MIDI Editing

Ardour's MIDI editing is based on a few basic principles:

  1. Editing should be done without having to enter a new window
  2. Editing should be able to carried out completely with the keyboard, or completely with the mouse, or with any combination of the two.

Currently, and in the initial 3.0 release, MIDI editing will be primarily restricted to note data. Other kinds of data (controller events, sysex data) are present and can be added and deleted, but not actually edited. Probably ...

Fundamentals of MIDI Editing in Ardour 3

MIDI, just like audio, exists in "regions". MIDI regions behave like audio regions: they can be moved, trimmed, copied, (cloned) or deleted. Ardour allows either editing MIDI (or audio) regions, or MIDI region content (the notes), but never both at the same time. The "e" key (by default) toggles between "region level" and "note level" editing, as will double-clicking on a MIDI region.

One very important thing to note: editing note information in Ardour 3.0 occurs in only a single region. There is no way currently to edit in note data for multiple regions at the same time, so for example you cannot select notes in several regions and then delete them all, nor can you copy-n-paste notes from one region to another. You can, of course, copy and paste the region(s), just as with audio.

Adding new notes

In general, you will probably do most MIDI editing with the mouse in object mode. This allows you to select notes, copy, move or delete them and alter their properties (see below). But at some point, you're going to want to add notes to a MIDI region using the mouse, and if they are to be anything other than a fixed length, this means dragging with the mouse. Since this would normally be a selection operation if the mouse is in object mode, there needs to be some way for you to tell Ardour that you are trying to "draw" new notes within a MIDI region. Ardour provides two ways do this. One is to leave the mouse in object mode and press the control key while dragging (on OS X, use the Command key). The other, useful if you plan to enter a lot of notes for a while, is to switch the mouse into "Draw Notes" mode, which will now interpret any drags and clicks as requests to add a new note. For obvious reasons, you cannot use "Draw Notes" mode while using region-level editing.

So, to summarize:

Selecting, moving, copying, trimming, deleting regions
leave "Note Level Editing" disabled, use object, range or other mouse modes
Selecting, moving, copying trimming, deleting notes
enable "Note Level Editing" and use mouse object mode.
Adding new notes
enable "Note Level Editing" and then either
  • use mouse object mode and Ctrl-drag (Cmd-drag on OS X)
  • use mouse draw mode

Note that is also a a step entry editor allowing you to enter notes from a virtual keyboard and lots more besides.

Selecting/Navigating note-by-note

Tab selects the next note. Ctrl-Tab (or Cmd-Tab on OS X) selects the previous note. Shift-Tab or Shift-Ctrl-Tab adds the next/previous note to the selection.

Selecting notes with the mouse

While in mouse object mode, you can click on a note to select it. Once you've selected one note, shift-click on another to select all notes between them. To add or remove a note to/fromt the selection, use ctrl-click (cmd-click on OS X). You can also click and drag outside of a note to "rubberband select" a series of notes.

Three different selection operations are possible if you switch to mouse range mode:

  • Vertical drags within the MIDI region will select all notes within the spanned note range
  • Clicks on the piano header of the track (if visible - the track must be tall enough to display it) will select all occurences of that note
  • Drags on the piano header of the track will select all notes within the spanned note range

Moving notes

Right arrow and Left arrow move the selected note(s) early and later in time.

Changing pitch values

The up arrow key increases the pitch of the selected notes. The down arrow key reduces the pitch of the selected notes. If any of the selected notes are already at the maximum or minimum value, no changes will be made to any of the notes, to preserve relative pitches. You can override this with the Alt/Option key. The default shift distance is one semitine. Use the Shift modifier to alter this to one octave.

Changing velocity values

Ctrl-Up arrow (Cmd-Up arrow on OS X) increases the velocity of the selected notes. The Ctrl-Down arrow (Cmd-Down arrow on OS X) reduces the velocity of the selected notes. If any of the selected notes are already at the maximum or minumum value, no changes will be made to any of the notes, to preserve relative velocities. You can override this with the Alt/Option key.

Changing channel

Press the "c" key to bring up a dialog that allow you to see and alter the MIDI channel of the selected notes. If the selected notes use different channels, they will all be forced to the newly selected channel.

Changing start/end/duration

Comma (',') will alter the start time of the note. Period ('.') will alter the end time of the note. Both keys will by default make the note longer (either by moving the start earlier or the end later). For the opposite effect, use Ctrl-comma/Ctrl-period (or Cmd-command/Cmd-period on OS X). The note will be altered by the current grid setting. To change the start/end positions by 1/128th of a beat, use the Alt/Option key along with either Comma, Ctrl-Comma, etc.


The q key will quantize the selected notes using the current quantize settings. If the quantize settings have not been set for this session yet, the quantize dialog will appear. Alt/Option-q will display the quantize dialog to allow you to reset the quantize settings and then quantizes the selected notes. The default quantize settings are: quantize note starts to the current grid setting, no swing, no threshold, full strength.

Step Entry, Quantize etc.

There is an overview of some other MIDI functionality that covers quantization and step entry.