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The working science behind Auto-Tune:The modern music revolutionary

We must have heard people calling a few singers ‘Auto-tune singers’. What is Auto-Tune is the first question that pops up in the mind. There’s no doubt that Auto-Tune has changed the musical landscape of contemporary music. But how does it work? Read on to know more.

Saakshi Priyadarshini | BeatCurry Team

There has been a long debate between the purists and the contemporary youth regarding the use of Auto-Tune technology. Many say that it’s cheating of sorts to all the audiophiles as it compromises real talent and tarnishes the essence of original music. Many artists from pop culture like Kanye West, Nikki Minaj, Eminem, Cardi B, and other hip-hop artists have been reported to be extensively using Auto-Tune in their music. 

Editing is done everywhere, in photographs, videos while making it appear close to natural but better than it. Thus one can’t just dismiss the utility of the marvellous Auto-Tune. But hey, despite Auto-Tune being so common, not many know about the mechanism behind the working of Auto-Tune and what it does. 


The meaning of Auto-tune is hidden in the suggestive name that illustrates it is something that can be used to automatically tune the voice. Going by the conventional function or definition of Auto-Tune, it is basically software or technology that can be used to correct the pitch of a vocal sound

One crazy fact about this tech is that it emerged from an unimaginably unrelated field. Auto-Tune was formulated by Geophysicist Andy Hildebrand, who found the autocorrelation technology that processes and statically reads the projected seismic signals produced by potential underground oil. The same technology of Autocorrelation was then applied to the vocal sounds. 


If we go technically, then there is a truckload of things oblivious to the layman, non-techy, geeky individual when it comes to the technology behind the auto-tune-utilising the theory of Digital Signal, Physical concepts, principles of sound production and a lot to do with music theory. 


Most of the time, when we hear a song or a musical tune, it’s composed within the frames of a key or scale and all the notes belong to that scale. That’s where Human voices differ because we don’t sing in pure tones. There are many frequencies stacked and combined over each other. These natural resonating overtones sound like a single pitch to human ears. The secret of Auto-Tune is based on the mathematical concept called Fourier Transform

Auto-Tune picks up the intertwined frequencies, then splits, recognises, and finally isolates them. The most cutting-edges can change and mend the out-of-tune frequencies through real-time processing.

To tune the voice to a set pitch, the reference key, tone, or scale is set in the system, and the rate at which the sound would be corrected digitally. The rate is determined deliberately to make the sound appear as close to natural as it can. There are broadly two modes: Auto and Graph; where Auto mode simultaneously places the note on the right pitch while Graph mode is manual and provides better manipulation.


The then separated frequencies and pretty much every note of the sung piece can be manipulated and brought in line with the set pitch by moving the misplaced notes up or down to render all their pitches equal. Interestingly, one can also increase or decrease the time duration of a note. In fact, it’s magical to witness the recent technologies even change the notes of a chord, thus helping tune not only the human voice but also enabling the tune correction of Guitars, pianos, and choirs


While this facility has been used to correct the pitch frequency of the human voice, there’s also an apt use of Auto-tune being done by plenty of musicians for an infinitesimally small threshold value. It’s seen as a facility that polishes, fine-tunes and gives the human voice a nice rounded feel. It’s thus widely been seen and accepted as an indispensable tool for musicians. The technology is pretty advanced and can appear unfathomable to a lot of common folks out there. Insane, isn’t it?


We all are living in the era of extensive metallic, hip-hop, and electronic genre of music. Moreover, the robotic, halo, electrical voices you hear in various raging Rock and Hip-Hop are a result of Auto-Tune processing only. It’s interesting to note that every modern record has Auto-Tune but not a lot of the audience would know about it. 

The makers have spoken for the system as according to them, the system saves time and prevents multiple takes of the same sung piece because of tiny faults in notes. It thus prevents the loss of emotion and reduces unnecessary effort


Since you got to know the mechanism behind Auto-Tune, you can decide to use Auto-Tune judiciously to rectify minute errors and enhance the quality, while its reckless use would only lead to the compromise of quality. It’s often ruled for Auto-Tune that it can make anyone sing. Well, that’s probably incorrect because it can only bring you back on the pitch, but it’s the texture, projection of voice and words, control, and quality of the voice that makes you a singer. 

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