How to use softsynths (generic; non-plugin specific) in ProTools?

For this answer, I am assuming that you have your hardware set up correctly (which is a different topic altogether) and can input MIDI data into Pro Tools properly, either by MIDI controller or using the pencil tool.
I am also assuming that you have selected and installed a sofsynth of your choice. This tutorial does not go in depth into how to use any one particular softsynth.

  • Create a new Instrument track. Make sure you create the proper type of instrument track; some plugins, like Sampletank, will only work on a Stereo track. (Conversely, some are mono only as well)
  • Make sure to move the fader of the instrument track to a listenable level
  • Select the softsynth that you are trying to use from one of the Insert Selector buttons.
  • Make sure your softsynth is set to output sound. Some plugins, like Sampletank SE, need to have sound ssamples loaded into the instrument. Some other softsynths require loading a preset.
  • Some older softsynths that aren’t compatible with the newer versions of Pro Tools (like some versions of sampletank) need to have a valid audio input set for sound to be passed from the instrument through the track, even though you are not using the audio input at all. If you are not hearing any sound through your track, set the audio input of the instrument track to be a valid audio input on your hardware. (I would highly recommend updating any software that you have like this to compatible versions if you can)
  • Set the input of the instrument section of the instrument track to be “All”, or the specific port and channel of your MIDI controller
  • Set the output of the instrument section of the instrument track to be the softsynth that you are using and the MIDI channel to which you have loaded an instrument, or the channel of the softsynth you are trying to control.
  • Record arm the Instrument track.

At this point you should be able to play your controller and hear sound from the softsynth. If you want to actually record, you will have to:

  • Press F12 to start recording.

You can also program and “play” the instrument even if you don’t have a MIDI controller, you would just need to use the pencil tool to manually place the notes in grid mode on the instument track. (information about how to do this is covered in the Pro Tools Reference Guide).


You can still also do it the old way too (or if you’re using an old version of PT that doesn’t have instrument tracks…)

  • Create a new Auxiliary Input track.
  • Make sure to move the fader of the aux track to a listenable level
  • Select the softsynth from one of the Insert Selector buttons.
  • Make sure your softsynth is set to output sound.(see info above about setting sounds)
  • Create a new MIDI track.
  • Set the input of the MIDI track to be the channel of your MIDI controller
  • Set the output of the instrument section of the instrument track to be the softsynth that you are using and the MIDI channel to which you have loaded an instrument, or the channel of the softsynth you are trying to control.
  • Record arm the MIDI track.