Pro Tools Fundamentals - Creating New Tracks

04-28-2014 04:01 PM

One of the reasons I stuck with Pro Tools when I first tried it was that it doesn’t do things for you. Anything you want in your session you have to put there. This might not sound very helpful but the reason I like it is that if you put it there hopefully you understand it. When you create a new Pro Tools session my recommendation is to ignore the various templates available in the quick start dialog, in fact I recommend you tick the “do not show again” box and go 100% home-made if you are new to Pro Tools. If you follow this advice then in a blank session there will be nothing at all. You will need to create some tracks and to do this you will need to use the new tracks dialogue. As this is a part of Pro Tools you will use every time you you use it, it is worth learning properly.
Track types in Pro Tools

In Pro Tools there are seven track types;

  1. Audio,
  2. Aux Input,
  3. Master,
  4. MIDi,
  5. Instrument,
  6. Video
  7. VCA (HD only)

Of these the ones a beginner needs to familiarise themselves with first are:

  • Audio Tracks,
  • Instrument Tracks,
  • Master Tracks

Audio tracks are fairly self-explanatory. If you import audio into Pro Tools you will be given the choice to create new tracks for that audio to populate. One common question is whether it is possible to change audio tracks from stereo to mono and vice-versa - it is not, inserting some plug-ins will change the mixer channel to stereo but the track itself will still be mono.
Instrument tracks are usually what a users needs if they wish to use Midi. A common source of confusion is the existence of the midi track. The inclusion of these is largely historical but for the beginner, if you want to use midi in Pro Tools you probably want to use an instrument track. A very common source of confusion for new users is the location of midi settings on newly created instrument tracks. By default these are hidden and considering how often the cause of problems in midi session is problems with the midi routing it is unhelpful that you need to know where to look to find the problem! To view midi settings on instrument tracks in the mix window go to the view controls in the bottom left of the mix window and check “instrument”.
A Master Fader should always be present in a Pro Tools session no matter how small. Its job is to monitor headroom on the output, without a master fader a track can be clipping its output and there would be no visual indication that this was happening. Master faders have many other uses not least of which is providing insert slots for buss processors. Very often it is never touched but it is still fulfilling a role and should be present.

Creating tracks

To create a new track go to File > New Track. I recommend you learn the keyboard shortcut. My policy on learning shortcuts is that it is only worth learning shortcuts for things you do a lot. The point of a shortcut is to save you time and speed up the production process. if you learn a shortcut to a function you hardly use, how much time does it save you? The shortcut for New Track is CMD+Shift+N (Cntrl+Shift+N on PC).
New Track Dialog Shortcuts

While this dialogue is fairly self-explanatory, one very common area which is overlooked is the plus button at the right. It is possible not only to create multiple tracks at once but also to create multiple track types at the same time. The following keyboard shortcuts are very useful and definitely worth learning.

  • CMD+Shift+N/Ctrl+Shift+N - New Track. The number of tracks field is highlighted by default, for more than one track either key in the required number or use the up/down arrows
  • CMD+ up or down arrow/Ctrl + up or down arrow - Cycle track type
  • CMD+ left or right arrow/Ctrl + left or right arrow - Cycle number of channels (mono, stereo etc.)
  • CMD+Shift+up or down arrow / Ctrl+Shift+up or down arrow - Add/remove additional row

It is possible to toggle the timebase of tracks between samples and ticks using CMD+option/Crtrl+alt and the up/down arrow keys but I have honestly never used this and only include it for the sake of completeness.

For a demo of these shortcuts watch the free video