Pro Tools Fundamentals - Command Focus

09-20-2014 10:00 AM

Those mysterious little “a-z” squares sprinkled around the edit window don’t really announce themselves particularly loudly but getting to know them is one of the biggest leaps in workflow you can make. I’m sure many people started to incorporate the odd shortcut right from the beginning when they started to use Pro Tools. I wrote a piece offering five shortcuts to speed up session navigation some time ago and if you aren’t yet incorporating shortcuts in to your use of Pro Tools they are a good place to start.
What is Command Focus?

As well as the conventional keyboard shortcuts, which usually involve at least one modifier key in combination with another (for example on the Mac Command+= or Control+= on Windows to toggle the mix/edit windows or Command+E to separate clip at selection) there is another set of single keystroke shortcuts available some of which are duplicates of existing “plus modifier” shortcuts but many of which have no equivalent anywhere else. If you feel you need to speed up your workflow then learning some command focus shortcuts is an excellent place to start.
Command Focus in the Mix Window

In the Mix window command focus can be used to toggle mix groups on and off by using their id letter. This is a really useful feature and has an extremely shallow learning curve. If you don’t use command focus for anything else try it for this, its so easy.

Command Focus in the Edit Window

In the edit window there are three areas to which you can focus the commands (hence “command focus” - it took me years to realise that’s what they meant when they named it). They are the edit groups list, the clips list and the main tracks display. Each of these areas can have focus, as indicated by the “a z” focus in the corner of each area. Yellow is focussed. In the mix window the groups command focus can be toggled on and off using the mouse, I’m not aware of any shortcut to toggle this but in the edit window the three possible options for command focus can be toggled using the following shortcuts:

  • Command focus the tracks display - CMD+Option+1/Ctrl+Alt+1
  • Command focus the clips list - CMD+Option+2/Ctrl+Alt+2
  • Command focus the groups list - CMD+Option+3/Ctrl+Alt+3

Using Command Focus

While use of command focus for editing in the tracks display is the area which gets the most attention, and definitely is the most interesting, I’d recommend starting with command focus in the group and clip lists as there is almost no learning curve. In the groups list command focus toggles groups by id letter and in the clips list the list selects clips beginning with the letter typed. I would suggest that the most important command focus shortcuts are the three given above which toggle the command focus between the three areas of the edit window and committing these to memory will encourage you to use command focus in all areas rather than just leaving it in the tracks display all the time.
There are far too many command focus shortcuts to cover in detail here but if you want to learn them I really recommend buying a dedicated Pro Tools keyboard such as those made by Editors Keys. If you want a more detailed overview of the shortcuts themselves take a look at Mike’s article on command focus.
If you’ve never tried them before, display the edit window of a session, hit Command+Option+1 on a Mac or Ctrl+Alt+1 on Windows, and try these:
Top 5 Examples

  1. Separate clip at selection - B
  2. Zoom Out - R Zoom In - T
  3. Move edit selection up - P Move edit selection down - ;
  4. Track View Toggle - - (minus key)
  5. Timeline insertion follows playback - N

There are many I could have included instead, actually it could easily have been a top 20 but I’m sure you can find more just by pressing all the keys! An excellent aid to learning them is just to look at a high res image of a Pro Tools keyboard. While you are there you could consider buying one, they are well worth it.