Pro Tools Fundamentals - Use Of The Option/Alt Key

07-26-2014 09:00 AM

When I was about eight and bashing disinterestedly through my piano practice I noticed that more often than not if I hit a wrong note I’d hear my mum shout “F sharp!” from the next room. I remember asking her why it was always F sharp. Some mumbo-jumbo about key signatures and the circle of fifths was said but by then I was probably thinking about Star Wars…
I find myself thinking about this when almost every time I suggest someone use a modifier with a left-click in Pro Tools its always option (PC users please substitute alt for option for the rest of this article). It’s just so useful. As an experiment I thought I’d write a list of every use I could think of for the option key, used on its own with a left click. There are of course many, many uses in combination with other keystrokes and with a right-click but for the purposes of this article I decided to limit it to just option+left-click.
Starting with the two most common uses, if you are new to Pro Tools learn these two and try them everywhere:
Do To All

Endlessly useful, common uses are selecting tracks, solo, mute, record arm, setting inputs and outputs or creating sends and plugins. Although I’m avoiding option in combination with other keystrokes I’ll have to make an exception for option+shift for “do to selected tracks only” as it is probably more useful than option on its own. Less obvious examples would be option+clicking the default button in IO setup to set all tabs in one click (also works for importing IO settings), bypassing repeated warnings like when deleting from the clip list and having to OK each warning about the undo queue or using option + drag from workspace or finder when importing video to avoid the video import options window opening.
Set To Default

The other really significant use of option. Clicking faders, pans, sends and plug in parameters will set these controls to their defaults (0dB for faders, centre for pans and -inf for sends unless you choose to change it in prefs). This is a real crowd pleaser when using a control surface.
Hide A Section Of Mix Or Edit Window

Often overlooked, if you option-click the name at the top of a section of the mix or edit windows, for example I/O or SENDS A-E, then that section will be hidden. Annoyingly this action is not reversible using a modifier+click as there is nowhere to click! Sections can of course be brought back from the view menu or the show/hide drop down at the bottom left (mix) or top left (edit).
Make Copy

Option-click and dragging makes a copy. This can be used for clips, midi notes, sends and inserts. It should be noted that it is not possible to drag an insert from a track to another track where the number of input channels does not match (e.g. stereo to mono).
Zoom Horizontally

While not strictly speaking option+click, using option and the mouse wheel zooms the timeline horizontally (other modifiers move the timeline in other ways, explore and you’ll find them).
Option + Click In Playlist For Pre/Post-roll

If you don’t know this one you must try it. Simply option-click on the waveform where you want pre-roll to begin (having already set your record “in” point) and the pre-roll flag will move to that point, so much more intuitive than changing the pre-roll value numerically.
Return To Previous Zoom Level When Using The Zoom Buttons

If you use the zoom buttons my first question would be why? Learn a shortcut or use the mouse wheel with option, but if you really must use these buttons then option will return you to your previous level of zoom.
Deleting Events

Option can be used in combination with the grab tool to delete automation breakpoints, key signature changes, meter changes, chord changes, midi events in the midi event list editor, memory locations in the memory locations window, sync points and warp markers.
Audition In The Clips List

Option-clicking a clip in the clips list will preview it, allowing you to audition material without bringing it onto the timeline. Audio is previewed via the audition path as set up in your IO settings, Midi can be previewed via the default midi thru instrument as set up in the midi preferences.
Multi-mono Plug Ins

To open separate plug in windows for each channel of a multi-mono plug in, option-click on the channel selector drop-down.
Do The Opposite

With the edit tools, option usually offers another version of the same tool:
Pencil tool - becomes an eraser tool (upside down pencil) this can be used for midi notes or breakpoints.
Zoom tool - zoom out
Trim tool - reverse direction of trim
High speed Scrub tool - Option momentarily changes the scrub tool to a “turbo” version which scrubs the timeline far faster.
Note selector tool - this tool only selects notes, not other midi data, unlike the selector tool it plays midi notes when selecting.
Beat Detective

There are a few uses tucked away in beat detective but they are just applying the broad uses of option as a way to do the opposite action:
Option+click the scroll next button in beat detective to go to the previous trigger.
Option+click to delete a trigger
More Uses Of Option

There are a few more, for example if you option+click on the play or record buttons you will prime the transport. Prime for playback cues the system ready for instant playback, useful as a noticeable lag can become apparent when running high track counts, Prime for record does the same but cues for instant record. Getting more obscure, if you are using dynamic transport with timeline and edit selections unlinked, option+dragging the timeline selection temporarily links and moves both selections in tandem - Nope, never used that one… In the fades editor using option can not only reset the crossfade shape to the default but option allows you to edit only the incoming fade (different modifier for outgoing). These are only in the list for the sake of getting every single use I can think of in this list but for something genuinely useful, if you are using HD you can toggle any of the write on stop automation buttons to remain active after a pass by option clicking - useful (and potentially destructive unless you remember to switch it back out…)
So what does this have to do with my early piano lessons? Well when teaching Pro Tools I find myself barking out “Option!” so regularly its become my F sharp. What uses of the option key have I missed? There are lots using more than just the option key that I could have included. Which would you like to have seen?