Pro Tools Fundamentals - Use Of The Tab Key

07-19-2014 09:00 AM

The last few fundamentals articles have been high on content but probably a little dry (anyone up for some more latency? …Nobody?). Time to lighten things up. However, easy and useful often go together…
I often have conversations with people who don’t use shortcuts. Their reasoning is usually that they find it easier to stick with the mouse. Anyone who already has a few shortcuts down will know how much faster it makes things but that not as compelling an argument as you might think when trying to get a reluctant student to try something new. Pointing out that when they use the spacebar to start playback they are using a shortcut is great fun but the most convincing argument for using shortcuts is to show them something which is immediately useful and only viable using the keyboard.
So, instant crowd pleaser which relies on a single keystroke? This sounds like a job for the tab key. For me the really interesting thing about tab in Pro Tools is how many longtime users, some of them with really thorough knowledge of Pro Tools, only use tab for tab to transients. A while ago I was asked why you could switch tab to transients off? Why would you want to do that? This suggests that some people only know about tab to transients and are unaware of tab’s default behaviour. For this reason I’m going to look at the functions of the tab key in what I think of as the “wrong” order.
Tab To Transients

This is the one which gets all the attention. When engaged, tab moves the insertion point to the next transient (i.e. sharp rise in amplitude). The sensitivity of the transient detection isn’t tweakable but I’ve rarely had issues with it. The uses for this are almost limitless. In transient-rich material such as drums, bass etc. it is just so easy to navigate. Simply drop your insertion point just before the desired hit and press tab. Its worth noting that most waveforms have steep transients at their start but are usually less well defined when viewed backwards so although it is possible to tab backwards, its a good idea to tab past the desired point and come at it from the front to guarantee accuracy.
Common uses for tab to transients are selecting sections of music bar by bar when not recorded to a click (for example when tempo mapping or creating loops) or when tightening up bass parts against the kick but thats just two, the uses for this are limitless and if you don’t use it you’re really missing out.

To toggle tab to transients on and off click the button below the trim tool or press CMD+Opt+Tab/Ctrl+Alt+Tab
Tab Default Behaviour

When tab to transients is off, the tab key moves the insertion point to the next edit on the timeline, so pressing tab will move the insertion point to the head of the next clip (or the tail of the current clip, depending on which is next). This is the most efficient way to place the insertion point precisely at the beginning or end of a clip. To move back to the previous edit point, press option/alt+tab and to create a selection from the current location to the next edit point, add shift.

Tab on MIDI Tracks

If you haven’t tried tab on MIDI tracks then you really should. Tab advances the insertion point to the next note and if “play MIDI notes when editing” is enabled then as you advance to the next note it will play - Handy. If you have MIDI CC data on your track you can tab between CC breakpoints. This brings me to my biggest gripe about using tab…
No Tab To Automation Breakpoints

Considering how useful the tab key is in so many ways in Pro Tools, it has always frustrated me that you can’t tab to the next automation breakpoint, seems like an odd omission to me - Pro Tools 12 maybe?

Tab To Markers

If your insertion point is in one of your tracks then pressing tab will advance the insertion point along the timeline either by edit point or transient. If however you have clicked with the selector in the markers ruler, you have no insertion point on any track and the tab key can be used to tab to the next marker. In fact most of the non-timebase rulers can be tabbed through like this. You can tab to the next meter change in the meter ruler, interestingly you can’t tab to the next chord change on the chord ruler and although you can tab to the next tempo change, it will only do so if the graphic tempo editor is being used.
So there is more to the humble tab key than just tab to transients and returning to my original point, although you can place the insertion point anywhere you like using just the mouse, can you really be sure you are exactly on that transient/clip head/MIDI note without zooming in and checking? You can with the tab key.