For­mants and Pitch-Shift­ing


A vo­cal pro­cess­ing tech­nique which has be­come pop­u­lar in re­cent years is an ap­proach which, on first lis­ten­ing, sounds like pitch-shift­ing. Tun­ing vo­cals up or down by dra­matic in­ter­vals is, of course, an ear-catch­ing tech­nique in it­self but if you lis­ten to James Blake’s If The Car

Be­side You Moves Ahead or the sec­ond verse trick dur­ing I Don’t

Know Why by Imag­ine Drag­ons on the line ‘caught in the head­lights’, you’ll hear some­thing which re­sem­bles – but isn’t quite – pitchshift­ing. A num­ber of plug­ins, in­clud­ing Cele­mony’s Melo­dyne and Sound­toys’ Lit­tle Al­terBoy al­low you to warp for­mants and on one of the videos this month, we’ve looked at how this can be ef­fec­tive. As you prob­a­bly know, ‘pitch’ is de­ter­mined by a fun­da­men­tal fre­quency and a set of re­lated har­mon­ics. If you change both of these to­gether, the whole pitch of an in­stru­ment changes, like when you sing the dif­fer­ence be­tween a C and a G, for in­stance. How­ever, if you lined up eight dif­fer­ent singers and asked each one to sing the same pitch, they wouldn’t all sound alike. The rea­son for this is, in part, due to the phys­i­ol­ogy of each singer. Imag­ine just the throat size and shape of each one – this vari­able alone will be enough to pro­duce hugely dif­fer­ent vo­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics, even if pitch was uni­fied across each singer. These dif­fer­ences can be warped or ma­nip­u­lated by for­mant-shift­ing, with the most clas­sic for­mant tech­niques pro­duc­ing ‘gen­der bend­ing’ sounds where, by in­creas­ing the for­mant level, you can make male per­for­mances sound more fe­male, and by drop­ping them, make fe­male vo­cals sound more male. Check out the video to see this in ac­tion.

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