Streamlining Pro Tools For Engineering Efficiency

Streamlining Pro Tools

Fig. 2 This is the transport. To open, type Command+1 (numeric), or Cntrl+1 for Windows users. The pre-roll function is on the left and can be easily turned on and off with Command+k (Cntrl+k for Windows).

Playback And Record

If you operate Pro Tools, then you probably already know this, but the spacebar is the best way of starting and stopping playback. Forget the transport, forget any control surfaces, the spacebar is big, easy to press, and requires zero visual localization. To initiate recording, however, there are three great ways to “roll tape.” Try recording using Command+Spacebar (Cntrl+Spacebar for Windows), F12, or 3 on the numeric keypad (the first two shortcuts may require overwriting of other Mac commands). To go back to the beginning of the track, hit Return (Enter for Win).

Hot Keys!

If you haven’t already stumbled on it by accident, Pro Tools has an überquick shortcut setting called Hot Keys — just press one key and huzzah! Something happens! Magic! No special command, option, control, or A-A-B-A-up-down-START needed. In order to activate the Hot Keys, click on the tiny little black box with the “a/z” in the upper right corner of the edit window.

Starting with simple navigation, the two most useful actions are t and r, which are particularly fast at zooming in and out, respectively. Just click on a region somewhere and give it a shot.

For editing, hot keys has the basics covered:

b – splits a region in two.
c – copies a selected region.
x – cuts a selected region.
v – pastes a region.
f – crossfades a selected edit.
d – fades in.
g – fades out.
z – undo!

For practice, open up a current session in Pro Tools, save it as an alternate file so as not to ruin anything important, and start going through the order of these commands, moving regions around with the keyboard.

Streamlining Pro Tools

Fig. 3 The Smart Tool, a combination of stretcher, selector, and grabber tools is turned on by clicking at the top of the three buttons. The Tab To Transients feature, a highly valuable editing tool, is engaged with the bottom left blue button.

Markers And The Numeric Keypad

The numeric keypad to the right of the keyboard is also an incredibly useful tool, particularly for organization and navigation. To fully utilize the potential of the keypad, it’s essential to first map out the parts of the song with markers. To insert a marker, press Enter on the numeric keypad and Pro Tools will mark wherever the timeline cursor is, whether it’s playing, recording, or at a standstill (note that if it’s in grid mode the marker will be perfectly aligned with the grid, as opposed to the real time of exactly when Return was pressed). Also note the sequential order by which each marker is given a default number, as it’s highly recommended to add that number into the name of the marker (i.e., 3verse, 12bridge). This will lead to much easier navigation when there are lots of markers.

After all the markers are in place, begin navigating to different sections of the song by pressing period+marker number+period. To clarify, let’s say we want to navigate to the second verse, which has marker number 4 on it. Just using the numeric keypad, type in a period, the number 4, and another period. Voilà, the cursor should be at marker 4. Not only is it easy to navigate through the parts, but now any engineer should be able to sit at the helm and make sense of the session, thus enabling you to take a break!


Since musicians always need a little playback before a punch-in, it helps to have a quick method of setting up pre-roll so that Johnny McFicklefingers Guitar can get his bearings. In order to set up the pre-roll there are a few easy methods; either click the cursor somewhere before the desired punch section, rewind by pressing 1 (numeric), or set up an automatic two- to four-bar pre-roll by pressing Command+k (Cntrl+k for Win). To see whether pre-roll is on or off, type Command+1 (numeric, Cntrl+1 for Win) to see the transport. Here the amount of pre-roll can be adjusted to the desired amount. Using the automatic pre-roll is a great way to punch in because it sets up a system in which the pre-roll always starts in the same place but can be eliminated to save time when listening back.

As practice, try navigating to a marker section with the keypad, initializing a two-bar pre-roll either using Command+k or 1, and then recording with 3. Look, Ma, no mouse.

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