Looking at MIDI data is painful. Any help or guidance appreciated


I’m totally new to Ardour as I’ve been working with Qtractor for several years. All I work with is MIDI which, I do understand has gotten much love from the Ardour developers as of late. I fully embrace the fact I’ll be dealing with a learning curve and toward that end, have put together a silly little session for the purpose of learning how to move around, etc, etc. That said, I’m finding the overall cosmetics extremely painful in terms of navigating and seeing clearly what data exists where.

I’ve looked at and tried all the themes but always find myself coming back to the default because I’m attracted to the idea of my setup being as generic as possible. Last night I learned I can double-click on a region in order to expand the track (quickly and easily shrinking it back feels somewhat overlooked but I can get by for now) and get to work on the region’s MIDI notes… awesome… except now the expanded region’s background is now red which makes the notes nearly impossible to see at a glance. In order to remove the “glare” of red on red, I can enter “Draw mode”… OK, now I can see the actual MIDI data clearly but I’m now in an edit mode which may be fine but maybe I shouldn’t need to be here since it can’t be assumed I wanted to make any actual edits. My question here is simply whether or not this is optimal, ideal, a known shortcoming people are dealing with, or something being thought about for some refactoring? It just feels inefficient and perhaps still representative of a time when MIDI was the known 2nd class citizen compared to audio?

I found the track’s “Color Mode” with options of “Meter Colors”, “Channel Colors”, or “Track Colors”. I don’t really understand what these do especially considering there doesn’t appear to be any way to persist a global preference and I’d never want to rely on a thing I’d have to do over and over again. Does this “Color Mode” have a future or is it just a thing that’ll eventually get pushed aside for one reason or another?

The “Note Range” feature feels… almost valuable? It seems like it is more valuable on a track where a range of notes do actually exist yet little or (really) no value on a track containing a single note (e.g. a kick drum track). Either way, again I don’t see a way to persist that preference and it seems like something one would have to define on a per track basis every time.

I’ve spent a decent amount of time tinkering with the transparency sliders against various things. I don’t know what I’m looking for in terms of making things look as clean as possible but maybe someone here has strong opinions or tweaks they’ve found really work in their favor? If so, I’d be happy to hear thoughts. I’ve also experimented with disabling “Region color follows track color” under Preferences / Appearance / Editor. I kind of like it but always go back because it’s just way to difficult to easily distinguish regions against the overall background color and grid.

That’s enough questions for now. I just wanted to start up the conversation in the hopes of hearing what people are doing.


I can’t find the thread now but a few weeks ago I asked a similar question. Paul posted an image of his MIDI view, and I haven’t been able to recreate it, but it looks nice to me, much better than the default.

Thank you for both the confirmation (I’m not crazy) and the hope! I agree it looks far more usable than the defaults. I tend to think that might be the Xcolor theme in action but wonder if @paul did any tweaking (transparency sliders, etc) behind the scenes. Maybe we can get him to chime in here to discuss.

Thanks again

So far, I’ve determined the screenshot above consists of the following under Preferences/Appearance


  • Color faders with track/bus colors: Unchecked
  • Draw “flat” buttons: Unchecked


  • Regional color follows track color: Unchecked


  • Color Theme: Xcolors

The consistent orange coloring of the MIDI notes themselves are actually very misleading since they appear that way due to the “Use colors to show note velocity” setting being enabled under Editor/MIDI Editing. The reason I say it is “misleading” is that we’re looking at a screenshot (above) where all the MIDI note velocities are either the same or close enough to render them all in the same color. In other words, if this setting alone is being used to provide the overall look and feel of things, it’s going to look different when someone starts actually changing their MIDI velocities.

Personally, I do not want to enable that option because I want my MIDI notes to always look the same. I do not want to have to look at their color or any embedded bar to see velocities as I am far too committed to the lollipop approach I’ve grown very attached to over the years.

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I’ve just confirmed my suspicion/fear that the usability of working with MIDI notes is really tied to the “Use colors to show the note velocity” feature being enabled. This is really bad.

So with it disabled, here are 3 little notes…

Now, let’s select a note…

The top note is actually selected. Can you tell? Neither can I.

If we enable the “Use colors to show note velocity” feature we may not want enabled to begin with, we see the note border indicating the selection…

To me, this seems like a design flaw based on an overlooked assumption in the way people are using the software.

The following few screenshots show how quirky the new lollipop feature is to work with based on the following actions: 1) Select a track, 2) Press f, 3) Click A, 4) Check Velocity

Now I have to actually scroll down in order to see the new Velocity “track” (or whatever we’re calling it).

This is horrible. Honestly, we shouldn’t need to have to “bolt on” a lollipop view onto each and every MIDI track to begin with (grunt work). It should really exist as a user preference.

I’ll keep exploring and tinkering but I’m feeling like Ardour may still be too cumbersome to work with for those of us who aren’t coming at it from the audio side of things.


I just realized Ardour doesn’t support exporting SMF 1 MIDI data.

You are expected to go through your track and export each region 1 at a time to a .mid file.

I’m done.

What makes you think this? We do export SMF Type 1, and there is no need to export 1 region at a time.

@paul would you be kind to share the exact theme/config from this screenshot?
it looks so awesome… Thanks

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I can try, but it will have to wait another day or so till I get home.


no worries, i do not mind waiting - even if it takes a week :slight_smile:

OK, so it took a bit of work to establish how to get that particular appearance. It requires two things (assuming that you already use XColors):

  1. the MIDI region must be non-opaque (right-click on region > Region Name > Gain > Opaque ; note that there is a session property for the default setting for drawn regions; recorded regions follow the recording mode)

  2. Reduce dit > Preferences > Appearance > Colors ... transparency [ transparent region base to about 0.05 (default in XColors is 0.6)


Coming back to the original post:

The background is red because you selected the region. To clear the selection, press ‘esc.’
Having said which, maybe reddish MIDI notes are not a good choice given that selection is red. In the ‘Colors’ section of the preferences there are options for various midi note colors (max, mid, and min), but as far as I can tell, changing them doesn’t do anything. Maybe this is a bug.

Pressing shift-Z undoes changes in view, including zooming.

Track color mode doesn’t seem to be documented in the manual. ‘Meter colors’ gives the notes colour based on the velocity meter colors. These can be changed in the preferences (Colors → Items → midi meter color0-9).

The note range feature is indeed rather inflexible, but its main use, as you note, is on tracks with notes, where it is very useful. A more flexible tool is provided just behind the piano keys that appear when the track is high enough to provide room for them.