Former American Idol judge Randy Jackson’s frequent critique, “A little pitchy, dawg,” became the stuff of memes, but it illustrates an important point. Pitch problems can be serious distractions in otherwise good vocals. Fortunately, thanks to technology, pitch can be corrected in the recording studio.
What Is Pitch?
In musical terms, “pitch” denotes the placement of a sound in relation to other sounds. Simply put, referring to notes as “high” or “low” indicates pitch. “Tone” is a descriptive word for the color or timbre of pitch, which ranges from warm to shrill.
Pitch is a function of vibration. As your vocal cords vibrate, they create sound waves. When those waves occur at a greater frequency (cycles per second), they produce a higher sound, while a lesser frequency results in a lower sound.
Using the Randy Jackson example, “pitchy” is another way of saying “out of tune,” when a singer isn’t hitting the center of the notes. Pitchiness generally falls into two categories:
- Flat is when pitch is too low
- Sharp is when pitch is too high
Vocal Tuning: Creating the Proper Pitch
Just as sound waves can be modulated in frequency and amplitude for radio broadcasts, vocal tuning can create a finished product with proper pitch. The process of vocal tuning usually involves one of two methods:
- Pitch shifting is a technique whereby each sound is either raised or lowered by the same amount, altering the overall vocal structure. Auto-Tune is the most well-known example of pitch shifting. While it can add polish to vocals, overuse of pitch-shifting can result in an unnatural, robotic-like sound.
- On the other hand, pitch correction changes specific notes so the other qualities of the vocal remain consistent. Software like Melodyne is used for pitch correction, but it’s clearly more of a manual process than Auto-Tune. Pitch correction is great for tweaking timing and phrasing issues and creating more interesting harmonies and backing vocals.
Vocal tuning allows you to focus more on inflection and delivery during recording sessions, knowing any pitch problems can be cleaned up in production.
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