Pitch-shifting can be a great way to add some interesting sounds to your tracks. You can do it quickly for a wobble effect or slowly for a pitched fade-in. There are plenty of ways to achieve these sounds using Ableton Live using both MIDI controllers and the controls in your DAW. Let’s look into them.
How Do I Pitch Shift in Ableton Live?
The quickest way to pitch shift using Ableton is with a MIDI controller with a pitch-bend wheel, as it will automatically be linked to the MIDI mapping on Ableton. If you don’t have one of these controllers, you can use some of Ableton’s stock plugins, the pitch automation available in the piano roll, and the warp function for audio files.
Some of these options are quick and easy to use, while others require some digging. We’ll take a look into each one so you can use pitch bending as a creative tool on your next song. All of these controls are available on the latest version of Ableton Live (11).
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How Do I Pitch Shift Audio Files in Ableton Live?
Once you have your track recorded or a sample loaded into an audio track, double-click on the file. This will open the waveform at the bottom of the screen.
The controls will appear on the left side of the screen. First, make sure that the Warp button is enabled. It will show in yellow. If this isn’t enabled, the pitching will also affect the timing of the audio. The warping function will keep the audio in place and only affect the overall pitch.
Below the Warp button, you’ll see the Pitch control, which can be turned to the left and right. This lets you pitch down (left) and up (right) in semitones. For smaller increments, you can use the button below for detuning in cents. There are 100 cents to a semitone, so you get lots of control over the pitch.
Pitch Automation for Audio
A fantastic addition to Ableton Live 11 is the possibility of automating pitch bending. In older versions, you would have to cut the audio into sections that you wanted to shift the pitch, and it would have to be done in increments.
The latest version lets you alter the pitch without altering the overall file and in steady changes. You can do this by opening the Envelopes tab. You can access it by clicking on the button above the Warp option (which is in the Sample tab).
Once on the Envelopes tab, select Clip and then Transposition. A blue dotted line will appear over the waveform. You can add a breakpoint by clicking on the line. Once you’ve added a few breakpoints, you can automate how the pitch will be shifted over time. When you do this, the audio will shift steadily rather than in strict semitones.
How Do I Pitch Shift MIDI in Ableton Live?
Unlike with audio, there are a few ways to bend the pitch of MIDI tracks in Ableton. We’ll take a look into each one individually so that you can choose the ones that best suit your workflow.
Pitch Shifting with a MIDI Controller
Using a MIDI controller is probably the quickest way to alter the pitch of your MIDI track. Many of them come with a built-in pitch bending wheel or ball which will automatically be set up when you connect the controller to your computer. You can start playing and pitch-shifting right away.
If you’re recording with your controller and using the wheel as you play, the shifts in pitch will be recorded along with the notes. But there’s another way you can use this tool if you have trouble playing and using the wheel simultaneously.
At the top of your DAW, you’ll notice a + symbol. This is the MIDI overdub button. When it’s activated and you hit record, you can add MIDI information to the track you have already recorded. So, let’s say you already have your chords in place but no pitch shifting. With this tool enabled, you can just use the pitch wheel and the existing track will be altered in terms of pitch and nothing else. All the notes you played before will still be there.
If you don’t want to use the pitch wheel, you can alter the MIDI mapping on your DAW and select another fader or knob for this function.
Pitch Shifting with Envelope and Expression Controls
Some of the controls available for audio are also available for MIDI. The power to alter a track’s envelopes can be really useful, especially for pitch shifting. When you open the piano roll of a MIDI track, you’ll have three tabs instead of the two you get with audio. These are:
Once you’ve recorded into a MIDI track or added notes on the piano roll, you can open the Envelope tab and use the Pitch Bend control. The blue dotted line over the notes can be altered using breakpoints. Using these points, you can bend the pitch of the overall track.
You can use the Draw Mode if you want to add breakpoints quickly. This will automatically create points according to the grid that you have selected. So, for example, if you’re working with an eighth note grid, each breakpoint will be added an eighth apart.
Another incredible tool is the Insert Shape option. You can select a wave shape for the shift by right-clicking the grid. So, for example, if you want to pitch bend in a saw tooth form, you can choose from the different saw tooth options for an automatic bend that can later be fine-tuned to your taste.
While the Envelope tab lets you alter the overall pitch shift of the track, the Expression tab has the possibility to adjust each individual note. This is a great tool for altering chords, as you can pitch bend each note in the group.
After opening this tab, just click on the note you want to shift. A dotted line will appear through it. You can add breakpoints to alter the pitch, just like on the Envelopes tab.
This can be a really creative tool, as you can make smaller shifts to the pitch of the overall sound. For example, with a three-note chord, you could leave the lower two notes unaffected, giving a stronger base, but have the pitch of the highest note fade in from a higher level.
Pitch Shifting with Ableton’s Pitch Plugin
Another way to pitch shift MIDI is with Ableton’s stock Pitch plugin. It has a lot less maneuverability than the tools we’ve seen so far, but if you want to bend the pitch of your track in a few quick steps, it’s a great choice.
You can find it in the MIDI Effects category. It only has three controls: one for pitch, one for the range, and another for the lowest note the plugin will play. The most important is the Pitch toggle, which raises or lowers the pitch by semitones.
You can automate each of the controls using the standard automation tools rather than the Envelope tab. This can be done on the Arrangement view. Above the tracks, there is the Automation button next to the Lock Envelopes button. Click here, then add or draw breakpoints over the track like with the Envelopes tab.
Are There Other Tools for Pitch Shifting in Ableton?
So far, we’ve looked at the ways to change the fundamental pitch of a track (audio or MIDI) in Ableton Live. Now, we’re going to look into a few stock plugins that can creatively alter the pitch. These include:
- Frequency Shifter
- Grain Delay
The Frequency Shifter plugin has a few tools for bending the pitch of your track. There are two frequency controls in the center of the plugin: one for coarse tuning and another for fine tuning. If the Dry/Wet knob is set to 100%, the shift in pitch will be applied to the entire signal. However, as you lower the value, you’ll notice a different balance between the dry signal and the newly added shift.
The Grain Delay plugin samples the signal you apply it to and breaks it into grains. By dividing a signal into these smaller parts, it can easily alter certain parameters, including the pitch.
Although it is a type of delay, you can adjust the delay time to a minimum value so that you only notice the change in pitch, not an echoing effect.
There are various ways to use a vocoder, and Ableton offers different carrier types so that you can alter how the plugin affects the signal. One of these carrier types is pitch tracking. This parameter allows you to alter the pitch using one simple control. You can then choose between different oscillator types and other tools that can give you interesting results.
Ableton Live is a fantastic DAW for manipulating MIDI and audio signals. If you’re looking for pitch-shifting abilities, then it’s a great choice. You can use a MIDI controller for quick pitch control using the designated wheel or by editing your MIDI mapping to assign a new knob or fader. You can also use some of the superb plugins that are included in Ableton, like Pitch, Grain Delay, Frequency Shifter, and Vocoder.
Live 11 gives you even more power with the addition of MIDI control in the Envelope and Expression tabs so that you can automate the pitch of individual tracks before even adding any effects. Bending an audio track’s pitch is done similarly, using Ableton’s warping capabilities to avoid changes to the timing of the signal.
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Irish-Portuguese writer and musician. Experience in producing, recording, and mixing, as well as writing reviews and how-tos on plugins, gear, and software.