You’ve heard of something called Autotune, and you know it helps people to sing in tune, but what is it really? Can it really make anyone sing in tune? Will it work for you? What about those Autotune effects people talk about?

Autotune is, indeed, technology created with the intent of assisting musical performances to be in tune. Nothing is worse than an out of tune vocal line. But – Autotune will also work with other instruments as well. For example, it can put a violin performance back in tune if a mistake was made.

Autotune is one example of what is known as “pitch correction”. That is, it corrects the pitch of a performance to be at the correct pitch. But – there is more to pitch correction than just making a note be “in tune”. What about vibrato? As you may know, vibrato is a subtle variation in pitch to make a musical note more interesting. Won’t pitch correction eliminate vibrato? The answer to that is yes and no. There are various adjustments that can be made such that artifacts like vibrato are preserved, altered, or eliminated. Actually, vibrato can even be added after the fact.

Autotune is available both as a rackmount piece of hardware, but more commonly, like the Antares Auto-Tune EFX Vocal Effect & Pitch Correction Plug-In as a software plugin to digital audio software. This means that pitch correction is available to even the small time home studio owner. This helps almost anyone to create a passable vocal line. There are detractors, though, who consider tools like autotune to be “cheating” or undesirable. The use or non use of autotune, though, is up to you and the goals you have with your recording.

Indeed, autotune and pitch correction can also be used as a creative effect whether or not the goal is to fix the intonation of a performance. Many modern acts, boy bands, and others specifically set tools like autotune to a very fast, hard pitch correction to exploit the artifact sounds that arise from the pitch correction algorithms. Many people refer to this sound as the “Cher Effect” because her song “Believe” was one of the first performances to exploit it. The Cher song used hard line pitch correction taken to an extreme.

There are other pitch correction software available besides Autotune. The software from Melodyne, such as the Celemony Melodyne Studio Bundle Audio Editor with DNA allows note editing on polyphonic audio material. AU, VST, RTAS is one of the more interesting competitors. One reason it deserves special recognition is that it can correct pitch on multiple notes simultaneously. Thus, if a guitar has one string out of tune, the pitch correction works on multinote chords played on a guitar. Or, on a choir or any other circumstance where there is more that a single simultaneous note on a track.

Most pitch correction software can work in “automatic” mode, or in a more manual or graphical mode. With automatic mode, you tell the software what key the song is in, and what scale you would like to force the notes to comply with. Then, the software handles the pitch correction without further intervention. In manual modes, the software only does what the operator tells it to do specifically. This is handy if you want to correct a single out of tune note without using it on the entire track. Many have a “graphical” mode where the performance is plotted on a graph allowing you to see how the actual pitch differs from the desired pitch. The operator can then correct the performance on the graphical interface.

In conclusion, Autotune and other pitch correction software are powerful tools in the hands of creative and talented musicians. Like many tools, it can be overused, or misused in very undesirable ways. The best news is that it allows some very expressive performers to create compelling performances without being overly conscious of staying perfectly in tune. It often helps allow a performer to concentrate more on the feel and vibe of the performance than concentrating overly on perfect intonation and delivering a sterile performance.