Loop Recording Options in Pro Tools

When it comes to looping during the recording process Pro Tools has a wealth of options to hand. Mike Watkinson rounds up all the options for MIDI and audio in this article.  

Pro Tools offers a range of options when it comes to recording while cycling around the same playback selection. Recording options overlap with the ability to loop playback, and some functionality only applies to MIDI, and some to audio, so the aim of this article is to describe and clarify each option.


Create a Timeline Selection

The first step for any of these methods is to create a timeline selection, which will be the length of the looped section you will use to record. If the timeline and edit selection are linked what happens is that Pro Tools ‘forgets’ the timeline selection as soon as you stop recording, so the tip here is to deactivate the ‘Link Timeline and Edit selection ‘button in the toolbar so they are not linked. This way Pro Tools will not forget the timeline selection from recording to recording.

Deactivate ‘Link Timeline and Edit Selection’ - it goes grey

Deactivate ‘Link Timeline and Edit Selection’ - it goes grey


Loop Recording MIDI

Option 1: Recording in Loop Playback Mode (without MIDI Merge engaged)

To enter loop playback mode you can do any one of the following:

  • Control-Click on the playback button in the transport
  • Right-click the Play button in the Transport (either the Transport window or the Toolbar) and choose and ‘Loop’
  • Choose Loop Playback from the Options menu
  • Use the keyboard command Shift-Command-L

Choose ‘Loop’ by right-clicking the Play button

Choose ‘Loop’ by right-clicking the Play button


Without the MIDI Merge function engaged what happens is that fresh MIDI data is recorded into the existing MIDI clip, which replaces what is there already. Even if you don't play anything on your MIDI keyboard you will see Pro Tools clearing the MIDI data from the MIDI clip as the playback cursor moves along. So, not a hugely useful option then! 


Option 2: Recording MIDI in Loop Playback Mode (with MIDI Merge engaged)

The MIDI Merge button is found in the Transport’s MIDI Controls section (View > Transport > MIDI Controls) or in the Toolbar (choose MIDI Controls from the Toolbar drop down menu). You can also engage MIDI Merge by pressing ‘9’ on the numeric keypad, as long as ‘Transport’ is ticked in the Numeric Keypad section of the Operation tab of Preferences (Setup > Preferences). 

The main difference between this method and the previous method is that each successive pass adds (or ‘merges’) newly recorded MIDI data into the same clip. This is ideal for building up complex performances (e.g. drums) in the same clip.

MIDI Merge enabled in the Transport’s MIDI controls section

MIDI Merge enabled in the Transport’s MIDI controls section


Option 3: Loop Recording MIDI

Loop recording can be engaged with or without Loop Playback being engaged. While checking each option out it is therefore probably best (for clarity) to try loop recording with loop playback mode off. To engage loop recording do one of the following:

  • Right-click the record button and choose link
  • Choose Loop Record from the Options menu
  • Use the keyboard command Option-L

 Choose ‘Loop’ by right-clicking the Record button

Choose ‘Loop’ by right-clicking the Record button


MIDI Merge is not available when loop recording so each pass creates a new MIDI clip which replaces the previous one. All MIDI clips are stored in the clip list but can also be accessed directly on the playlist as ‘takes’. These can be selected on the playlist in two ways:

  • Command-Click anywhere on the playlist and choose the MIDI clip (or take)
  • Right-click on the playlist and choose the MIDI take by going to ‘Matching Alternatives’ on the menu that appears

Command-click the playlist to choose which take to play back

Command-click the playlist to choose which take to play back

Right-clicking reveals the same choices via a different menu

Right-clicking reveals the same choices via a different menu


Loop Recording Audio

Option 1: Loop Recording Multiple Takes of Audio to the Same Playlist

Firstly you should note that recording in Loop Playback mode does not work for audio tracks; Loop Record will need to be engaged for recording audio in the same way that you did for MIDI (see above). The default behavior of Pro Tools is to record one whole file audio clip each time you press record, which is then divided into a number of separately numbered subset clips, one for each pass, with the most recent subset clip created being displayed on the playlist, and therefore the one that plays back if you stop recording and play the session. Previous subset clips (known as takes) can be accessed in the same way as MIDI takes (see above). 

One whole file audio clip, and four subset audio clips, which represent four takes, shown in the Clip List

One whole file audio clip, and four subset audio clips, which represent four takes, shown in the Clip List


Note: if you stop recording less than half way through a take (less than halfway through the playback selection), that take is not captured. This allows you to complete the final take without capturing a further partial take, by stopping recording after the end of the final take.


Option 2: Loop Recording - Each Pass to a New Playlist

To place each recording take onto its own playlist so that they can be viewed and edited simultaneously, you will need to tick the ‘Automatically Create New Playlists when Loop Recording’ option in the Record section of the Operation tab of Pro Tools’ preferences (Setup > Preferences). Again, one whole file audio clip is recorded each time you make a recording, but each subset audio clip (one ‘take’ per pass) is placed on its own playlist. You can view the playlists created by choosing ‘playlists’ from the Track View Selector.

Setting up Pro Tools’ preferences to create a new playlist for each take

Setting up Pro Tools’ preferences to create a new playlist for each take


Each take placed on its own playlist

Each take placed on its own playlist


Look out for a companion article to this one on The MPV Hub which will show you how to organize and edit your takes and playlists.


Mike has been obsessed with music software since he first saw Fairlight's Page-R, and has tracked its development through his work as a performer, composer and producer. As a writer he has contributed articles to Sound On Sound since 1999, and currently writes their Apple Notes column. As well as being a certified Logic Pro and Pro Too... Read More

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