Pitch Correction: How to Edit Vocal Tuning for Perfect Takes

Mixing & MasteringVocal Production
vocal waveforms superimposed on one another

Pitch correction is an essential ingredient in the sound of modern vocal production.

It’s a powerful technology that can alter a singer’s performance without changing its basic sonic character.

It can also produce one of the most in-demand vocal effects in modern music genres.

Pitch processing is more common than ever, but you still may find it confusing if you haven’t used it before.

In this article I’ll explain what it is, how to use it and the five best pitch correction plugins for any budget.

Let’s get started.

What is pitch correction?

Mixing vocals? Isabelle breaks it down in this video.

Mixing vocals? Isabelle breaks it down in this video.

Pitch correction is an audio tool that can alter the pitch of an audio signal without changing its timbre.

It’s most often used to modify a vocal track to bring a singer’s performance closer to an ideal take.

Pitch correction tools allow the audio engineer to adjust individual note pitches, reduce excessive vibrato and control drift in pitch over time.

Many pitch correction tools also allow producers to manipulate the timing and duration of notes to further sculpt the vocal performance.

Finally, pitch correction tools can produce the infamous hard-tuning effect when set to extreme settings.

How to use pitch correction plugins

There are two main styles of pitch correction tool—graphical and automatic.

🧠 Hot tip

Some producers known for hard-tuned vocals insist that AutoTune’s original algorithm had a more pleasing sound when pushed to the extreme. Modern editions of AutoTune include the classic algorithm style to achieve the original hard-tuning effect.

Graphical interfaces like those found in Synchro Arts RePitch and Celemony Melodyne give producers detailed control for subtly improving the performance.

Automatic plugins like the basic editions of Antares AutoTune produce instant results with no manual input, but they often sound less transparent.

If you’re looking for a hard tuning effect, these simplified controls are designed to easily create it.

But if your vocal tracks just need a light touch up, manual graphic editors are your best bet.

Here are the main tools you’ll find in today’s pitch correction plugins.

Pitch Center

Pitch correction plugins evaluate every note in the performance and determine how far each one is from the nearest musical pitch.

If the singer was dead on, you’ll see a value of 0 cents. A cent is one one-hundredth of a semitone musical interval.

If they were slightly sharp, you’ll see a positive value in cents and if they were flat, you’ll see a negative value.

🧠 Hot tip

Most pitch correction plugins use a chromatic scale by default to classify pitches in the performance. If the singer was more than a semitone away from the target note, the plugin may not interpret the pitch correctly. In these cases you’ll need to adjust the note manually, or set the plugin’s key mode to match the song.

When you change the note’s pitch center, the plugin will move it closer to the target pitch while maintaining the signer’s natural vibrato.

This means that although the pitch wavers up and down with the performance, its average falls squarely on the note center.

Pitch modulation

Pitch modulation is the term for rapid variations in pitch that are usually an intentional component of the artist’s singing style.

This includes articulations like vibrato, trills and bends.

Vocal pitch correction plugins give you the option to reduce the intensity of these embellishments if they were exaggerated in the original performance.

🧠 Hot tip

Reducing the pitch modulation to 0% is one of the ways that producers created the original hard-tuning effect. Be extra careful with it if you’re aiming for a natural sound!

Pitch drift

Pitch drift is the longer term trend of the pitch center over the duration of a note.

It’s useful to edit since singers often have difficulty maintaining their pitch over longer, sustained notes.

Conversely, some vocalists struggle to reach the correct pitch at the note’s onset and approach up to it as they go.

By reducing the amount of pitch drift, you can tidy up notes that swoop up as they come in or fall flat as they decay.

The 5 best pitch correction plugins for any budget

With the basics out of the way, here are our picks for the top vocal pitch correction plugins.

1. Synchro Arts RePitch

RePitch is the newest pitch correction tool on the scene.

Synchro Arts RePitch is the newest pitch correction tool on the scene.

Built with natural, transparent sound in mind, RePitch offers great performance at a manageable price.

What’s more, RePitch is built for ARA2 integration in compatible DAWs for the fastest and most flexible workflow ever.

2. Celemony Melodyne

Some consider Celemony Melodyne the industry standard.

Some consider Celemony Melodyne the industry standard.

Celemony is one of the biggest names in vocal pitch correction.

Their pioneering tech was one of the original innovations in the field and their offerings continue to be well regarded by pros.

Available in three price tiers, Melodyne is among the most advanced pitch correction suites out there.

3. Antares AutoTune

AutoTune is a legend.

AutoTune is a legend.

AutoTune is the plugin that made vocal pitch correction famous.

It defined the hard-tuning sound heard on countless pop, hip-hop and R&B hits.

While the software is known for this type of extreme application, the top-tier editions of AutoTune offer subtler control via graphical interface.

If you’re looking for the classic robot voice that AutoTune is known for, there’s no better way to get it.

If you’re looking for the classic robot voice that AutoTune is known for, there’s no better way to get it.

Yet, modern editions of AutoTune perform as well as other pro software for surgical, transparent vocal editing when called for.

4. Auburn Sounds Graillon 2

Free pitch correction for your DAW.

Free pitch correction for your DAW.

When it comes to vocal pitch correction, there aren’t many free plugins available.

After all, the technology that makes it possible is highly advanced.

But Auburn Sounds Graillon 2 offers a free alternative to get you started with live tuning effects.

5. Your DAW’s built-in pitch tools

Preview of youtube video

Finally, many of today’s best DAWs come equipped with editing tools that allow you to perform pitch correction tasks.

For example, Flex Pitch offers capable vocal pitch editing natively inside Logic Pro.

Cubase’s Variaudio and Reaper’s Reatune are other built-in DAW features for pitch correction.

Advanced vocal pitch correction

Vocal pitch correction plugins play an important role in many different production styles.

From hard-tuning to subtle sweetening, you’ll need a pitch tool that can get the job done.

If you’ve made it through this article you’ll have a great start for choosing and using pitch correction software.

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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