Nothing can kill a good melody like being out of tune. Experienced songwriters and performers know this, and that’s why Antares, a Santa Cruz-based company, created their popular Auto-Tune software.
For over 20 years now, studio engineers and producers have relied on this technology to do pitch correction in-studio and in-concert to make artists sound their best. Now, Antares has released a convenient mobile app for iOS devices called Auto-Key Mobile that anyone can use to quickly and easily detect the key of any audio source—and it’s free, so of course, I had to try it.
To get going, I grabbed my download from the App Store and answered “yes” to the only question presented at installation to allow the app to use the iPad mic. Other than that, the only thing users are required to do is create an account for Auto-Key. Using Auto-Key for an unlimited amount of time is free with no purchase required, but users must create an account, and agree to the conditions to use Auto-Key; all typical of an iOS app installation.
Using Auto-Key couldn’t be easier; You don’t really need instructions. You just tap the big Auto-Key button (artfully surrounded by a colorful circle of fifths wheel listing all the possible keys of your song or music sample) and Auto-Key grabs a 3-10 second sample of it to analyze to find the most likely key based on the notes it can identify and associate with a scale. I picked up an acoustic guitar and strummed two chords on my iPad and Auto-Key called the key of “D” correctly. You can check the results with Auto-Key’s built-in soft keyboard.
I tried adding some noise in the background (one of the few things that can throw off-pitch detection), but Auto-Key proved to be pretty smart. The app still worked well at finding the correct key. Other things that can throw off-pitch detection are what you might expect: detuned instruments, samples with more percussion than tonal instruments or voice, and other samples without much harmonic content.
Something I didn’t expect is that the software is able to accurately guess minor key examples (notes in a minor scale are also shared by its relative major scale). But, again the app was right on. That said, Auto-Key’s key decisions are really the most likely ones, but even classical composers can get stumped on calling keys when there are dense note clusters or just a few harmonies. Barring oddball examples, Auto-Key does exactly what it was designed to do—help you quickly find a key.
If you’re like most of us, you’ve wished for perfect pitch at one time or another. Now, there’s a mobile app you can have in your pocket that will tell you what you need about keys when you need it. I can see Auto-Tune Mobile being useful for songwriters, casual musicians, and even those very technical recording engineers and producers that need to quickly set up digital processing to autotune tracks because Auto-Key Mobile talks directly to the company’s Auto-Tune or Harmony Engine software.
You can learn more at www.autotune.com or just download Auto-Key Mobile for free and give it a shot. It is currently available for iOS devices only, but versions for Android and Windows devices are promised soon.