X Course Advisor FREE Course Advisor
Watch Tutorials
Final Cut Pro X Speed Trimming Techniques

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

Editing in Final Cut Pro X is faster than just about any other NLE on the market. It has gained a very solid reputation for giving editors the tools for fast turnarounds using its surface level features. In this tutorial I’m going to cover some tricks that will help you trim your edits ever faster, with more precision, and have a lot of fun on the way.

Step 1 - Understanding Workflow

To start with, as outlined in my previous tutorial about professional workflows “Final Cut Pro X: A Structured Workflow”, just slap together a rough cut first. Select a clip in the Browser, set a Range by clicking and dragging and make it a Favorite Range with the F shortcut. No precision needed, just rough In / Out points. Append Edit (E) or Insert Edit (W) to drop them into the Timeline you’re working on. We’re not doing Connected Clips at this stage. The magnetic properties of the Primary Storyline let you rearrange clips super fast if needed. Pressing P gets the Position tool if you want to bypass the magnetic properties. Only after we have a rough draft of our core storyline roughed into the timeline do we start trimming edits. Let’s look at the tools and workflow in FCP X that let us fly through our edits in detail.

Append Edit

Step 2 - Preparing For A Trimming Session

Once we’ve got our rough cut in place, before actual trimming we need to go to the Preferences to verify a setting. Command - comma will get us there, or select Preferences in the Final Cut Pro app menu. In the Playback section, look at the Pre-Roll and Post-Roll Duration settings. I set these to 2 or 3 seconds each. You’ll eventually tweak to personal taste. This is how far the playhead jumps to the left, plays to it’s current position (pre-roll) then continues playing past that point (post-roll) before jumping back to its original position. We’ll call this our Edit Preview. In the Editing tab of the Preferences window, make sure “Show Reference Waveform” is checked. Now close that window and press F2 to activate the Timeline pane.

If you’re editing the dialog, make the audio portion large. Go to the Appearance menu, the light switch icon in the lower right of the Timeline. Make the Clip Hight very tall, also.

Appearance menu

Step 3 - Trim Mode Explanation

Use the Home key (Fn-Left Arrow on a laptop) to position the playhead at the start of the Timeline. Be sure loop playback is off (Command-L). We will NOT select the Trim (T) tool, just keep our normal Selection tool (A). Move between edit points with the up and down arrow keys. With the playhead at the first edit point, we’ll Preview the edit with Shift-?. Hit the shortcut and take your hands off the keyboard. It’ll come back to rest on its own. You can do this as many times as it takes. Watch the Viewer first, then the Timeline. Watch the audio waveforms closely for your trimming queues. Once you decide what to trim, select one of our three modes: Ripple Out point (left bracket), Ripple In point (right bracket), Roll (forward slash). With these keys right next to each other, it is fast and easy to access the proper mode.

Three trimming modes

Step 4 - Power Trimming The First Edit

Now that you’re on an edit point, you’ve previewed it (Shift-?), and decided what trim mode to use, we’re ready to actually trim. One thing to point out here, the more time you spend editing on your keyboard, the less time you spend with your mouse / trackpad, the faster and more accurately you’ll edit. Thus I will NOT tell you how to use the mouse at this time. On your keyboard, use the less-than “<“ and greater-than “>” keys to edit one frame at at time. If you want to move through multiple frames quicker, just hold one of those keys down for as long as necessary.

If you want to trim a specific number of seconds and / or frames, you can type in the timecode. First type in a plus “+” sign to trim to the right (forward), or a minus “-” sign to trim to the left (backwards). That tells FCP which direction to trim in. Then type in a one or two digit number for the frames to trim. Or type in a one or two digit number with a period for a number of seconds to trim. Or type in a number of seconds, period, then a number of frames. Hit enter and the trim is done. You can always use Command-Z to undo.

type in a one or two digit number for the frames to trim

Step 5 - L and J cuts

L and J cuts are very common. L means the video cuts before the audio does. J means the audio cuts before the video does. Think of it this way. When we are watching a group of people talking to each other, we may tend to look at who is talking at the moment, until...

Until what? Think about it. Someone may say something that we know another person is going to react to. We shift our visual focus to that person, while still listening to the original person’s dialog, to see the expression on the effected person’s face. That would be an L cut.

What if we’re watching someone talk, then suddenly another person laughs loudly at what they are saying? We hear the laughter first, then turn out head to see what’s happening. We edit to mimic what our brains do to gather information and track the environment in real life. In this situation we would be making a J cut.

To do these is simple and the only time we have to use our mouse / trackpad in this workflow. Double-click the “audio portion” of the clip to either the immediate left or the right of our chosen edit point. When this separates the video and audio portions, click only the audio portions edit point, then use the < and > keys to trim with great accuracy. Audio waveforms really help in this operation making trimming super fast. Because when you preview, you watch the waveforms, they will tell you exactly where to trim to. Double-click the audio portion when done to collapse it again.

making a J cut

Step 6 - Moving Forward

Now that you know how this system works, and you’ve gotten your first edit point trimmed perfectly, hit the down arrow key to move to the next edit point, preview, trim, move on. That is only nine keys you’re touching, and the occasional click for L and J cuts. That’s not really a lot considering the shortcuts you’re using are logically next to each other for easy memorization. If you look at them on a keyboard layout, they really make geographic sense. You’ll pick them up very fast. Just remember, it’s not nine keyboard shortcuts, it is only four very logical operations: Select an edit point (up/down arrows), Preview (Shift-?), select a Trim Mode ([ or ] or \), trim an amount you wish (< or >). Then preview again, adjust the trim, preview, when you’re satisfied, down arrow to the next edit point.

The shortcuts are located next to each other


With these simple tools and workflow, you can get through the trimming phase of an edit in record time while achieving frame accurate timing. With a little practice it all becomes second nature very quickly. I’ve found students pick this up very quickly once they go through one or two Primary Storylines. When you’ve trimmed up all of your Primary Storyline edits you are now ready to add Connected Clips as cutaways, titles and compositing work. Of course there are more complex editing and trim operations, I just wanted to get you started in the right direction on this one phase of the editing process. I hope this tutorial helps you edit more efficiently and get through your trimming phase quicker, more comfortably and all the while having fun.

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

Ben Balser

Ben Balser | Articles by this author

Ben Balser studied educational psychology at Loyola University, and after retiring from a 20+ year IT career, now produces, consults, teaches, and rents equipment for media production as a full time job. As an Apple Certified Master Trainer, he ran the Louisiana Cajun Cutters FCP user group for 8 years, taught post-production at Louisiana State University and has lead their annual teen filmmaking bootcamp. He teaches currently for AATC facilities across the USA and for The Orchard Solutions. He has consulted for higher education, government, broadcast and private production facilities.


Sep 23, 2012
Love Bens tips. My favorite part of The Hub.
Nov 04, 2012
Thank you very much, I appreciate that.
Nov 14, 2012

Fantastic breakdown and explanation of a super useful real life workflow.

You rock.

P.S. I think you meant to write *back* slash for the 3rd trim mode (Step 3).
Nov 15, 2012
Thank you JFB. And you are correct, the end of step 3 is back slash, not forward slash. Good catch!
Feb 14, 2013
Hi Ben,
I'm trying to figure out how to listen to audio while trimming it.

specifically while using the trim tool and dragging around the timeline. or in the precision editor. or while using the keys.

is this possible? thanks.
Feb 14, 2013
You can hit the space bar and play while you use either the mouse, or < and > keys to trim. Use Shift-? while setting playback to Loop (Command-L) to do the same thing.
Feb 14, 2013
Sorry, BenB, I wasn't quite specific enough with my question.

I am trying to listen to audio while ONLY trimming audio.

dragging the audio of an expanded clip for example OR clicking an audio cut and using the to add to it or trim it.

under these circumstances, I can't hear anything.

If I play in the precision editor I can hear audio, but as far as I can tell audio, without picture, will not open

I tried holding down space when using and YEA! that did yield sound, albeit frame by frame choppy.

I'm reflecting on AVID where I can open a cut and use jkl to trim with slow audio.

maybe a diff approach in FCPx, thanks for the advice.
Feb 15, 2013
This should be a forum post, but here goes.

Yes, I'm talking about the same thing. I also said to hit the space bar for playback, not hold it down continuously. Very different approach with FCP.

So you want to play slo-motion sound, like in Avid. First, make sure your audio waveforms are showing, play the clips you need to edit a couple of times, you'll SEE where the trims need to be made, faster than listening. I do audio editing in FCPX daily, it works great, and visually seeing where the audio is I find infinity faster than having to listen and remember where the playhead was, or trying to time a keystroke during playback.
Feb 15, 2013
Thanks BenB,
I think this was the same as I'm describing in FCP7

hopefully they get to it. I Really liked the FCP7 sound editing. I'm sure it will be all there eventually.

With the new ability to have the event viewer, the old behavior or double clicking audio and seeing the waveforms in the (source) event view would be great.
Feb 15, 2013
Can't compare to legacy, very different workflow. You can see the waveforms in the Browser very clearly. I work that way all the time. Just like using waveforms in the Timeline, and referencing the visual in the Viewer. Same between the Event Browser (list view) and the Event Viewer. I find it a very fast, easy, actuate workflow. Way faster than legacy versions. You simply have to forget what you're used to, and learn the new method. Some folks pick it up quickly, some don't. That's why we have several different popular NLEs on the market. None of them fit for everyone.
Feb 15, 2013
Totally agree. It took me a while to get my head around FCPx. And you're right. I had to rethink most of what I have been doing for the last 20 years.

But I see the light.

I do realize that FCPx is still very, very young. I once cut a movie on FCP 1.25, I was an early adopter there. I just want to find ways to get to where I want to go. As with Avid of FCP(1-7) or Lightworks or whatever -- I have always found relatable ways between programs to work.

I can see how FCPx has some great advantages. Thanks for your advice.
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Create an Account  Login Now

What is macProVideo.com?

macProVideo.com is an online education community featuring Tutorial-Videos & Training for popular Audio & Video Applications including Adobe CS, Logic Studio, Final Cut Studio, and more.
© 2018 macProVideo.com
a division of NonLinear Educating Inc.