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Tutorial: How to Customize Your Avid Keyboard

Art of the Cut's Steve Hullfish explains how to customize your keyboard and keyboard shortcuts for smooth and streamlined editing in Avid Media Composer.

Mapping Your Keys

For this tutorial, we're going to concentrate on customizing the keyboard. The question becomes, "Do you want to stick with the standard default keyboard and maybe change a few things, and make something that is truly best for you?" For example, I’m right-handed. If I'm operating with a mouse or trackball, then my right hand is usually on that mouse or trackball. Imagine sitting in front of your keyboard. You've got your right hand on the mouse; where does your left hand want to be? Does it want to be on the J, K, L keys?

That's actually kind of uncomfortable. It cramps your body. It almost makes much more sense for the J, K, L keys to be under the Z, X and C keys.

Before we get too in-depth in how to actually map the keyboard, let's take a look at some of the keys that you probably want to have mapped and are the most important to map. You can start by mapping just a couple of keys, determine where you want to put them, and then map other things as you edit, or as you begin to recognize some of the other buttons that you might want.

Let’s look at the 5 most important buttons for editing on the keyboard, which are the exact same buttons in Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, and Avid. Those are the J, K, L, I, and O keys. With these keys you can play and pause, and if you hold down K and L, they'll let you go in slow motion. If you hold down K and J, they let you go slow motion backwards to scrub through the timeline, which is very important. If you keep your middle finger on that K key, and then, as you press K and L, you’ll scrub a little bit forward. Then if you lift your L finger up, you'll pause. If you hold down the K and J, you scrub backwards, and if you lift up your J finger and K, then you'll pause.

Using these keys is a very easy and very intuitive way to find the exact input you want. Since your fingers run J, K, L, it's very easy to do touch-typing, where you lift your finger off the J key and touch the I key for In, and then lift either your K finger up and press the O key for Out. The other important buttons are the ones that actually edit. You can see how the keystroking works in the default, and how I’ve remapped it here:

On Avid those are defaulted to Z, which is your Lift key; X, which is your Extract key; V, which is your Splice In key; and B, which is your Overwrite. Two buttons put things into the timeline; two other buttons take things out of the timeline.

The way that I like to edit is to continue this touch-typing method. The tutorial video that accompanies this article demonstrates how I do this to make the slow-motion scrubbing, Lift, Overwrite, Extract, splice, Mark Clip, Mark In, Mark Out, "remove mark clip or clear both marks,” more accessible and intuitive.

Mapping Audio Channels and Video Tracks

Another series of buttons that's very important if you want to give it a try is tracks. I like to be able to enable my audio and video tracks from the keyboard instead of having to mouse over and press them in the timeline. What I do is I map audio channel 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 to the actual number keys, 1 through 8. Then these other additional number keys, plus minus and equal, are where I put the video tracks. As soon as you map these keys and close out of the keyboard, the keyboard is saved.

Mapping Menu Commands

Years ago when I customized my keyboard, I printed out a blank version of the keyboard and kept it near my edit station. Any time that I reached for an icon on the screen with my mouse or pulled down a menu--for example "Render In to Out"--I mapped that to the keyboard as well.

In the tutorial video I show you how to map those menu commands right under your keyboard, allowing you, at the touch of a button, to do what you'd otherwise have to do with a mouse. Spend a little bit of time considering which menu pull-downs or mouse clicks you use all the time. See if you can replace those with keystrokes. You can even do one at a time, just one keystroke a day, that's a great way to do it because it allows you to keep that one keystroke in your mind and add it slowly.

“Copy to Clipboard" is another really good button, but I almost never use Copy to Clipboard unless I use it with the Option key. If you don't always want to hold down the Option key when you click on Copy to Clipboard, and what you really want to do is "Option Copy to Clipboard” or “Alt Copy to Clipboard," then there are actually buttons that allow you to map the functionality of the Option, Control, Command, or Alt key directly to that key.

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