With Logic Pro X 10.3, Apple introduced support for the new MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, the small touchscreen panel that debuted on the device last fall. Logic users might have had to wait longer than Final Cut Pro or even GarageBand users as one of Apple’s main apps that didn’t get support right at launch, but what it did end up getting is some of the best Touch Bar support yet. Let’s take a look.
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The Touch Bar in Logic works a lot like you might expect if you’ve used it with other Apple apps. It borrows some of the features that first launched in GarageBand and Final Cut Pro, for instance, with an overview of the timeline and some buttons for making quick adjustments of various settings for the selected track. But it also includes fully customizable buttons that can be assigned to keyboard shortcuts!
How does it work?
A small icon to the left of the Touch Bar gives access to four main functions:
- Smart Controls
- Timeline Overview (an overview of the Tracks Area timeline)
- Key Commands (Customizable banks of keyboard shortcut buttons)
- Software Instrument/Track Controls (a virtual keyboard, drum kits, or audio track settings, and that small keyboard icon will change accordingly)
Like GarageBand, the Touch Bar lets you control Logic’s Smart Controls, a feature that presents users with onscreen controls to quickly adjust various settings for software instruments and effects:
These will change depending on what track you have selected, and clicking on one of the Smart Controls lets you drill into make an adjustment right on the Touch Bar itself (as pictured above for Level). So if you had an audio track loaded with some guitar FX or a software instrument like a keyboard or synth, you’d get options that look something like the above based on the instrument and plug-ins loaded.
You’ll get a timeline overview by default that, like Final Cut Pro and other apps, gives an overview of Logic’s Tracks Area allowing you to see all the regions of your tracks even beyond what’s visible on your Mac’s display (a white box around regions on the Touch Bar represents what’s currently visible on your timeline on your Mac). That might be handy for a quick reference of where you are in your timeline if you happen to forget, but otherwise you won’t be able to see much detail vertically along the workspace, especially in a session with a lot of tracks.
But the real benefit is that you can use your finger to quickly scrub through the timeline, which is especially nice for long sessions and I find better than the traditional alternatives.
Key Commands (aka Customizable Touch Bar shortcuts)
But most notably, Logic Pro is the first app I’ve seen that lets users set up fully customizable Touch Bar buttons by assigning keyboard shortcuts…
Like many pro apps, Logic users like myself use a ton of keyboard shortcuts. Logic gives you 16 banks of fully customizable Touch Bar buttons for these, with 8 buttons per bank, giving you 128 total customizable buttons. The 16 banks work by tapping into Logic’s Key Commands editor where you set normal keyboard shortcuts with modifier keys. So anything you have as a keyboard shortcut can now become a button on the Touch Bar…
Your usual modifier keys act as banks of commands on the Touch Bar. By default, Logic Pro has 5 banks already assigned that are enabled with no modifier, command, option, control and shift. For those Apple has set up transport controls and some commonly used tools and functions on the others:
But you have 16 banks in total including all the possible combinations of the modifiers together–CMD + Option, etc– each with 8 buttons to assign. A handful of the possibilities are pictured below:
Logic Pro not only lets you customize the 16 banks of 8 buttons, they are also contextually sensitive based on what window or editor you happen to be in. This works the same way it does for keyboard shortcuts in the Key Commands editor (pictured below), which is where you set up the Touch Bar-specific commands.
For example, if you setup the same command to work in different windows (like Logic’s Workspace or Mixer), it will automatically switch accordingly on the Touch Bar too depending on what window is active/selected. The key commands list is organized by these, with categories for Global Commands, and the various windows and editors that commands can be assigned to.
And just like other keyboard shortcuts, you can “Learn” commands for Touch Bar within the Key Commands editor, enabling you to quickly assign a custom Touch Bar button. Select a command, hit “Learn Touch Bar”, and tap the Touch Bar button you want to assign, with or without modifiers. You can also set custom text (and emoji) and colors for the buttons here.
To get to the key commands editor and customize the default shortcut buttons on Touch Bar, Navigate to Logic Pro X>Key Commands>Edit… or hit Option + K on your keyboard.
Software Instrument/Track Controls
The Software Instrument/Track controls mode will pull up virtual keyboard, drum pads, or controls for your audio track channel strip, automatically changing depending on what track you have selected. And the icon for the software instrument/track controls mode will change accordingly:
You’ll get a keyboard for software instruments like pianos and synths with a scale mode that isn’t unlike what you get in GarageBand on iOS. And Drum pads with icons for Drummer tracks and virtual drum kits with Note Repeat and Velocity controls:
And if you have an audio track selected, Touch Bar will instead serve you up controls for your gain, level, inputs, Record enable, and more:
Outside of the four main functions, there are also contextual buttons that will appear (for example for a save dialog or other pop-up). But the real star of the show here is Logic’s implementation of customizable keyboard shortcut buttons that I hope other apps adopt.