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How to Pitch Correct Vocals

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To pitch correct your vocals, first consider which key the vocal is in - then you can use an EQ or a tuner to correct the pitch. Using an EQ will have a more natural sound, whereas a standard vocal tuner will have an artificial sound.

EQ Vocal to the Song’s Key

The tips in this video are in no particular order. Also, we’ll cover some lesser-discussed but really useful ways to pitch correct your vocals.

Before I begin to tune a vocal, I like to see if I can improve it with EQ. If I know the key of the song, I can get a better understanding of which notes I could augment in the vocal, and which I could attenuate.

For example, If my song is in the key of C Major, I could slightly amplify C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. Each key has 7 notes, meaning 5 notes will be out of key - in the case of C Major, those are C#, D#, F#, G#, and A# so I can slightly attenuate these.

From there you might want to delete any amplified bands that aren’t being sung.

Although this takes a little time, it’s a great way to create natural-sounding tuning without the need for an artifact-creating tuner.

Let’s take a listen.

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Correcting Short Vocal Passage Pt. 1

Sometimes you’ll want to tune only a small section of a vocal - when this is the case, one option is to automate the internal bypass. You don’t want to automate your DAW’s bypass function since this will cause some clicking as the DAW tries to compensate for the plugin’s latency.

After you’ve set the parameters for your tuning within the plugin, go to your plugin’s automation section and find the passages you want to be tuned. Keep the bypass enabled for all sections aside from the ones you want to be tuned.

Let’s take a listen to a tuner being automated in and out.

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Correcting Short Vocal Passage Pt. 2

If your DAW allows for it, you can pitch shift sections of the vocal using the editing functions - first, I’ll find the sections that need to be tuned, and cut them to isolate them. Then I’ll use the fine-tune function of the editor to subtly shift the vocal’s pitch.

Alternatively, I could use a stock pitch shifting plugin, and automate the cents function to fine-tune specific parts of the vocal.

Let’s take a listen to the first example we described.

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Tuning Vocals for a Natural Sound

If you want a more natural sound to your tuning, utilize slower tuning times, and reduce the amount if the plugin you’re using allows for it. The Metatune plugin also offers note stabilization which ensures that note changes measured within a certain time frame don’t register - causing natural sounding transitions.

If the plugin offers a humanize function, you can use that too, but I’ll show you how to recreate that in a future chapter if that function isn’t available.

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Tuning Vocals for an Unnatural Sound

As you probably imagined, if you want an unnatural sound we just need to do the opposite of what we did last chapter - that is, use the maximum amount of tuning with the shortest tuning settings possible. We’ll avoid note stabilization and disable and humanize settings.

Additionally, the more out of key the singer, the more unnatural the tuning will sound, so you can experiment with this to find what does and doesn’t sound good.

Let’s take a listen to unnatural-sounding tuning.

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How to Humanize Vocal Post Tuning

If you’ve tuned your vocal and it’s still sounding somewhat unnatural, we can do what we did in chapter 3 and automate a pitch shifter plugin. I’ll use the latch automation function and subtly alter the fine-tuning or cents dial while playing the vocal.

This may take a few tries and trial and error to get right, but it should make the vocal sound a little more natural by making the tuning less accurate.

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Ghost Track Resonance Reducer

This tip is unorthodox but interesting and useful nonetheless; in short, I’m going to create a track with constant out-of-key notes playing, for example, if the key is C Major, then the track will contain C#, D#, F#, G#, and A#. Then I’ll mute this track.

Next, I’ll insert a resonance reducer on the vocal, in this case, Smooth Operator by Baby Audio, and side-chain this out-of-key track. This plugin will try to create space between my vocal and the side-chained signal, causing it to dynamically attenuate all of these out-of-key frequencies on the vocal.

Similar to chapter 1, this will help the vocal sound more in tune. Let’s take a listen.

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Even Ordered Harmonic Tuning

Saturation can actually help to tune your vocal when it introduces even ordered harmonics - since even harmonics are doubles and quadruples of the fundamental frequency, they’re always in the correct key. I’d recommend adding saturation after your tuner to improve its effect, and ensure the harmonics are even.

To check this, run a low-frequency sine wave through a saturator and adjust the settings until you only have even harmonics - then use these settings.

Let’s take a listen to this saturation being added after the tuner.

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Tuning Only A Specific Hz. Range

It can be advantageous to only tune a specific range of frequencies instead of your full vocal - to do this I’ll send my vocal to a bus, and with a linear phase EQ, isolate the range you want to tune. Arguably the best range would be the lowest frequencies/fundamental.

I’ll then tune this parallel track before blending it back in with the original. This works well at creating a natural sound , but be sure to use a linear phase EQ to avoid phase cancellation between the 2.

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Tuning Vocal Ranges Separately

Typically when we pitch correct a vocal, we tune the vocal’s full signal - but let’s try breaking the signal up into bands, and then tuning each band separately. I’ll use parallel sends and linear phase EQs to separate the vocal in lows, mids, and highs.

Then I’ll tune each band separately and adjust the settings until I get the sound that I want. Let’s take a listen and consider if the tuned vocal’s timbre is at all different from a vocal processed with one tuner.

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