Cut Lines: Using Track Controls in Final Cut Pro
Posted May 6, 2009

Building on my last Cut Lines article on handling audio content, I will use this month to cover the tools in Final Cut Pro (FCP) that help you control targeting specific tracks for video and audio content when doing edits and pasting. I’ll also show how to control the size of tracks and the size of the keyframing area in the Timeline window. This article should help you to quickly and easily manage tracks and content, cutting down on the time you spend placing content and increasing the time you have to be creative. I’ll follow the typical editing workflow from patch tabs to auto select, enable/disable, lock, mute/solo, and track sizes.

The typical workflow is to begin by opening a clip from the Browser into the Viewer by double-clicking it or highlighting it and hitting the Return key. Be aware that hitting the Enter key on the numeric
keypad will highlight the text for you to rename a clip. Once you’re in the Viewer window, you’ll have tabs across the top for video if there is video content to the clip and a tab for a stereo pair audio or one or more mono audio tabs depending on the audio configuration of the clip. You’ll set your In and Out points (if needed), and press F9 for an Insert edit, F10 for an overwrite edit, or one of the other function keys to perform whatever type of edit you require. Or you’ll click one of the colored edit buttons at the lower left of the Canvas window. It is rare to drag and drop as an efficient method of editing. Drag and drop takes too much time and is not as accurate. We’ll talk more about that in a future column.

Use the Patch Tabs
The mechanics of the patch tabs are simple (Figure 1, below). You can click and drag to move the tabs to different tracks. You can simply click a tab to disconnect or connect it to a track.

Final Cut Pro patch tabs

Disconnected tabs will not bring that part of the content into the Timeline window, as in the following example where I want only the video of a clip. There is no keyboard shortcut to control the tabs.

If a clip in the Viewer is video only, you will not see any audio patch tabs. If it is only audio, you will see patch tabs for each audio channel it contains and no video patch tab.

In the Viewer Window
Patch tabs relate directly to the video and audio tabs in the Viewer window, simple as that (Figure 2, below). By default, video track 1 (V1) and audio tracks 1 and 2 are set with the patch tabs, but you can change this. For example, I have my interview clips on V1, and I need to fill in my cutaway shots. I load up my first cutaway Master Clip into the Viewer, set the video patch tab to V1, and disconnect my audio tabs (Figure 2). When I hit F10 my cutaway shot goes to video track 2 with no audio.

Final Cut Pro Viewer

When looking at the patch tabs, Viewer window content is indicated by lowercase letters (v1, v2, a1, a2) and is the movable tab, while targeted Timeline tracks are indicated by uppercase letters (V1, V2, A1, A2) and is the stationary part of the tab.

This is pretty easy and straightforward. And patch tabs stay where you last put them; they are not specific to clips. So if I open my “Bar Angle A-3” clip in the Viewer, change the tabs to disconnect the audio content, and target V3 for video content; then I open another clip, and change the tabs to target tracks V2, A5, and A6; and then I open “Bar Angle A-3” again; the targeted tracks will be 2, 5, and 6, not what they were the first time I opened the “Bar Angle A-3” clip.

So I have my interview multiclip angles editing on V1, I set my patch tabs to V2, and I disconnect the audio tabs. Then as I play through the interview and find places I need a cutaway, I place my playhead where the cutaway needs to start, load a clip into the Viewer, create In (i key) and Out (o key) points as needed, hit F10, and move on. Very fast and very efficient.

A quick side note on function keys: You have to reconfigure your OS’s shortcut function key settings for them to work in FCP. OS settings always override app settings. (For more detail, see the March 2006 Cut Lines, “Final Cut Pro—Installations and System Maintenance.")

Auto Select
Next let’s look at the track select buttons in the Timeline window. It’s the button immediately to the left of each track (see Figure 1). These are really handy things to understand. Basically it targets specific tracks for copy/paste, delete, matchframe, mark, search, opening, and other such operations. To turn on the auto select, simply click the button. Dark, it’s on; dim or gray, it’s off. Where the patch tabs worked specifically in connection to the Viewer, auto select works in a similar way, only within the Timeline window. Holding down the Option key will turn on or off auto select in all other tracks (video or audio, not both) except the one you clicked.

To use them for copy and paste operations—the most common use—you have to remember the first rule of auto select: The lowest numbered track with auto select turned on will be targeted. This is true for both audio and video. For example, I have a clip with both video and audio content sitting on tracks V1, A1, and A2. I want to move that clip way, way, way down my Timeline. Dragging would be difficult due to the window scrolling issues. So I can select this clip and then do a cut (Cmd+x) or copy (Cmd+c) operation. I scroll quickly to the end of my project, put my playhead where I want the clip to begin in its new location, then paste (Cmd+v). But wait—I have content on those same tracks (V1, A1, A2) in this location that I don’t want to destroy just yet. Let’s say that I’m just testing how this clip may or may not work here. I see tracks V2, A3, and A4 are available in our example. So I turn off the auto select buttons

for tracks V1, A1, and A2, and then I do a paste. The paste targets the lowest numbered tracks, both audio and video, with auto select turned on. Poof, my video is pasted to track V2, and my audio to A3 and A4.

What if I have a composite of five tracks? Let’s say I have an animated background on V1, a composited text on V2, and some video clips shrunk down to 20% placed picture-in-picture style on tracks V3–V6. Then I decide I want to replace the video on track V3 with a new one. I place my playhead so that it is over the clip on V3, and I turn off auto select on V1 and V2. I hit “X,” which performs a Mark function. This automatically places an In point and Out point on the Timeline based on the In and Out points of the clip the playhead is over. But there are several clips of different lengths, so how does FCP determine which one to use? Auto select!

Now when I hit x, In and Out points are placed around only the clip on V3 in the Timeline’s ruler. Then I open the new clip into the Viewer, place either an In or an Out point (this is 3-point editing, you don’t need both in the Viewer at this time), and edit (F10). The new clip replaces only the clip on V3 in the exact same spot for the exact same duration. Matchframe and other operations where there are multiple clips stacked in the same spot the playhead is parked on work the same way with auto select. It’s really a pretty simple tool to understand, just like the patch tabs. In fact, you may find that you’ll use both of them at the same time for various complex edits.

Enable, Disable, Lock, and Mute/Solo
As most of you probably know—I’ll review for our newer users—each track can be enabled, disabled, and locked. The controls are very simple and are found in the same area to the left of the Timeline as the patch tabs and auto select buttons (see Figure 1).

The bigger round buttons to the far left are Track Enable buttons. When they’re green, a video track can be seen and an audio track can be heard. When they’re gray, those tracks are disabled and will not play at all, but nothing in those tracks is deleted—just disabled. Holding down the Option key will enable/disable all other tracks (video or audio, not both) except the one you clicked.

The lock button for each track is, of course, the little padlock icon in the same area of the Timeline window. If the lock is open, you can work on that track’s content. If the lock is closed, hash lines cover that whole track, and you will not have access to any of its content. Holding down the Option key will lock all other tracks (video or audio, not both) except the one you clicked. Be careful using this; if you lock audio and edit video, some of your audio, even if synced to video content, will not be affected and can become out of sync. But if you’ve gotten specific tracks finished, you can lock them and move on to new tracks for things such as lower thirds, overlays, etc.

For audio tracks, there are two additional icons: an audio speaker and a pair of headphones. The speaker is the mute button and will turn off that audio track’s output. The headphones do just the opposite; they solo a track, so you can hear only that audio track and no others. The Option key will turn on or off the solo or mute of all audio tracks at once when used. This could be helpful to mute all tracks at once if you wanted to temporarily review your edit without sound.

Resize Tracks
You can also resize tracks in the Timeline window. To make a single track taller or shorter, place your mouse cursor over the line between two tracks in the area where the controls we’ve been discussing are. Be aware that you’ll be dragging the top of a track (Figure 3, below). When it turns into a double-arrow cursor, click and drag it up or down. The track underneath your cursor will change in height; no other tracks will be affected. If you hold the option key, all tracks will conform to the new height you’ve dragged to for that one track. The option key affects only video tracks or audio tracks, not both at the same time.

Resize tracks in Final Cut Pro

This method of changing track heights allows you to specify heights more precisely than the four preset track height buttons at the bottom of the Timeline window. Also, you can use Shift+t to toggle through the four track height presets that correspond to that control.

Keyframing in the Timeline Window
And if you keyframe inside the Timeline window using the keyframe section in each track (Option+t), you can resize the height of those keyframe areas with the click-and-drag method as well. The only difference is that you click on the thin vertical space immediately to the left of each track (Figure 4, below). This thin keyframe area height control shows up only if you have the keyframe area in the Timeline activated. Click and drag the top of your keyframe area in this tiny section. See both the March 2008 and the September 2008 Cut Lines for more information.

Keyframing in the Final Cut Pro timeline

I hope this edition of Cut Lines gives you useful information about more of the tools available in FCP and helps make your editing experience faster, easier, more efficient, and more fun. The point is to give you tools to make the mechanical part of editing quick and easy, leaving you more time to be creative. Your comments, questions, and suggestions are always very welcome. Until next time, rock your edits!

Ben Balser (benb at is an Apple Certified Trainer based in New Orleans. Along with training and consulting, he also produces documentaries and educational material, and designs digital signage systems.