If you are new to Pro Tools the different kind of track options available can sometimes be daunting, in fact sometimes even seasoned professionals are not entirely sure of the benefits of using different track types.
We will take a look at each type of Pro Tools track in detail, explaining each section to the Pro Tools track type and how to use them. In this post we are looking at the Pro Tools instrument track.
Instrument tracks were introduced into Pro Tools in version 7.0. Previously to use either a software or hardware instrument in a Pro Tools session the user had to create a MIDI track for recording MIDI and an AUX track for routing the audio for playback in Pro Tools - an instrument track is a combination of both, simplifying the Pro Tools workflow. Let’s take a look at each section.
Moving from left to right you can see the colour bar first as a solid strip of colour. In the image above the instrument track has defaulted to the mustard colour, however double clicking on the colour bar will open the colour picker where you can change the colour of the track. Double clicking when multiple Pro Tools tracks are open enables the user to recolour groups of tracsk.
Next you see the track name (changed by double clicking on the text) the record arm button, the (S) solo and (M) mute buttons. Below these you see the small metronome icon which allows the user to select between sample and tick based operation, this changes how the Pro Tools track responds to timing information. The next button (CLPS in this image) determines what information will be displayed in the Pro Tools track timeline. The image below shows the selection extended. In the top half of the list are the types of information to show, int eh bottom half are the automation options available in the present track, these differ depending on user customisation.
Next we see metering of the audio output from the channel, Pro Tools HD users also get to see dynamics processing meters on the right, see below. A comments section is available for free-form text. In the image below the Mic Pre section is showing (available on audio channels in HD) but not used on instrument channels.
The next section in this image shows the instrument panel where MIDI routing is dealt with. The first drop down gives the user the chance to select MIDI input routing, this defaults to all and listen for MIDI input from all connected MIDI sources, to the left of that is the (M) MIDI mute button, where the MIDI information can be muted without affecting the audio output. Below there is the MIDI output routing, this normally defaults to the selected instrument plug-in but if the user has hardware attached to the Pro Tools instrument track then this is where routing to different MIDI outputs is done. Below that are the MIDI volume and pan as well as a MIDI data meter to show that MIDI data is being received and transmitted on the track.
Above we can see inserts and sends, these are available on most Pro Tools track types, however the inserts are an essential part of a working MIDI software instrument channel. To enable any software instrument it must be inserted as the first insert on the Pro Tools instrument track, in the image above is an instance of Xpand2 followed by a BF76 compressor, only one virtual instrument insert can be used per track, however multi channel instruments can be used on one track and then triggered from several other tracks at the same time. For example in the image below 3 Pro Tools instument tracks are being used with one instance of Spectrasonics Stylus that is using 3 MIDI channels and then using 3 separate outputs from the Stylus tracks. MIDI is being sent from the top track to the first channel of Stylus which by default has audio routed back into the same track. The next two tracks show the MIDI outputs sent to Stylus RMX channels 2 and 3 and then the separate audio from Stylus back into the channels as Stereo B and C.
The next section shown are the inserts and sends, see below. Inserts enable the user to literally insert Pro Tools plug-ins across the channel, for example a compressor and EQ, the order of the inserts determines the order of the signal flow, so if the user wants the compressor to work before the EQ then it needs to be placed above the EQ and vice versa. Sends allow the user to route audio around Pro Tools to and from other tracks, in the image below there are 4 sends being used for Headphones, Reverb, Delay and Chorus. We will look at send routing in another post.
Last, BUT NOT LEAST on an instrument channel are the I/O (meaning input and output routing) and the REAL-TIME PROPERTIES. The I/O is where audio is routed into a Pro Tools tracks, shown as the top section in the image below and then routed out of the track, shown as the bottom section (OUT 1-2) this will normally be set to the main audio outputs of your Pro Tools session, unless you are using separate busses to submix the audio, we will look at these when we look at AUX Tracks. You can watch our Pro Tools video tutorial on routing audio here.
REAL-TIME Properties allow the user to make real-time and non-destructive changes to things such as Quantize (timing), note duration, MIDI delay, velocity and transpose. It is a great way to try different timing or transpose ideas on a track without doing any lasting damage to the original performance. To use any of them simply click the button to engage and then experiment with the options available.
Finally a small keyboard is shown both on Pro Tools Instrument and MIDI tracks, this can be used to audition notes, such as drum hits.
This in depth Pro Tools video tutorial shows how Pro Tools routes MIDI in and around Pro Tools. It shows the difference between MIDI, Instrument and Aux tracks and how easy it can be to get confused.