Reducing RSI in Reaper
After years of working with computers every day I have finally started to succumb to low-level RSI. It's not particularly fun so I set about trying to make changes to my workflow. As well as ergonomic improvements that can be made to physical tools and posture (I also built a foot rest), there are changes to the software environments that can help reduce reptitive or awkward movements.
This post focusses mostly on Reaper and specifically on changes to keyboard shortcuts and scripts. Similar effects might be possible in other software, either natively or using additional accessibility tools. There are also physical controllers and midi devices that can be customised to trigger keyboard shortcuts to afford greater range of movements and approaches.
What's the problem?
The RSI that I experience is predominantly in my left-hand, around the thumb, and became most acute about a year ago during the final few weeks of working on Silt. I realised that I was probably hitting the spacebar thousands of times a day and this movement of the left-thumb was likely causing the issues. To counter this I adopted and created a few different Reaper tricks…
1. Stop Markers
My first approach to reducing my reliance on the space bar was by using Reapers extended timeline marker functionality. This is a great feature whereby Actions can be called by the play head upon reaching timeline markers. Simply find the Command ID of the Action in the Actions window and add it to a marker, prefixed with a '!'.
Note that I used a toolbar button to insert the marker. This was done using the Outboarder Insert Marker script, which can be modified to insert any action type or colour marker you want. Super useful!
In this case, adding a marker containing '!40044' will call the 'Transport: Play/Stop' action, meaning that when the playhead reaches it, Reaper stops playing. Placing these markers after the sound (or portion) that I'm working on means that I only have to hit the spacebar once to start playback and not a second time to stop it, halving the number of thumb movements.
2. Stop Playback at End of Loop
An alternative to using stop markers is to stop playback when the it reaches the end of the time selection. Reaper has a built in Action that can be toggled to enable this behaviour. Stick it in a toolbar button so it's easy to toggle on/off and you're good to go.
The benefit of stop markers over this approach is that if you have a project with a lot of sound events you can set-up stop markers after each of them and not have to keep changing the loop region.
3. Mouse Movements to Transport Controls
Whilst the above approaches are useful they didn't completely allieviate the problem when the RSI was particularly acute, so I began looking for ways to control Reaper playback quickly using the mouse.
I wrote a short lua script that triggers playback when the mouse reaches the right-hand edge of the screen and also stops playback when the mouse reaches the top of the screen. This way I could very quickly 'hit play' without having to focus down an onscreen button and importantly I could keep my left-thumb entirely away from the spacebar.
IMPORTANT! This script is hardcoded to my main monitor resolution. If your screenwidth is 1920 this will work fine. If not then you need to change '1919' to whatever your screen is -1.
To create a new script open the Actions window and hit 'New Action…/New ReaScript…'. Then copy/paste the code snippet below into your new file. Don't forget that you have to call the scripts via their Action in order to enable them. Again, I added this to a toolbar button so I can toggle the script on and off easily.
function main() local mouse_x, mouse_y = reaper.GetMousePosition() if reaper.GetPlayState() == 0 then if mouse_x >= 1919 then reaper.OnPlayButton() end else if mouse_y <= 0 then reaper.OnStopButton() end end reaper.defer(main) end main()
Find What Works For You
Archeologists can often tell huge amounts about a person's life just by examining damage and wear to their bone structure. I fear that it'd be easy to spot people who work in non-linear editing by the fact that their left thumb joint is worn to dust!
So ask yourself what motions do you make frequently and can they be reduced or improved? I encourage you to consider RSI before you begin to notice symptoms. I wish I had.
If you found this post useful or have ideas or techniques that you want to share, hit me up on Twitter (@monomoon_sound) or bluesky, or drop me an email. Also, please share this post around if you think it'll be useful to folks you know.