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Music Resources Home > Articles > Pro Tools 8 for Music Educators

Pro Tools 8 for Music Educators

By Laura B. Whitmore

Many of you are aware that Digidesign’s Pro Tools is the program that the pros use for high-end audio recording and that many music enthusiasts use in the home or studio setting. With the release of their latest version, Pro Tools 8 now includes many new user friendly features that make Pro Tools a must have for music educators. Whether you are doing event-based recording of band and choral concerts, musical theater productions or individual recitals, or teaching students how to do those things (and more!) themselves, you can be sure that Pro Tools 8 has the features you need to get the job done.

Pro Tools 8 delivers a single application that students and teachers can use to create, edit and polish their music. Since all of the steps in the creation and recording process are done in the same application, collaboration among students (and the teacher) is easy. And don’t forget, Pro Tools is the program that students will face when they start working at a professional level, so it makes sense to give them the opportunity to learn on this industry-standard platform. You’ll find Pro Tools 8 perfect for A new spruced up graphical interface composition, arranging, scoring, mixing and even as a tool for teaching music theory.

This article will focus on new features in Pro Tools 8 and will explain how they affect music educators like you. The first thing you should know is that Digidesign is a part of Avid Technology, Inc., which is also the parent company for M-Audio and Sibelius. More on why that’s especially relevant later! Immediately apparent is the change in Pro Tools 8’s graphical interface. Many think it looks more friendly and familiar, allowing students and educators to feel comfortable from the start. There are color customization options that let you and your students organize tracks and channels for quick reference. You can also customize toolbars, which allows you to hide more advanced functionality for a simpler look. But that’s just the polish; let’s dig in more.

Notation news

As I mentioned, Sibelius is also part of Avid Technology, Inc., and if you are already familiar with Sibelius notation software, you’ll be happy to know that Sibelius and Pro Tools have enhanced their partnership in Pro Tools 8, providing increased integration and functionality for Pro Tools’ notation features. David Franz, Songwriter/Composer, Producer & Engineer and an instructor for has found Pro Tools 8’s notation features particular useful. He comments, “The new Score Editor window makes teaching the fundamentals of notation easier.” What does this mean to you? For starters, with Pro Tools 8 you can readily see and manipulate the notation for the recordings you are working on. You can choose either a full score window, which allows you to see your music as notation on the entire screen. Or, you can split the screen and select the part you want to see as notation. Then the notation appears at the bottom. You can zoom in, edit, transpose, add chord symbols or just simply see what the notation for a passage looks like.Notation inside Pro Tools 8

Editing features include inserting or deleting notes, lengthening notes, and much more. You can adjust the score spacing and layout, add more tracks to the score, or just zoom in on parts. This is particularly useful for composition and arranging students who can connect the music notation to the score, see and hear changes immediately or just follow along. Then, when you’re all done, you can export the score to Sibelius for even further tweaking and finesse.

Daniel Spreadbury, Sibelius Product Manager, expands on this notion on, “An extra neat feature is that you can export a Sibelius score directly from Pro Tools and then open it up in Sibelius to perform more advanced layout, add dynamics, articulations, slurs and other markings, work on the dynamic parts, and so on. Because you don’t have to export a MIDI file and import it into Sibelius, resulting in the music getting re-transcribed, this makes for a very powerful workflow: work in Pro Tools until your mock-up or arrangement sounds perfect, then export the Sibelius file to produce the parts for the live musicians in Sibelius.”

Educators could find this feature particularly useful for pulling out parts for rehearsals and changing scores to accommodate the instruments available in your school ensembles. Students can record their own original compositions and then create parts for their peers to play live. When you’re ready, you can print out notation directly from Pro Tools, too.

Pro Tools also provides a Key Signature ruler that lets you easily add, edit, move, and delete key signatures. You can specify major or minor, transpose MIDI pitches diatonically or chromatically, and even constrain pitches to a key, making composing easier and more immediate.

More for MIDI

The MIDI editor Robin Hodson, Eastern Region Manager for Avid’s Education segment, says, “One of the key educator features in Pro Tools 8 is the much enhanced MIDI functionality, plus the great new Xpand!2 virtual synthesizer.” More on the expanded virtual instruments later, but what does enhanced MIDI functionality mean for the educator? Now Pro Tools’ MIDI functionality is as robust as its renowned audio recording features. As with the notation feature, you can choose from a dedicated MIDI editor window or split the window to see expanded MIDI data at the bottom for each passage you select on top. You can easily choose which track to edit from a track list at the left and get right into editing without having to change tools. Plus, if you want to see your composition as notation, you don’t even have the leave the MIDI editor! Just click on the notation button at the top and there you are. These features and more make MIDI recording and editing a native and intuitive function for Pro Tools so that all your students’ recording needs are met in one program.

Instruments inside

As for internal sounds, Pro Tools 8 comes with a wide variety of more than 70 plug-ins, including various virtual instruments and effects! Choose from the Mini Grand piano, Boom retro drum machine, DB-33 tonewheel organ, Vacuum tube-modeled synth, Structure Free sample player, and more. Really everything you need to compose and record great music. David Franz has found this new feature very exciting for students. As he tells us, “With all the new virtual instruments, Pro Tools 8 can help students create music in minutes. Even the most basic Pro Tools setup now has a whole band inside of it ... a drum machine, various synths, a grand piano, a B3 organ, and just about any other sound they’re looking for.” This is an efficient and cost effective way for students to have access to top-level instruments.

Xpand!2 synth/sample workstation Pro Tools has beefed up some of the virtual instruments since its last version, most notably the included Xpand!2 multipurpose synth/sample workstation has more sounds than ever, and more sounds can be used simultaneously. It comes with tons of pre-programmed sounds and multisounds that have been created using the presets, plus, of course, you can create and store your own sounds. Using and editing the sounds is easy and intuitive, with controls on screen that look like knobs, sliders and just readouts that are simple to manipulate, and you can see what you’ve got going on in a flash. So you and your students can compose, tweak and record all in one program.

And don’t forget the cool drum machine, Boom. You can use it to create rhythm patterns and grooves using sampled drums or real audio. It’s a great place for student compositions to start.

Composition partner

And speaking of songwriting and composition, Pro Tools 8 includes a variety of templates that allow you to get into the thick of things as quickly as possible. You don’t want to spend half of your class time just getting things up and running, right?

Educator and author Marc Schonbrun adds, “One of the HUGE benefits of Pro Tools 8 is that you can have real audio and notation/MIDI together, so it’s great for composition when you don’t have enough players. It’s also great for students who need to record track after track to build up work…”

In addition to traditional multitrack recording, you and your students will find the looping capabilities in Pro Tools 8 very handy. There is a whopping 8 GB of pro-quality audio loops so that you and your students can quickly sketch out musical ideas, and you can easily create your own customized loops. Use the Loop Trim tool to turn any audio or MIDI region into a loop instantly; Pro Tools always creates MIDI regions on bar boundaries to help with looping and arrangement. This is great for doing building-block type composition. Create projects where you set spoken poems to a loop-based groove accompaniment, or have students piece together a variety of possible combinations from a palette of loops.

Tracks to the max

Pro Tools 8 beefs up its tracking capabilities with up to 48 tracks of audio recording for its LE and M-Powered versions and nearly unlimited tracks for the HD version, so you’ll never run out of room. Also worth noting is that for the Pro Tools LE version, you can further increase the track number from 48 to 64 tracks with the addition of either DV Toolkit 2 or the Music Production Toolkit, and up to 128 tracks with the Complete Production Toolkit. These toolkits also deliver a collection of plug-ins to the user while increasing track count. Pro Tools 8 also includes some cool new features like a ’playlists’ view, which streamlines the track comping workflow. This enables you to set a start and end point, then have that section loop over while you record. Each time it comes around again, a new comp track is made. Then you can select which one you like the best or which parts you want to piece together. Students will love this feature when they are working out their parts and will find it useful as they learning recording and editing techniques. You could even pre-record different versions for students to piece together to make their own mix.

Finally, although this may seem like a small feature, it will help you keep your school recording studio or music lab up-to-date in a big way. Pro Tools 8 now automatically lets you know when there is an update, so you can download and install new features and enhancements as soon as they are available.

On his blog, David Franz sums up his enthusiasm for Pro Tools 8 nicely, “So, here’s my real opinion. Pro Tools 8 is amazing. It is a major leap forward for Digidesign … both in GUI looks and MIDI functionality.” With so many high quality instruments built in, an incredible MIDI score editor, and pro-level audio recording and editing, Pro Tools 8 has everything you and your students need to be creative and enthusiastic learners. Plus, it comes in several configurations, so you can find the perfect version for your needs. Aside from the pro-level Pro Tools 8 HD version that must be used with Pro Tools HD hardware, these affordable options are available:

Pro Tools 8 LE comes packaged with a Digidesign interface like these: