Kim Lajoie's blog

Pitch Correction Vs Expressive Control

by Kim Lajoie on June 9, 2014

Pitch correction is a funny thing.

Sometimes it can improve a vocal recording. Sometimes it can make it worse. For me, the key to this is in understanding the interplay between pitch and emotion.

For many inexperienced vocalists, pitch correction often improves their recordings. Their poor control of pitch results in performance expression that is inconsistent with the creative direction of the music. In other words, notes sound off-pitch in a bad way. So, pitch correction provides an improvement. It makes the notes sound more like what was intended.

For many experienced vocalists, however, pitch correction is either neutral (and a mild waste of time) or even makes the recording worse. Great vocalists with excellent pitch control will deliberately use pitch deviations in ways that support and enhance the creative direction of the music. In other words, they sing off-pitch deliberately, and it sounds good.

The human voice is not robotic. It’s amazingly fluid and expressive. Quantising to the most-common (I.e in tune) pitches makes about as much sense as reducing the dynamic or tonal range of a performance – it might be appropriate for the vocalist or the music, but know that doing so restricts the expressive range of the vocalist’s performance. For vocalists that don’t have the skill to control their performance with sufficient precision, reducing the expressive range of the recorded performance can result in an improvement.

But sufficiently skills vocalists can make effective use of both types of extremes of their (pitch, dynamic and tonal) expressive range – the extreme ends of their physical capabilities and the extreme subtleties of small changes.

-Kim.

4 thoughts on “Pitch Correction Vs Expressive Control

  1. AQ says:

    There are also better and worse ways of pitch correcting. This very sensibility about expressiveness can inform how and how much you adjust things. There’s a big difference between crudely quantizing everything and going in there manually, like a sculptor, and tweaking notes individually. Sometimes you can actually enhance expressiveness with pitch correction.

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    That’s right. Manual pitch adjustment can enhance the performance in much the same way as a singer who has expert pitch control.

    -Kim.

  3. Nice post. I always leave with something to think about when I come here! I never feel 100 % comfortable with the tuning plugins sitting on a track but sometimes it is necessary… I must admit, I’ve never gone down the route of using pitch control to enhance expression – only for corrective purposes and even then it’s strictly just what’s necessary (and even ‘necessary’ is subjective).

  4. Kim Lajoie says:

    Hi Loz,

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that it’s a tool like any other. EQ and compression are usually most effective (i.e. appropriate for the mix) when used as little as necessary. In some situations the tools can improve the emotional impact of the music. In other situations, they can reduce the emotional impact of the music.

    -Kim.

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