4 Essential Tempo Tips for Pro Tools Users

Whether you think about it or not, working with tempo is something you're doing every time you work in Pro Tools. Here are 4 excellent tempo tips to help you stay in time in your sessions.  

Tempo is the backbone of your composition in any DAW. Whether you need to set the perfect tempo right from the beginning or map a tempo to fluctuate when your recording does, Pro Tools gives you plenty of options to be in control. Here are 4 quick tips about managing your tempo in Pro Tools 11.

Tap it Out

Tap Tempo - Click in the tempo box, then tap your ’T’ key.

Tap Tempo - Click in the tempo box, then tap your T key.

If you’re using manual mode (setting the tempo once at the beginning of the song and just leaving it) you can quickly set your tempo by clicking in the tempo window and entering in a number. You can also set the tempo by using the ‘tap tempo’ function. Simply click on the tempo (which is probably at the default 120) and tap in the pulse you had in mind using the T key on your keyboard. It doesn’t get simpler than that!

To Conduct or To Follow

Draw Points

Draw Points.

If your tempo is going to fluctuate throughout the song, or if you wish to draw in a tempo change using the pencil tool, you’re going to need to enable the conductor track. Click on your little animated conductor friend in the upper right corner to enable the conductor track. Your tempo will now be dependent on the virtual conductor. You can use the pencil tool to simply add a single point and have immediate tempo changes locked to the measure, or…

Pencil Power

You can choose the resolution of the tempo points by clicking here.

You can choose the resolution of the tempo points by clicking here.

The pencil can be used to plot specific points where you want tempo changes to occur in your song. However, what if you want that change to occur gradually? The pencil tool will also allow you to draw in a rallentando or ritard. Simply click and drag with the pencil in your conductor track and you can map out a nice tempo curve. 

Draw Curve.

Draw Curve.

The resolution of the curve (density of the tempo points) is also adjustable by clicking on the resolution button to the left of the tempo track. You can select from a more coarse resolution (250 ms) to a finer resolution (50 ms). You can even have these points synchronized to musical values by picking a quarter note, eighth note, etc…

Tempo Mapping

Mapping a tempo using the conductor track helps you line up audio that was recorded without a ‘click track’.

Mapping a tempo using the conductor track helps you line up audio that was recorded without a ‘click track’.

We’ve all had that band that just HAD to record without a click to 'keep the vibe'. Now you’re in overdub mode, they want layer after layer of synth and the additional tracking is a pain because none of the measure ‘line up’ with their audio. Well, don’t worry—mapping tempo in Pro Tools is a breeze thanks to the ‘snap to transient’ button.

Simple enable ‘snap to transient’ along with your conductor track and choose the kick drum track (or another instrument that is keeping a solid rhythmic pulse). Use the tab key to find where you want beat 1 of measure 1 to be and hit Command-I. You will be able to insert a tempo event and tell Pro Tools that beat 1 of measure 1 should be right where you tabbed to (which should be a transient on beat 1 of measure 1). Do the same for the first beat of measure 2 and repeat the process as needed. 

Finished Map.

Finished Map.

Some projects will only need you to pop in every 8–10 measures or so and give a new sync point. Of course, some projects will need you to pop in every measure or two and give the tempo information. That’s why you make the big bucks. Good luck, and keep that tempo under your control!

Matt Vanacoro is one of New York’s premier musicans. Matt has collaborated as a keyboardist in studio and on stage with artists such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel Band), Aaron Carter, Amy Regan, Jay Azzolina, Marcus Ratzenboeck (Tantric), KeKe Palmer, C-Note, Jordan Knig... Read More

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