Pro Tools Tips: Shortcuts For Day-to-Day Session Tasks

Being a power Pro Tools user means you have to get your head around the shortcuts. Joe Albano takes us to the next level of Pro Tools greatness showing how the Option and Shift keys can be utilized.  

If there’s one thing Pro Tools has no shortage of, it’s shortcuts! Many engineers feel that the biggest difference between professional users and more casual users is efficiency, and a big part of that is down to the use of shortcuts—a lot of mousing around in day-to-day tasks may not seem like it could slow down the workflow that much, but the extra speed gained by the use of shortcuts does add up, and can, in fact, make sessions flow much more efficiently. This is especially true when it comes to tedious, repetitive tasks, like setting up for a session, or useful but click-intensive functions, like evaluating the use of processing in a mix. No one in their right mind would try to comprehensively cover Pro Tools shortcuts in a short article—there’s a 60-page manual devoted to them alone! So I’m just going to point up a few specific Option (and Shift) shortcuts that relate to some of the most common day-to-day session tasks—the ones I wouldn’t want to run a session without.

Options, options…

One of Pro Tools’ long-time conventions is that the Option key will often let you make the same adjustment to all channels, and Option-Shift does the same thing for all selected channels—a familiar example is adjusting track height in the Edit window. This convention is by no means universal, but it’s implemented for enough functions to make your life easier, when confronted with otherwise repetitive tasks. But keep in mind—and this is true for all these Option-enhanced multitasks—you must press and hold the Option (or Option-Shift) key(s) before clicking on the function or menu itself, otherwise it won’t work—you’ll affect only that one channel. Between these two keys, a lot of useful efficiencies are implemented—here are just a few.

Tweak Groups without Groups

If you want to do something to only certain mixer tracks and not others, you’ll have to first select the desired tracks, then hold Option-Shift, and only the selected tracks will be affected. This is a great way to make an adjustment to a group of tracks without having to create (and enable) an official Mix Group for those tracks. It’s especially useful when you want to tweak a certain temporary combination of tracks that may not otherwise make sense as a Group.

EQ Plug-ins and Channel Strip mutes set with one click with Option and Option-Shift, respectively.

EQ Plug-ins and Channel Strip mutes set with one click with Option and Option-Shift, respectively.

Slots & more slots

Most of the Channel Strip functions can be managed this way in the Mix window. You can use the Option (all tracks) / Option-Shift (all selected tracks) logic on track Mute, Solo, Record, and Input Monitor buttons (this will also work on the Mute and Pre/Post-Fader buttons on Sends as well). But note, exceptions are the Channel (and Send) fader and pans. Here, Option is reserved for setting unity-gain/center-pan, which it will do only on the track you directly click on. However, Option-Shift will reset all selected tracks’ faders/pans to unity/center.

If you want to insert the same plug-in, or create Sends on either all tracks or all selected tracks, once again Option or Option-Shift, respectively, will get the job done. But note, if the tracks are a mix of Mono and Stereo, what will happen may be different, depending on the particular plug-in being instantiated. 

If your chosen plug-in is available in a multi-mono version, then you could click on either a stereo or mono track, and the plug will open on all tracks—in mono on the mono tracks, and in multi-mono on the stereo tracks. Since, by default, Left & Right are linked in multi-mono plug-ins, they should function as normal stereo on the stereo tracks, and you’ll be good to go. But if that particular plug-in does not come in a multi-mono version (the AIR plug-ins, for example) and is only available in stereo, then it won’t instantiate on all tracks. Depending on what kind of track you click on, you’ll get plug-ins on only the mono or only the stereo tracks, and have to repeat the process for the other track type. 

Two rows of plug-ins instantiated on Selected Tracks with Option-Shift, from a mono Track: 

Top row: a plug-in with a multi-mono version: plug-ins open on both mono & stereo Tracks;

Bottom row: a plug-in with no multi-mono version: plug-ins only open on the mono Tracks

Two rows of plug-ins instantiated on selected tracks with Option-Shift, from a mono track: Top row: a plug-in with a multi-mono version: plug-ins open on both mono & stereo tracks; Bottom row: a plug-in with no multi-mono version: plug-ins only open on the mono tracks.

With some plug-ins, this is probably the best approach regardless—for example, the multi-mono version of Mod Delay III can function like the stereo (multichannel) version, but you have to switch between the two channels to make different settings, while in the stereo version, both channels are more easily accessible in the plug-in window. 

A multi-mono Delay (left) with the channels un-linked is functionally stereo (both channels can be tweaked, alternately), but it’s not as convenient to work with as the stereo (multichannel) version (right).

A multi-mono Delay (left) with the channels un-linked is functionally stereo (both channels can be tweaked, alternately), but it’s not as convenient to work with as the stereo (multichannel) version (right).

This mono-stereo caveat applies to using Option-Shift on Pans for mono & stereo tracks as well—if you click on a mono track’s Pan knob, only the left side of stereo pans will be reset, probably not the desired effect.

Bypass Heaven

Sometimes, if you have a lot of processing going on in a mix, you might want to quickly hear what it would sound like without EQ, or compression, or everything. Pro Tools is great for this—it’s easy to quickly Bypass all (or all selected) plug-ins in a particular row, with Option (or Option-Shift), as above, in combination with Command (the standard plug-in Bypass key). It can be a real eye-(or ear)-opener to hear how far you’ve gotten away from the unprocessed sound you started with. To provide even more choices in this regard, Pro Tools turns to the Shift key on its own, to allow for Bypass combinations in selected Channel Strips. No clicking needed here—Shift-1 and Shift-2 bypass all plugins in Slots A-E and F-J, respectively.

A row of Drum EQs Bypassed (for selected Tracks only, with Option-Shift).

A row of Drum EQs Bypassed (for selected Tracks only, with Option-Shift).

The option for Bypassing a row of plug-ins is very handy, especially if you have all your EQs or all your Compressors in the same row. But if you haven’t been that (ahem) organized in your plug-in setup, the Shift key modifier can also bypass all plug-ins of a certain type of processor. For example, Shift-E kills all EQs in selected tracks. The same can be done with all Dynamics plugs (Shift-C), all Delays (Shift-D), and all Reverbs (Shift-V). Sends on selected tracks get similar treatment—Shift-3 mutes (or un-mutes) Sends A-E, shift-4 does the same for Sends F-J, and Shift-Q for all (10) Sends.

All Dynamics plug-ins in a mix (even in different rows) Bypassed on selected Tracks via Shift-C; and all Delays Bypassed (Shift-D).

All Dynamics plug-ins in a mix (even in different rows) Bypassed on selected tracks via Shift-C; and all Delays Bypassed (Shift-D).

Ins and outs

The same Option & Option-Shift functions work when assigning inputs and outputs to tracks—a great time-saver when you have to quickly set up multiple tracks for a session. Adding in the Command key sets incremental inputs or outputs to tracks (this may also be better done separately for mono & stereo tracks). Since there may be sub-grouping and Send & Return routings in place, the use of Option-Shift, applied to selected tracks only, is probably the better choice for setting I/O.

There are so many more time-saving shortcuts, but even these few could potentially speed up a lot of the day-to-day workflow, and help make sessions zip along more smoothly. I especially find the plug-in Bypass features to be a great help in evaluating a mix-in-progress, but all of these shortcuts have enhanced my workflow efficiency in Pro Tools. Maybe they’ll do the same for you…

Joe is a musician, engineer, and producer in NYC. Over the years, as a small studio operator and freelance engineer, he's made recordings of all types from music & album production to v/o & post. He's also taught all aspects of recording and music technology at several NY audio schools, and has been writing articles for Recording magaz... Read More

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