Keyboard Shortcuts – Training Wheels for the Mind

Posted on by Larry

I am a huge fan of keyboard shortcuts.

For tasks that I do over and over, Bam!, hit it with a keyboard shortcut and, Poof!, it’s done. What’s not to like about keyboard shortcuts? Even if you prefer doing everything with the mouse, keyboard shortcuts don’t get in your way because you never need to use them.

And Apple has done a great job – as have many other vendors – in not only providing keyboard shortcuts, but in allowing us to customize them. So, I was cruising along in my happy little keyboard bubble until Aaron Taylor asked an innocuous question that started a whole new train of thought:

I’m an Avid editor (based in Toronto) looking to use FCP X. I recently tried to re-map the FCP keyboard to match my Avid “muscle memory.” After about 20 minutes I gave up in frustration.

So, my question is: Is there someone who offers pre-made keyboard settings that are available to download and import?

Aaron asks two key questions here and, when I first read his letter, I missed the bigger of the two.


The answer is, as far as I can tell, no.

There are none shipped with the package and I could not find any when doing a Google search. Still, there was one more resource to try, so I contacted Apple.

The word came back that, as far as Apple knows, there are no readily available keyboard mappings for other software.

But, Apple’s answer went on to say something that caught my attention: all too often, keyboard shortcuts that emulate other software prevent you from learning new features in the software. They act more like training wheels, providing security but preventing you from seeing beyond what you already know.

I never thought of it this way. Remember Aaron’s earlier comment: “After 20 minutes I gave up in frustration.”? It was a perfect example of this. He was trying to fit a triangular peg into an octagonal hole.


This opens an entirely different discussion. Like many, I’ve spent time looking at other editing software. Adobe has done a great job of including FCP 7 and Avid MC 5 keyboard shortcuts with the CS6 version of Premiere.

I was grateful to have these familiar shortcuts available, because it made the software feel less foreign and I could explore the new interface comfortably. But, at the same time, I couldn’t discover any of the new features in the software because I was using keyboard shortcuts to emulate what I already knew.

It wasn’t until I switched back to Adobe’s shortcuts that I could start to explore the new features in the software. This wasn’t easy – and I still have a hard time typing “V” for “A” – but by forcing myself to look through the menus and discover the new shortcuts, I discovered features in the software that I never knew it had.

This discovery changed the question to: “how do we learn new software?”


When I was writing software in the 1980’s I learned that good software embodies a philosophy – a way of thinking about a problem. Good software starts with a clear description of how it views the world, then codes that into a tool.

Keyboard shortcuts are added to speed up specific functions of that tool – but those functions will vary from one piece of software to another because each software embodies a different philosophy – a different way of viewing the world.

Much has been made of the differences between FCP X and FCP 7 — and I don’t need to rehash that conversation here. But those differences stem from an evolving and significantly different philosophical perspectives on what “video editing” means.

As we all know, our technological world is evolving rapidly – and perspectives that worked well in the world of tape no longer fit in the new, file-based world of tapeless. How does our software need to evolve to allow us to keep up? More importantly, how do we learn that new software?

I’ve been fascinated by this thought for the last day or two – all starting from such a simple question.

Keyboard shortcuts are essential – at least to me – for running software at full speed. But they can also prevent me from learning new software by hiding new features in a cloak of the past. Just as remembering about how things used to be done in the past are not always useful in deciding how things need to be done in the future.

Training wheels for the mind – what a concept!

Let me know what you think.


10 Responses to Keyboard Shortcuts – Training Wheels for the Mind

  1. LeoHans says:


    Mapping shortcuts from other app is the worst way to work on any piece of software.

    The main reason is that every piece of software has its own philosophy, therefore the default shortcuts set is based on that.

    Every editor I know that used to map Avid shortcuts to FCP has fail in the same point: they were trying FCP7 to behave like Avid, and that will never happen. The same is in the opposite way.

    I only map new functions to the default keyboard and I always try to use empty keys. Why? If i have to work on a new suite I don’t have to remap a lot of commands. In FCP7 I just map a few:

    – I map Linked selection to “Y” (an empty key) avoiding a combo key for a function I use a lot
    – Delete tracks to CMD+D (empty key too).
    – Close gap to the “`/~” key (it is faster when you need to close several gaps without doing a combo keystroke).

    That’s enough for me, and I do use a lot of shortcuts.

    I share with you two “Default Shortcut Charts in .PDF for FCPX I” made (for free). It is really helpful to have it printed at your side while you learn the shortcuts.

    One divide by function (instead of sorted by command name) and one for multi-cam shortcuts:

  2. Peter Tours says:

    I plan on using some FCP7 “training wheels” as I move to PPCS6, but eventually they will come off.

    Coincidently I ran across this on the FCP Users page of FB

    Use at your own risk – English is at the bottom.

  3. Edward Noon says:

    As Jim Rohn said: “if you don’t change, things will change for you.”

  4. Zak Ray says:

    One additional piece of the puzzle is effeciency. FCP’s shortcuts are clearly designed for intuitive learning; B for Blade, P for Pen, etc, whereas anyone who’s ever used Avid knows that while it’s shortcuts don’t make sense instinctively, they are built for extreme effeciency once you get them down. Compare i-b-g to overwrite a clip in Avid to i-F10-option+X in FCP.

    I’ve been using an FCP keyboard remapped to Avid shortcuts for years.

  5. David Clayton says:

    I have found Keycue

    to be a useful tool in learning keyboard shortcuts. It loads into your Mac on startup, is context sensitive and simply by holding the command key, Keycue will display a list of available shortcuts in a HUD.

  6. David Clayton says:

    I think it would be more accurate to say that Keycue is app specific rather than context sensitive. It will show all the keyboard shortcuts for the app that is open and and active at the time you hold down the command key.

  7. Russtafa says:

    Great having keyboard shortcut yes.
    Best way is to use a mix of shortcuts plus Eucon 2.6 interface with Artist range of controllers.
    Highly recommended.

  8. Dominique Naipaul says:

    I wish there were some basic keyboard shortcuts that were the same across all NLE’s. I know some of you may be a laughing at the absurdity of such a wish. However, it would seem that to have those basics the same would make it easier to switch to another NLE. The basics remain the same giving a sense of “okay, I got this much, I’m comfortable”. And then the learning of new features begins with confidence. I rely very heavily on keyboard shortcuts, and would like to get more proficient in AVID, but the completely different shortcuts for basics makes it harder to get as efficient as I am in FCP 7. It would require more time to unlearn muscle memory and create new ones. Like Aaron Taylor, I too have been wondering if someone offers pre-made keyboard settings that are available to download and import. I searched but found none. This is what is making me hesitant to take up the Symphony offer when I know I’ll just keep going back to FCP Studio 3 since I’m faster.

  9. Govert says:

    Hi Larry,

    I totally agree with the thought that you should always try to learn the philosphy of the software you’re working with. And always learn the shortcuts as fast as you can, because it’s going to save amazing amounts of time in the end.
    What I always do, and of course also did when I made a switch from AVID to FCP, is to learn to use the program exactly as the programmers would like me to, because there must be some logic behind their reasoning… So I do not remap keys or anything, just straight out of the box stuff. After a week or two I start to look at streamlining the keyboard to functions I use a lot.
    Concerning shortcuts…to learn them fast I make ‘blind’ settings, in which there are almost no buttons on screen I can click with my mouse, forcing me to use (and remember!) shortcuts. I can tell you, you learn real fast because it is soooo frustrating! But it’s only a day or two, after that you’ll become much faster then before.

  10. Clark says:

    I have to disagree somewhat here. I use the keyboard 90% of the time while editing. In a three-Avid-edit-suite facility (as the only editor at the time) with 14 years of Avid experience, then we changed one suite to FCP (which was brand new to me). I was often required to switch from Avid to FCP and back again (on different projects) with a moment’s notice, sometimes several times a day, for months.

    After 2 weeks of trying, I eventually realized that my sanity couldn’t take it; I HAD to change FCP more to an Avid keyboard (mapping some of the more obscure things to “shift-F8” and the like, which made sense in my head, when I needed to).

    After a heavy-duty adjustment and training period (a couple months maybe?), I was editing just fine on both systems; I honestly don’t think I ‘miss out’ on features the programmers intended.

    Sure, I have to keep my keyboard settings with me if I edit outside of the office…but that file is really small, and installing it anywhere takes no time.

    Now, 5 years later with 2 suites fully FCP 7, FCP X is not working out for us and we are switching back to Avid, and look at that! I tried it and felt right at home, without another adjustment period.

    If I had the luxury of just steeping in an FCP environment, I would have learned the FCP keyboard. But I had to match the ‘muscle memory’ of the Avid, and I honestly feel that I am good and fast and not missing out because of it.

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