Autotune vs. Pitch-Correction: The Difference3 min read

Justin Bieber Autotune YouTube Video Thumbnail

Creating a video breakdown of “Ariana Grande’s Live Performance of Positions” sounded like a great idea. I could reach a larger audience while also giving a guitarist’s breakdown of how Ariana used a looper and performed the song live with her band.

I said that Ariana was using pitch correction, but the Arianators (her fans) disagreed. “She doesn’t need autotune or pitch correction. She can hit all those notes with no problem at all,” said one fan. Is pitch correction the same as autotune?

Let’s talk.

Autotune

When singing live, some artists prefer assistance hitting the note accurately. Sometimes, artists also like coloring the vocal tone. Autotune is a tool used to move the pitch to the nearest note and/or change the tone with a distortion.

Justin Bieber can frequently be heard using autotune in live performances for pitch accuracy/consistency. T-Pain can be heard using autotune to change his vocal tone. T-Pain is a great singer without autotune.

Start at 1:56

In this clip, you can hear the voice lacks some natural tone qualities, especially when he shouts phrases. The pitch moves fast from one note to the next when normally there is a smoother inflection, which results in a more robotic sound.

Pitch Correction

No singer is perfect. The human voice has imperfections. Musicians understand that by making small adjustments to instruments, levels, and tone the combination of these adjustments can create a spectacular result.

Pitch correction is a tool that’s used to correct the recorded pitch closer to the intended note.

Each pitch can be manually adjusted flatter or sharper depending on whether it is below or above the note. Pitch correcting vocals could take hours depending on how well the singer performed.

Make sense? Think of a family portrait. The family intends to keep this photo around for a long time, so they want it to look great. They have a photographer make minor edits to skin imperfections, lighting adjustments, and face touch up (hopefully without sacrificing the integrity of the photo). In music, the vocals can be pitch corrected to get them closer to the correct note.

The majority of produced music has some amount of vocal pitch correction. It’s typically not noticeable if you aren’t used to listening for it, but in the clip below the vocals (especially the harmonies in the chorus) have lots of pitch correction.

You may be able to hear that the vocals could sound unnatural with overuse of this tool.

Listen to classic rock albums, to hear what a song sounds like without pitch correction (especially the chorus).

Think of autotune and pitch correction as tools singers use. No tool is a substitute for a stellar vocal performance.

So What About Ariana?

Ariana Grande probably doesn’t ever use autotune. She’s a gifted vocalist and has a buttery-smooth tone. Does she use pitch correction? You tell me.

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