Clever new tools and toys are fun and help keep all of us enthused, hopefully inspired and at the very least interested in the tools we use every day. That said, it’s important to remind yourself of the basics. I’m amazed how much I forget the basics until I need them. A recent example was when I needed to remove a click on a sound I was using. It was a single click on a low-frequency sound - it stuck out like a sore thumb. It was just as I was about to send it to RX that it occurred to me that I was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Why not do what I did before I had RX and use the Pencil Tool? That got me thinking about the Pencil Tool and although I sometimes go for days without using it, there are so many different ways it can be incredibly useful. Here are five:
Fixing Clicks With The Pencil Tool
Like I said, this was the use which got me thinking in the first place. I remember some years ago a Cubase-using friend asked me how you can fix a click in Pro Tools when it doesn't have a sample editor. I enjoyed explaining that the Edit window is Pro Tools' sample editor.
For anyone who has never done this, If you zoom in to an audio clip far enough, the pencil tool will become available and you can draw directly into the waveform. This has its limitations but to fix single clicks and discontinuities it is perfect. A word of caution, drawing the waveform with the pencil tools is one of the few destructive actions you can make in Pro Tools so if you go further than your undo levels you are stuck. To remind yourself of the other actions in Pro Tools which are destructive look at this article on exactly that.
Autopanner Effects Using The Pencil Tool
I've never seen the point of autopanner plug-ins. The effect is so easy to achieve using the Pencil Tool. Just open a pan automation playlist, click and hold on the pencil tool, select the triangle option and draw in some panning. The width is dictated by how far up or down you drag and the speed of the panning follows the current Grid setting.
In defence of Autopanner plug-ins, I've always missed not having a sinusoidal shape available, probably because there are parabolic and S curves available (which are nearly sinusoidal) but they can't be used for automation.
Drawing S+H Filter Moves
One of my favourite things is a good Sample and Hold synth patch and faking the effect of one is so easy using the Pencil Tool. If you're unfamiliar with the term "Sample and Hold", it has nothing to do with sampling with a sampler. It's a way of making a parameter (very often filter cutoff) step through a range of random values by regularly sampling the value of a noise generator and holding that value until the next sample is taken.
Instantiate Air Vintage Filter on the track you wish to effect. Enable automation for the filter cutoff. Display the filter cutoff automation playlist and select Random from the Pencil Tool drop-down by clicking and holding on the Pencil Tool selector. Like the auto-panner example, the rate follows the Grid setting and the depth of the modulation is dictated by how far you drag vertically. And of course, as it is automation you can edit it to your heart's content.
Line Tool for Midi
It is in the MIDI editor that I think the Pencil Tool comes into its own. I think of the Pencil Tool as the Smart Tool for MIDI. One of the simplest tricks you can use the Pencil Tool for in the MIDI editor is to quickly fill a line of the editor with eighth or sixteenth notes. Dragging horizontally with the freehand tool creates a single note with a length dictated by how far you drag. Using the Line Tool (or the Square, Random or Triangle Tools) creates a string of identical notes with a length following the current grid setting.
Parabolic/S-Curve for Tempo changes
So what about these mysterious Parabolic and S-Curve Tools which never seem to be available? Well they are for use in the Tempo Ruler. The Tempo Ruler is only active when enabled in the transport bar (which may or may not be visible - go to the window menu). If you want to create tempo changes which ease in and out then using these two tools will help. Expand the Tempo Ruler using the disclosure triangle and draw in some tempo information using one of these tools. Tempo events will be created to approximate the line created according to the tempo edit density setting, immediately after creating your tempo change you will enter Curve Adjustment Mode - indicated by a blue line with handles. Play with these using Parabolic and S-Curve and you'll see the difference.
I think it's important to revisit the basics and explore some of the dustier corners of your Pro Tools knowledge, it's interesting to see where it can lead you.
What basics have you revisited recently?