Editing Techniques to Increase Efficiency During Playback in Pro Tools

Being able to work fast is crucial and so knowing your keyboard shortcuts will help you to edit whilst playing back. There are many shortcuts that I employ in my day to day Pro Tools editing work and I’d like to share a few of these with you here.

Insertion Follows Playback in Pro Tools

When you are starting out in Pro Tools, the not so friendly name “Insertion follows playback” may not be obvious in it’s meaning, but I find it very powerful to switch between its two states.

Insertion Follows Playback

You can turn this on and off by

  • Clicking on the insertion follows playback button just below the pencil tool
  • Pressing N in keyboard commands focus mode
  • Pressing Control N (Mac) or Start N (Windows) if not in keyboard commands focus
  • Opening Preferences and selecting the Operation Under Transport select Timeline Insertion/Play Start Marker Follows Playback

By default, insertion follows playback is not engaged and so when you press play, the playback cursor will move to the right indicating the current play position as expected, but when you press stop it will jump back to the “insertion” point that you started playing from. This allows you to playback from the same insertion point again and again to check and review your edit, which I personally find to be incredibly useful.

The insertion point is the in point of your playback selection and is typically changed by using the selector tool and clicking in a track or selecting a clip with the grabber tool.

When you engage insertion follows playback you make Pro Tools operate more like a tape machine. Pressing play once again moves the playback cursor to the right as expected, however when you stop playback the “insertion” point will update to this new location. This allows to you stop directly in that position to add a marker or make an edit.

Edit Window Scrolling in AVID Pro Tools

The Edit Window scrolling modes affect how the Edit window updates when playing back. There are five (four in standard Pro Tools) modes to choose from which are accessed from the Options menu

Options Menu – Editing Window Scrolling

  • No Scrolling
    • Edit window view does not update to show the playback cursor position
  • After Playback
    • Edit window view updates to the position that the playback cursor got to when you press stop
  • Page
    • Edit window view updates to show a new “page” when the playback cursor reaches the edge of the screen
  • Continuous
    • Playback cursor remains in the centre of the Edit window and the timeline moves underneath. Playback is always based on the Timeline selection
  • Centre Playhead
    • Available only on Pro Tools with HDX or HD Native hardware. Playback cursor is a bold blue line (or red if recording) that remains in the centre of the Edit window with the timeline moving underneath.

They are key to way that you wish to work in Pro Tools and are a matter of personal preference. I find that No Scrolling is particularly useful when editing and Page or Continuous more useful when mixing.

Updating Insertion Point in Pro Tools

Now that you are aware of how insertion follows playback works, I’ll look at how I update the insertion point and make selections whilst Pro Tools is playing back. I will generally leave insertion follows playback off and utilize the ability to review the edit plus update the insertion point at my will.

Pressing the updates the insertion point (timeline selection start), so that if I were to stop playback I would start again from this new insertion point. Every time it is pressed the insertion point is moved to the current location. This makes precise editing very easy and efficient.

Current Timeline Selection

Playback Cursor Position

Insertion Point Snapped to Playback Cursor Position

Now using keyboard shortcuts to separate the clip at selection [Option E (Mac)/Alt E (Windows) or just B with keyboard commands focus] and updating the insertion point you can very quickly separate your clips.

Creating Timeline Selections in Pro Tools

To create a timeline selection as you are playing back, first set the timeline selection start with the . Continuing to playback, press the to set the timeline selection end point. You now have a timeline selection that you can either start editing with.

Current Insertion Point

Insertion Point Moved to Playback Cursor ()

Timeline Selection Created ()

When you have stopped playback, pressing the will now move the Edit cursor to the end of the Timeline selection. Whereas pressing the will move the Edit cursor to the start of the Timeline selection.

Navigating and Copying Selections in Pro Tools

A quick way of gathering soundbites from a dialogue track is to copy them to another track and leave the original clip untouched. To do this you will need at least two audio tracks (one with the original clip on and another blank track).

Start by making a timeline selection as above. Then copy the material (Edit menu Copy or press C in keyboard commands focus). Now that the material has been copied you need to make sure that the timeline selection stays the same but is moved to the new blank audio track.

A quick way to navigate up and down tracks whilst keeping the timeline selection is to use P and ; (semicolon).

Copy Audio in Timeline Selection (press C)

Move selection to track below (press ; )

Paste Selection onto Empty Track (press V)

Trimming Clips in Pro Tools

Next I will move on to trimming audio clips. When editing whilst playing back it is often desirable to remove extraneous material from the start of end of a clip. This is where being able to trim to the cursor really helps. It is important however, to remember that this will trim all material of the current clip to the insertion point not to the entire selection.

We start by playing the clip, press the to mark the insertion point and then press A to trim the start of the clip to the insertion point.

Mark Start of Clip ()

Trim Start of Clip to Cursor (A)

Next we will trim the end of the clip. Beware that you don’t remove material that you didn’t mean to. Once again we will mark the position that we wish to trim to by pressing the . Next, trim the end of the clip to the cursor by pressing S.

Mark End of Clip ()

Trim End of Clip to Cursor (S)

Selecting Clips in Pro Tools

Being able to quickly select clips with confidence will aid you in your editing. First, place your edit cursor anywhere within a track with the Selector tool. You can navigate to the next clip boundary by pressing TAB or to the previous clip boundary by pressing Option TAB (Mac) / Control TAB (Windows).

However, if you wish to go to and select the next clip, you need only to use Control TAB (Mac) / Start TAB (Windows). Adding Shift will enable you to select from your current point in the track to the whole of the next clip.

Select Next Clip

Selecting back the other way use Control Option TAB (Mac) / Start Control Tab (Windows) and you will select the previous clip. It is worth noting that if you current position is partway over a clip, then this will be treated as the previous clip. Once again, add Shift to select from your current point to the whole of the previous clip.

Select Previous Clip

Final Thoughts

Mastering keyboard shortcuts and editing techniques will help you to work faster and more intuitively, allowing you to concentrate on the task at hand. The techniques above will have you editing clips much faster in no time.

Check out this article on more editing techniques in Pro Tools.

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