by Jos "Chilitos" Valenzuela
When most people think of shortcuts and keystroke equivalents for mouse moves, they probably picture a piece of notepad paper taped up on a wall or on the side of a computer monitor. At least that's what mine looks like. Courteous manufacturers sometimes include a laminate fold-out which you can keep tucked under your keyboard. So imagine my surprise when I picked up Jose "Chilitos" Valenzuela's The Complete Pro Tools Shortcuts (2nd Edition) -- a 265-page book stuffed to the margins with shorcuts! The table of contents itself is 18 pages!
Contained within is a whole lot more than just keystroke equivalents, obviously. Teh book has several different ways of finding information, all of it in the table of contents (there is no index). Main headings include Playback, Record, Transport Mode, Shuttle Mode, and Auditioning, which you can consider "function based." Then the book enumerates actual menu items and their hierarchy, including File Menu, Edit Menu, Memory Location and Markers, View Menu, Track Menu, and so on.
One of the great things about this book is that you can simply go to a section on a menu and see, in graphic detail, what all the functions do--and what their shortcuts are. This is really an excuse to talk about Pro Tools functions, which is just fine with me. The book is 265 pages not because it contains lines of text, but because every page is rich adorned with screen shots and overlaid lines, text, and highlights from the author that explains each of these menu commands thoroughly (see Fig 1).
Fig. 1 shows a typical treatment for presenting a shortcut. The main topic is in bold underline type with a description beneath. Note the keyboard icon, which conveys keystrokes more elegantly than when written out in the text. (Click to enlarge.)
The book relays over 400 shortcuts, but due to the depth and generous visual treatment, it seems like much more. Each shortcut is succinctly though comprehensively presented and shown for both Mac and Windows platform. The approach goes something like this: what it does, in what context the command is available, and what other related features apply. It is the last aspect that the author shows his considerable insight and expertise in Pro Tools (Valenzuela is a certified PT expert and active producer and engineer in the L.A. area).
Some nice touches of the book include its complete backing up of every shortcut with screen shots, many of which have overlaid lines, highlights, and call-out text for greater clarity and quicker spotting. To show the keystrokes, a keyboard icon is used, with the keys that are to be depressed indicated in solid black. This is so much quicker and more intuitive than writing out the instructions in text (as in, “CNTRL + Num 6,” etc.)
The book presents the shortcuts in the order they appear in the Pro Tools Help menu (which just opens a linked pdf file), so if the Help topics leave you unsatisfied (or confused), you can quickly navigate to the corresponding spot in the book. This comes in very handy for functions that you use regularly, but not every day and so are not committed to memory. Anyone who’s ever had to strain their brain to determine the difference between a Beat Detective and an Elastic Audio scenario will appreciate the quick way to bounce back and forth between the online help and the more expanded versions in the book. As a bonus, the book also includes shortcuts that are not in the Help doc. Way to go, Chilitos!
The comprehensiveness of the book could have benefited from an additional organizing layer superimposed over the existing headings in the table of contents. The flipside of the TOC’s sweeping 18-page size is that it’s hard to discern between larger category organizations. In other words, there’s just 18 unbroken pages with 61 headings. It seems that that could be further broken down by, say, musical task: Record/Playback, Looping, Editing, Mixing/Automation, etc.
But the thoroughness and sheer scope of this book is greatly impressive. Included are before and after images of the operation at hand, and the images are augmented with guidelines, call-out text, highlights, and captions. The author will even occasionally use three screens to show a sequence: before, after the shortcut is executed, and the final result of the completed sequence.
The Complete Pro Tools Shortcuts is an indispensable resource for any Pro Tools operator who is serious about improving his workflow. The book can easily be read and understood even when away from the computer, and the rich, illustrative approach goes above and beyond the book's stated task of the title. Best of all, it helps you appreciate the true depth of Pro Tools and all the functionality lying under those menu items and in those hierarchically nested dialog boxes. Chilitos shows his true command of Pro Tools here, and imparts the best ways to get your recording, editing, and production chops up to snuff and right there with the most experienced of engineers.