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Edit Modes In Pro Tools Explained
Tips and Tricks
Different types of Pro Tools projects often require different ways of moving and editing your audio material. In this article, we’re going to look at the 4 main editing modes in Pro Tools—how to toggle between then, what they do, and the types of projects they are generally used for.
The four different types of Edit modes are found in the Edit Window, in the top left corner. The four Edit modes are: Shuffle, Spot, Slip, and Grid. There are two ways you can toggle between these different modes. You can simply click on whichever mode you want to select it, or you can use the following keyboard shortcuts:
F1 = Shuffle Mode
F2 = Spot Mode
F3 = Slip Mode
F4 = Grid Mode
Before we dive into the specifics of each editing mode and when to use them, let’s first establish what part of your editing workflow these modes will be affecting. When we use the word “Edit” in Pro Tools, we could be talking about many different things, so let’s be clear on what exactly Edit Modes will change as you navigate your Pro Tools session. Edit Modes will affect the movement and placement of audio and MIDI clips, how certain Edit tools function, and how commands (such as Copy and Paste) work.
NOTE: Make sure you’re not confusing Edit Modes with Edit Tools. Edit Tools consist of the Zoomer tool, Trim tool, Selector tool, Grabber tool, Scrubber tool, and Pencil tool. Edit Modes affect how Edit Tools manipulate your audio and MIDI tracks in the time domain.
If you use Pro Tools primarily for music projects, Grid Mode will be one of the most frequent modes you use. In Grid Mode, clip and MIDI event movements, placements, selections, and trim operations will snap to the nearest time increment, determined by your set Grid Value. The Grid Value setting can be found in the Edit Window toolbar, just to the left of your transport. Here, you can change your Grid Value, thus changing the time increments to which you can snap your clips. For example, in the figure below, my Grid Value is set to a Quarter Note—this means:
Using the Grabber tool will snap the placement of the clip to the nearest quarter note
Using the Selector tool will snap the selection of a track to the nearest quarter note
Using the Trim tool will trim the start or end of the clip to the nearest quarter note
By clicking on the quarter note, we see a dropdown box that allows us to change your Grid Value—we can increase our time increments to 1/2 note or an entire bar, or we can decrease the time increments to 1/8 note, 1/16 note, and so on. Furthermore, you don’t have to make your Grid Value a musical rhythm duration—you can also set Min:Secs as your Main Time Scale and set your Grid Value to 1 second, for example. Although, for music projects, using a rhythm duration is going to be the most efficient option for keeping your edits in time with your song.
Grid Mode is extremely useful for constraining your clip and MIDI edits to the underlying rhythm of your song. Being able to snap the beginning of your clips to your Grid Value will increase your efficiency as you make changes to your arrangement while maintaining rhythmic consistency. When your Grid Value is set, it will be represented in your tracks as vertical blue lines, as seen in the screenshot below. In this case, each vertical blue line represents one quarter note. These lines are extremely helpful visual cues as you move and edit your audio clips.
If you select the drop-down arrow next to “Grid” in the Grid Mode panel, you are presented with two different types of Grid Mode editing: Absolute Grid and Relative Grid. These can also be toggled between each other by selecting Grid Mode more than once.
Absolute Grid mode means that any movement edits you make to your clips will snap directly to your Grid Value, as we just discussed. Relative Grid mode means that any movement edits you make to your clips will snap by your Grid Value left or right. For example, if you are in Relative Grid mode with your Grid Value set to a quarter note, when you move your audio clip to the right, it will move in quarter note increments regardless of the starting point position.
While Grid Mode is defined by your edits’ adherence to the underlying Grid Value, Slip Mode is not constrained by any Grid Value. In Slip Mode, you can move, trim, and select clips freely—they will not snap to any set time increments. Notice in the screenshot below, I have trimmed the beginning of the clip to begin in between Grid Values. The more I zoom in, the greater control I have over where exactly I want my clip to begin.
Slip Mode is useful when you want to select and edit audio or MIDI without any restrictions in the time domain. For example, it is common with recorded audio to have an instrument’ attack come in slightly before the downbeat of a measure. If you wanted to trim the beginning of the clip in Grid Mode, your trim would snap to beat one of the measure, thus cutting off the initial attack of the note. In Slip Mode, however, you can freely trim the beginning of your clip without it snapping to a set Grid Value, allowing for more flexible edits.
In addition, Slip Mode can be extremely useful when working on non-music projects. Podcasts, interviews, and radio shows are all types of projects that can be efficiently edited using Slip Mode. Since speech doesn’t need to line up with an underlying rhythmic grid, audio clips can be freely moved around and edited to your desired pacing of the show. However, when you delete or move a clip in Slip Mode (and Grid Mode), it does not affect the placement of the preceding or subsequent clips, thus leaving a space of silence. This may not be ideal when editing certain types of content, but in these situations, you can use Shuffle Mode to your advantage.
At first glance, Shuffle Mode may seem very similar to Slip Mode: you can select and trim clips freely, unconstrained by your Grid Value. However, that’s where the similarities stop. The caveat with Shuffle Mode is that the movement or deletion of a clip on your track will affect the placement of subsequent clips on the same track.
For example, in the screenshot below, I have three separate audio clips on my track with the middle one selected. In Grid Mode or Slip Mode, if I delete this middle clip, the other two clips would remain in their same positions and the middle clip would be replaced with empty space. However, this is not the case in Shuffle Mode.
In addition, dragging one clip on top of another clip will cause clips to swap positions. Clips affected by any move operation will snap together, closing up any silent gaps.
Shuffle Mode can be quite useful when editing material where you don’t want any silent gaps in audio. Editing an interview, for example, can benefit from edits in Shuffle Mode. Maybe the interviewee takes a long pause in between sentences as they try to find the right words to say—you can easily delete that pause and the next sentence will snap to the end of the previous one, making the interview feel more seamless and concise. It’s best to be cautious when editing in Shuffle Mode, especially when editing content that is synchronized with other tracks or other timing reference.
While Spot Mode features the same unconstrained selections and edits, such as Slip Mode and Shuffle Mode, it features a unique way of moving and trimming clips. It allows for extremely precise clip movement and placement via the Spot Dialog box, which allows you to specify your exact start point and end point.
To open the Spot Dialog box in Slip Mode, simply use the Grabber Tool and click on one of your audio clips. Instead of using the Grabber tool to drag your clips to your desired destination on the timeline, the Spot Dialog box allows you to type in the exact location, and it will move your clip to that point. The desired location of your clip can be set using any of Pro Tools’ Time Scales.
Spot Mode is probably used most often in video post-production projects, since dialogue tracks, sound effects, and music cues need to align with exact moments in the timecode. This is achieved by changing the Time Scale to Timecode, as shown in the screenshot below. This way, instead of dragging and dropping audio clips around the Pro Tools timeline, a post-production editor can simply time in the timecode location to sync the audio clip with the video playback.
Once you are comfortable editing with each of Pro Tools Edit Modes, it’s up to you to decide which mode is going to be most efficient while editing your sessions. Different types of projects may require you to toggle through the editing modes multiple times, depending on the type of content you are dealing with. The best way to know which mode is going to be best for any given situation is to practice with each of them and get familiar with how they affect the functions of your Edit tools and other clips on your track.
Alex ThomenComposer / Arranger / Music Technology Instructor
Alex Thomen is a producer, composer, pianist, mixing engineer, and music educator. He attained his Master's Degree in Commercial Music Composition and Arranging from Belmont University in Nashville, TN and taught as an instructor in Music Production at University of Miami Frost School of Music. From small-scale chamber groups and rock bands to full symphonic orchestra, Thomen arranges, produces, and mixes for a variety of ensembles and styles. Thomen’s education and experience have helped refine his skills in contemporary music production for Film/TV/Games. From ambient, musical soundscapes to fantastical, orchestral pieces, television commercials, and more, Thomen’s creative output evokes a vast variety of moods, settings, and themes.
ProMedia Training is the premier authorized Avid Training Center since 2002, having prepared more students in Pro Tools than any other organization. We teach Pro Tools on all levels as well as offer exam preparation for Pro Tools Certification exams for those studying audio engineering, recording, mixing and related multimedia training for musicians, producers, recording engineers, worship facilities and corporations. ProMedia has been leading the way in short term, Pro Tools Immersion courses which focus in all areas from beginner to advanced Pro Tools Applications. Our beginners learn the software for music production, recording, editing, audio engineering, and mixing. Our advanced users focus on cutting edge highly complex HDX systems, new concepts as well as workflow improvements. We also provide on-site training for corporations, Universities, Schools, and worship facilities where professionals can advance their skills while learning in their own working environment. ProMedia also participates in many of the musical associations and related organizations related to the recording arts including ASCAP, BMI, NAMM, TAXI A&R, Youth Organizations, NAB, Promo Only, and more.