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Cutting More Quickly in FCP X

Check out our Final Cut Pro: Advanced Editing Techniques course!

One of the joys of cutting in Final Cut Pro X is how fast and fun it can be. In this article, I'll show you many of the shortcuts, tips and techniques which will allow you to cut at the speed of thought. It’s not just about the shortcut keys (though that’s a major part of it). A key component is knowing the ways in which you can cut — some of which are new to FCP X. Let’s get started.

Prepare your footage

Knowing what you’ve got to work with is the first step in producing a good edit, and getting a handle on it quickly is critical. If you’re not using keyboard shortcuts yet, this is a great time to start. First off, then: press L to play forwards, J to play backwards, and K to pause. Press L or J more than once to add to the speed in that direction, so J-J-J plays forward at triple speed. Indispensable.

Now, let’s select the good part of the video with keys. Play a clip using J-K-L, and when you get to a suitable starting point, press I, without pausing playback. Let the video play, and when you get to a suitable finishing point, press O — again, without pausing playback.

Depending on the workflow you prefer, you might like to gather a group of selected clips and decide which ones to use later, or simply throw them onto the timeline. Both methods are well supported here.

If you prefer to gather clips before adding them to the timeline, press F to mark as a favorite.

Clips with ranges marked as favorites with a green line

Clips with ranges marked as favorites with a green line

Once you’ve marked all your clips, you can choose to only view Favorites from the drop-down menu at the top of the event.

Only Favorites being shown

Only Favorites being shown

Alternatively, if you prefer to just add your clips straight to a timeline, press E to append the clip to the end of the current primary storyline.

One clip done. Now, just press the Down arrow to skip onto the next clip, and repeat.

Dumping clumps of footage on the timeline

Here’s a completely different strategy, if you care just a little less about the edit, or if it’s a simple job. Let's say you shot your clips mostly in the correct order and just need to make it shorter, select everything and dump it all in the timeline together, in order.

Now, you should have your clips in a roughly correct sequence on the timeline. Feel free to rearrange them a little if you need to. With your (very) rough cut on the timeline, use the following shortcuts to whip the edit into shape with quick navigation, nudging and trimming.

Moving quickly around the timeline

Some of the same old tricks work here. Use the Up and Down arrow keys to jump from clip to clip, or semi-colon ";" and apostrophe "," if you prefer. Shift and the left/right arrow keys now moves by ten frames rather than a second, so it’s a little slower than it used to be, but it’s still a quick way to get an overview.

Wherever you are, press Shift - / to play around the current playhead position — and turn on Looping with Command-L if you want to see it over and over. Too fast? Too slow? Choose Final Cut Pro > Preferences… then Editing, and change the Pre-Roll and Post-Roll amounts.

Nudging clips

The nudging tools from FCP 7 have been slimmed down: only comma "," and period "." still work. (If you were using [ and ], it's time to move on.) That being said, they’re still very functional. If you select, for example, a connected clip, you can move that clip by a single frame backward with comma, a single frame forward with period, or by ten frames in either direction if you hold down Shift at the same time. How about using these keys to ripple? Sure. Click on an edit, on either side (ripple) or in the center (roll) then nudge away.

Selecting one or both ends of a clip

How do you stay on the keyboard when using the nudging shortcut keys? Use [ or ] to select the nearest in or out point respectively (to ripple), and \ to select both points (to roll) with the nudging keys. (If you just want to select the clip you’re over, press C, or X to select as a range.)

Ripple the outgoing clip

Ripple the outgoing clip

Ripple the incoming clip

Ripple the incoming clip

Roll both clips

Roll both clips

Trimming on the fly

Here’s something new: While a project plays, you can press Option-] to trim the current clip’s out point to the current playhead position. You can also press Option-[ to trim the in point to the playhead. This makes for quick trimming indeed, but note that it can only make clips shorter. If you use these keys a lot, redefining the shortcuts to something easier would make sense. The numbers along the top of the keyboard (1, 2, 3... 0, not the F-keys) are wide open. Maybe 1 and 2?

Before the trim

Before the trim

After the trim (Option-])

After the trim (Option-])

You can find a little more flexibility by simply pressing I and O to mark in and out points on the Timeline, as you play. When you’ve marked both ends, press Option-\ to trim to the selection. This works on a single clip, or on more than one.

If you’re looking for a more traditional “move the selected edit point to the playhead” tool, then try Shift-X for your old friend, Extend Edit. A changed shortcut, you can now use Command-B to divide the current clip at the playhead. This used to be called Add Edit (Control-V) and the new key makes more sense.

Jump to specific timecodes

Still dealing with timecode? Press Control-P, then type the timecode, then press Return. If you have to do this more than once or twice a day, you might want to redefine this one, too. The = sign on the number pad is conveniently located, if nothing else.

Push clips up or down

Command-Option-Up or Down pushes clips from its current Storyline up to the one above or below (The real command names are “Lift from Primary Storyline” or “Overwrite to Primary Storyline”). Handy if you need to key a clip and get something underneath it, or to juggle the positions of superimposed clips.

Clip Lifted from Primary Storyline

Clip Lifted from Primary Storyline

Miscellaneous keys

N turns snapping on or off, and is essential while dragging — it’s the only way to adjust snapping in the middle of a dragging operation.

Use Control-minus "-" or Control-equals "=" (a.k.a. plus) to change volume of a selected clip.

Shift-Z (Fit to View), is as important as ever, and still applies in both the Viewer and the Timeline.

Color correction keys

Color correction keys

Lastly, there’s a selection of handy functions that aren’t accessible out of the box. Choose Final Cut Pro > Keyboard > Customize…, and search for Color in the top right corner of the window. Assign keys of your choice to the functions called “Apply Color Correction from Previous Edit”, “Apply Color Correction from Two Edits Prior” and “Apply Color Correction From Three Edits Prior”. Now, if you grade your edit from start to finish, you can copy your previous color corrections for an easy starting point.

Remember, forcing yourself to use the shortcuts is the easiest way to remember them. Good luck!

Check out our Final Cut Pro: Advanced Editing Techniques course!

Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.


Jan 11, 2012
Thanks Ian for the overview. Indeed there are some new shortcuts to learn and get used to and hopefully as time progresses I get my head around memorising all this. Cheers.
Jan 13, 2012
Excellent tutorial- just enough info on each command and enough to get me up and running. Thanks a lot!
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