Do I Need An Extended Keyboard For Pro Tools?

09-27-2014 01:00 PM

Continuing the theme of Pro Tools and the use of keyboards from last week, considering how ubiquitous laptops have become in audio production, their performance in terms of processing power and the connectivity options offered by Thunderbolt can make owning a desktop computer seem unnecessary. However there is one area in which Pro Tools and laptops are still an awkward match. I find using Pro Tools without an extended keyboard so inconvenient that if I know I am going to be using Pro Tools on my laptop I will often carry an extended keyboard with me and I suspect I’m not the only one. So which of the many uses for the number pad is it that I miss when I’m on a laptop? Here are 5 which come to mind though as we’ll see sometimes it is the ignorance of the user which is the problem rather than laptop keyboards…
Show/Hide Floating Windows

Screen space is limited on a laptop and because of this being able to manage floating windows is especially important. I use these three show/hide shortcuts more than any others and when they aren’t available it really slows me down:

  • CMD+1 - Transport Window
  • CMD+4 - Automation Window
  • CMD+5 - Memory Locations Window

(PC Users substitute Control for Command)
Nudging The Audio

Nudging in Pro Tools is endlessly useful, so useful that it definitely deserves more attention in another post coming soon. If you aren’t a regular command focus user you might think you need the + and - keys on the number pad to use nudge. For years (and unfortunately it was years) I wondered how anyone could edit in Pro Tools without a keyboard command for nudge. When I finally took the plunge into command focus shortcuts I found the nudge commands had been there all along. To nudge use “,” and “.” and to nudge by the next bigger value use “m” and “/”.
Recall Memory Location

Using “decimal point - memory location number - decimal point” you can quickly recall memory locations. See my article on faking VCA spill for ideas on how to use memory locations for more than just recalling markers. While you can recall memory locations by clicking in the memory locations window, I really need the screen space when I’m working on a 13” screen. As markers get used so much when tracking this is something I really miss when using a laptop.

Drop markers

Using the enter key to drop a marker was always the shortcut I missed the most as I often find myself using a laptop with Pro Tools while tracking using a mobile rig. Having experienced dragging flightcased CRT monitors around in the past I really appreciate laptops but being able to drop markers on the fly is essential.
I have been using a Macbook Pro for many years, I work alongside very techie people who all use Macs and audio software and have done for a long time. The collective facepalm moment which happened recently when we discovered what the little symbol on the return key on a Mac Book Pro meant was worth seeing. I’m sure many people out there know this but clearly many people (like me) don’t. If you hold Fn while using Return on a Mac Book Pro it changes from Return to Enter. In Pro Tools you can drop markers on the fly using a Mac Book Pro after all - Why has it taken me so long to realise that?

Fast Forward And Rewind - FF/RW

Although its largely unnecessary with a DAW, I rediscovered the joys of using traditional tape transport with Pro Tools when I started using control surfaces. I’m sure many never use it but often nudging transport back or forward a few seconds using numeric 1 or 2 is easier than moving the insertion point with the mouse. An essential feature of Icon control surfaces is the “Back and Play” button which moves the playback cursor back by the amount specified in the preferences without stopping playback. The same feature is available in software by control-clicking (start-clicking on PC) on the rewind button. What I’d really like is Control+Num2 to work with back and play in the same way because it doesn’t at the moment. Please Avid?