Ableton Pitch Correction (An Easy 5-Step Guide For Success)

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Nobody’s perfect, and some of my favorite music production tools exist for the purpose of getting around this fact.

Quantization is one great example of this sort of tool: no human can play to exactly perfect metrical stipulations, but a few keystrokes can turn any imperfect human performance into perfection.

That takes care of one dimension of music, but what about the pitch?

What Is Pitch Correction?

Pitch correction is a manipulation of an audio signal that adjusts frequencies higher or lower so that they reach target pitches.

Pitch correction can take different forms depending on the style a producer hopes to achieve. T-Pain’s use of pitch correction in an intentionally obvious stylistic move launched him to international fame.

In contrast, other musicians do their best to hide their pitch correction so that the end result sounds both perfect and natural.

Pitch Correction Plugins

When it comes to pitch, there are several tools out there to iron out intonation issues and shift imperfect performances towards pitch-perfection.

Melodyne, Auto-Tune, And WavesTune offer a variety of features that allow users to adjust the pitch and timing of recordings, but they’re not a cure-all, and here are a few reasons why:

  1. All three plugins tend to make vocals sound unnatural and machine-like
  2. There is something of a learning curve with these plugins, so it can take some time to learn how to dial them into the proper settings for a particular effect.
  3. They can cause artifacts when not dialed in properly
  4. They are all relatively CPU-intensive, which can slow things down on older and less-powerful computers

So if Melodyne, Auto-Tune, and WavesTune are not hitting the mark for you in terms of the sound for which you’re aiming, or if you are hoping to avoid investing in yet another third-party plugin, a stock plugin inside your DAW might do the trick.

Logic has an onboard pitch correction plugin that works similarly to the abovementioned plugins, with a bit less functionality and a simplified user interface that combine to result in less CPU utilization and an easier learning curve. 

If, on the other hand, you are an Ableton Live user, you will not find anything labeled pitch correction in your Ableton Live Audio Effects folder. But have no fear!

Though pitch correction functionality in Ableton Live is not housed in a plugin by that name, that does not mean it does not exist.

The remainder of this article will guide you through the step-by-step process of utilizing pitch correction in Ableton Live.

It is not as simple as opening a plugin and pressing play, but you might be happier with this sound than that of a fancy plugin, and your wallet will certainly thank you.

How To Use Pitch Correction In Ableton Live

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, searching for pitch correction in the effects library of Ableton Live will yield nothing to drop into your signal chain.

Fortunately, everything you need to correct pitch is built into your track controls.

Therefore, your step-by-step process for correcting pitch begins not by opening a pitch correction plugin but by loading or recording an audio track into Ableton Live.

Step 1: Load The Tuner

Find the tuner in the audio effects menu and add it to your audio track.

Once your audio track is loaded in your Ableton Live window, you must load the Tuner from the Audio Effects folder.

The purpose of the tuner is to let you know the pitch of a particular note and how far it strays from the true pitch in cents. 

There are 100 cents between each semitone (or half-step), so the tuner is configured to show you the closest pitch but also let you know the value in cents to which it strays from that pitch up to 50 cents flat or 50 cents sharp.

This is valuable information, as you might only need to adjust the pitch of a tone by a matter of cents to reach perfect intonation.

Step 2: Isolate Individual Notes

Isolate notes into their own clips by splitting the track around individual notes.

The next step is to isolate individual notes by splitting the track into smaller clips. On a mac, the shortcut is cmd+e (ctrl+e on Windows) to split a clip at the playhead, or each end of a highlighted portion of a clip.

In a situation where there is just one note or a few notes requiring pitch correction, you can isolate a single or a few notes in this fashion. In clips where you need to correct every pitch, break the entire clip into multiple clips, one per note.

Related: 60 Essential Ableton Live 11 Keyboard Shortcuts To Remember

Step 3: Loop The Note In Question To Determine Its Pitch

Set the playback to Loop Mode, drag the loop punch-in point over the onset of the note, and drag the punch-out point over the release point.

The fastest and easiest way to determine the starting pitch of a note you will be pitch-correcting is to loop the note in question and watch the tuner as it measures the looped pitch.

To do this, simply drag the loop punch-in point over the note’s onset and the punch-out point over the release point, toggle looping playback on, and press play. 

Then, ensure the tuner is visible, and make your best guess at the pitch based on the tuner’s reading.

Depending on how much variability there is in the intonation of the note (factors like vibrato in a voice make this part tricky) and the responsiveness of the tuner, this might be only an approximation.

Step 4: Select A Warp Mode

Select your preferred warp mode within the Clip View Browser.

This part is important, as you are about to distort audio. The way frequency and speed work together mean that an alteration of frequency (pitch) results in a change in duration.

Lower pitch results in a longer wavelength and, thus, a longer duration, whereas a higher pitch speeds up the sound and causes it to last a shorter period.

In the Clip View Browser, you will find a drop-down menu that likely says Beats. 

The Warp Mode selector defaults to beats, but you will likely need to change it to a different mode.

There are six different algorithms, known as Warp Modes, available for making changes to the audio to allow for re-pitching. 

These are basically different approaches to massaging the signal so that it comes out sounding as natural as possible, and they have helpful names, like Beats Mode and Texture Mode, that suggest how they are meant to be used.

The following image comes from the Ableton Live help window and explains how each mode is meant to be used.

The Ableton Live help window explains how each mode is meant to be used.

I find I typically get the best result with Complex Pro Mode.

Step 5: Re-Pitch The Note

Open Clip View and transpose by semitones (left) or cents (right).

After determining the difference between your original pitch and the pitch for which you’re aiming, make the change in the clip view window through transposition, detuning, or both.

To adjust the pitch under a semitone (basically to fix minor intonation issues), either detune up or down by the required number of cents. 

To make a bigger change in pitch, transpose up or down by the required number of semitones.

To fix intonation issues and make a bigger pitch change, you can detune and transpose by the required number of semitones.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 3-4 For Whichever Notes Need It

Wrapping Up

This is not the easiest way to do pitch correction. Plugins like Melodyne, WavesTune, and Auto-Tune can simplify this process but can also result in a sound that does not fit the style a producer is aiming for.

They are also third-party plugins that can cost anywhere from $36 to buy into a yearly subscription for hundreds of dollars. 

Pitch correction in Ableton Live, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated but uses only the features that come stock in any version of Ableton Live.

Moreover, the process of re-pitching notes in Ableton Live brings you closer to your music. 

Perhaps this is just me, but I feel more abstracted from my music the more plugins and “sauces” I throw into a project.

For that reason, I try to strip things down whenever I can so that my work has more of me in it and less of a labor-saving tool that has the potential to filter my own artistry out of the music. 

The step-by-step process of doing pitch correction in Ableton Live is, therefore, like opening up the hood and getting into the workings of an engine: it will make you appreciate your work more and force you to flex your theory muscles, and that might be just the thing you need to gain a little perspective.

Ready to export your track? Check out our guide to The Best Ableton Live Export Settings (For Each Type Of Project)!