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One of the most important steps you can take in your journey to becoming a better editor is using your keyboard more. This is something that even seasoned veterans can improve, and if you are just starting out, do yourself a favor and make the switch away from your mouse now so you can start forming good habits early on. You can in fact teach old dogs new tricks, but it’s much easier to learn them early so you don’t have to unlearn your bad habits in order to do so. Here’s what we’ll cover today:

  • Why you should switch
  • How to make using the keyboard easy
  • Where to start
  • Some examples
  • Continue to deepen that ‘back pocket’

There are a number of reasons why you should want to use the keyboard as much as possible.

  • It makes you faster.Anything that can help you do something in your preferred NLE faster is a good thing. The faster you are, the more time you can commit to refining and honing an edit and the less time you have to spend just assembling each project – allowing for more creativity (and less monotony.)
  • It introduces new tools.When you start to delve into the keyboard shortcut menu you may see some functions you’ve either heard of and are not sure what they are, or commands that are completely new. This is a great opportunity to learn what these functions are, and to supplement your tried-and-true techniques with some new, more powerful tools.
  • You’ll discover better ways to make the same cut.This is perhaps a byproduct of the first two points but it is an advantage nonetheless. A large aspect of getting to know your keyboard isn’t simply learning a new function, but rather learning a new way to use a tool you frequently go to in editing.

Right now, if you don’t use the keyboard a lot, you’re probably a little frightened of looking down at all those keys and thinking to yourself “Holy sh!t that’s a lot to learn.” Well worry no more. Like anything new it’s best to start a small step at a time and work your way up. Don’t try to run a marathon right out of the gate; let’s start with a stroll around the block.

  • Use the default keyboard shortcuts first.Eventually you are going to want to set your own shortcuts because we all organize thoughts, and thus editing, in our minds in a different way. One editor’s set-up may make perfect sense to them but look like complete nonsense to you. The music video editor accesses different tools more frequently than a commercial-cutter. As you get used to what you need to do and how you do it you can go in and make changes – but for now stick to the defaults.
  • Focus on a few functions you use frequently.Don’t worry about learning everything all at once. Remember to take it slow and steady; think about what operations you perform most often and pick 5-10 of them to commit to to learning on the keyboard. If you already know how to do them on the keyboard, see if there is a different, faster way of doing them.
  • Print a cheat sheet.After you’ve picked some new tricks, print out a list of the keystrokes (or even your entire keyboard layout) and tape it somewhere you can easily reference it. This accomplishes two things: It makes it easier to remember the new keystrokes and it will remind you to go for the newer, faster, better route.

To start I would suggest two things. [Sr. editor’s note: This is referencing Adobe Premiere specifically, but the principles still apply to FCP and Avid users.] First, if you use the ‘Tools’ from the ‘Tool Panel’ frequently (such as Cut, Roll, Slip, Slide, Select Track, etc) and access those tools by selecting them with your mouse, check out the ‘Tool Panel’ shortcuts in the keyboard shortcut menu and start using them instead of selecting them with your mouse. After a few edits, you’ll quickly see how much quicker you are when you don’t have to go back and forth between the Timeline and the Tool Panel with your mouse every time you want to utilize one of these.*

Second,  bind your workspace panels or windows to shortcut keys. This allows to switch to your project panel, load a clip to your source monitor, set your in and out points, lay your clip into your timeline, activate that timeline, fine-trim your clip down to that perfect cut, and play it all back without lifting your hands off the keyboard (as opposed to mousing from window to window.) I like to bind these window shortcuts to  ‘Shift+F1’ or ‘Shift+F2’ etc. I used to have them as ‘Shift+1’ or ‘Shift+2’ etc. but recently changed the numbers on my keyboard to the ‘Target Video Tracks’ and ‘Target Audio Tracks’ commands – which brings me to my next point-

As you improve and get comfortable with the keyboard, don’t let yourself get complacent and stick to the first dozen or so key mappings that you get comfortable with and utilize most often. Go back and find new tools or new ways of shifting your workflow to increase efficiency and speed. Every few months or so, I open up the keyboard customization menu and try to find something new to incorporate into my workflow.

*In my next post I’ll show you a few tricks that will help you to get away from most of these “Tools” almost entirely and speed up the way you go about making use of the functions they provide. So subscribe to our RSS Feed, or sign up for our newsletter.