Shifting formants

In this tour, you will learn how to shift the formants of notes. Formants are areas of emphasis or attenuation in the frequency spectrum of a sound that are independent of the pitch of the fundamental note but are found always in the same frequency ranges. They are characteristic of the tone color or ‘timbre’ of each sound source, and interesting effects can be produced by shifting them, such as making a man’s voice sound like that of a woman, and vice versa. The parallel transposition of fundamentals and formants is what was responsible for the dreaded ‘Mickey Mouse’ effect you used to get when you played back a record at a speed greater than that intended by the manufacturer.

Editing formants

Select from the toolbox or the context menu in the editing area the formant tool.

With the tool selected, click on a note and – without releasing the mouse button – drag it up or down. As you do so, the beam that is superimposed on the note when the formant tool is active also moves up and down.

The position of the beam indicates the distance the formants have traveled from their original pitch – in the inspector this is expressed in cents (hundredths of a semitone) – as well as the direction. You can shift the formants a few cents (for the finest of nuances) or several thousand (for a drastic denaturing of the sound). Double-clicking on a note with the formant tool selected, restores to their original frequencies its formants as well as those of any other notes selected.

The inspector

As an alternative to editing selected notes with the tool, you can enter the desired values in the inspector, which you will find beneath the toolbox. Drag the existing value to change it, or double-click on it and type in the value desired.

If you have selected several notes that differ in the amount of formant shifting that has been applied to them, three hyphens are displayed in the boxes – followed, as you click in the box and drag, by values describing the extent of the relative change.

Formant transitions

A thick orange line appears between the formant beams of adjacent notes as soon as you shift the formants of one note more, or in a different direction, than those of the other. This line represents the formant transition between the two notes.

If you move the formant tool to the end of the first note, it changes into the formant transitions tool. Dragging vertically with this tool governs the speed of the formant transition, which is indicated by the steepness of the connecting line.

Double-clicking with the formant transitions tool at the end of a note deactivates the formant transition and the orange line disappears. A further double-click reactivates the transition.

The Reset commands

In the Edit > Reset Specific Edits > Formants cascading menu, you will find a pair of commands that can be used to reverse the effects of any shifting of formants or editing of formant transitions you may have performed, thereby restoring the notes selected in these respects to their original state. These commands relate always to the current selection and are grayed out if no editing of the type in question has been applied to the selected notes. Note that these commands operate independently of the normal undo function!