: double-click on your midi clip, open the clip editor view
Step 2: You can select notes and drag them up or down to the desired pitch. You may also use the arrow keys on your keyboard to make the note sharper or flatter.
Using a Plug-in
Ultimately, you can use a plug-in to pitch correct your samples. This technique is fun and intuitive as you can be as creative as you want, to achieve desirable results. Keep in mind that these are effects plug-ins and will normally come in after your instrument plug-ins if you are re-pitching a MIDI clip. In some cases, these plug-ins are not accurate in detecting polyphonic sounds (sounds that have multiple notes or voicings). For this demonstration, I will use Celemony’s Melodyne. This is how you execute this technique:
Step 1: Simply load your plug-in
Step 2: record your audio into Melodyne
Step 3: Highlight the notes, segment, or the whole audio and snap it to the correct note.
Step 4: Use the pitch shift or pitch drift tool to change the notation of your preferred notes
Tip! If Melodyne has a hard time detecting the type of audio you are pitch correcting, you can change the audio detection algorithm in Melodyne
Pitch correction is an extremely fundamental concept in music production. You can use pitch correction to match pitch sessions, accommodate the artist, or creatively change the style or mood of your performance to influence the direction of your production. During composition, I recommend using both clip and MIDI editor tools, and in arrangement, use the plug-in technique once your ideas are flowing and you are looking for ways to enhance your production. Have fun!