- Ardour is a professional audio sequencer. It allows you to record, edit and mix any number of audio tracks. Ardour uses JACK for audio input/output, which means you can connect it to all applications with JACK audio support. You can manage these connections completely from within ardour. Currently, ardour does not support MIDI sequencing, but there are plans to add this in the near future. Because Ardour is such a complex program, I will try to give you a quick overview of its possibilities.
2. The Editor Window
- On the right hand side of the screen, there is a window pane which has a number of vertical aligned tabs. The tabs are named "Regions", "Tracks/Busses", "Snapshots", "Edit Groups" and "Chunks".
- Regions: when the "Regions" tab is selected, you will see all the regions that have been made in this session. When you right-click in this field, and choose "Add External Audio", you will get a new window with which you can import audio files into your session. In this dialogue, there is a checkbox called "Copy files to session", which is checked by default. This means that all the files you import will be copied into the session folder, and that the original files are safe. When this option is not selected, the files will be used directly from where you selected them (also called 'embedding'). When you import a new audio file into your session, Ardour will make an initial region for them. You could see the region as a kind of window through which you can look at the audio file. You can do anything you want with regions without ever changing the audio file itself. This is also called non-destructive editing. When you've imported audio, you can drag the region from here onto one of your tracks where the real editing takes place. There are also options in the "Add External Audio" dialogue to make new tracks for the imported regions automatically (Add files: as new tracks). While you are editing regions on a track, ardour will make new regions whenever needed (e.g. when you make a copy of a region, and change it's length).
- Tracks/Busses: in this tab you will see a list of all your tracks and busses. You can show/hide tracks and busses with the check box next to their name. You can also change the order of your tracks by dragging them around.
- Snapshots: snapshots are a way to store the current state of your session, without overwriting the original session. You can save a new snapshot by choosing Session -> Snapshot from the main menu. The snapshot will be named automatically showing the date and time the snapshot was made, but you can change the name later (right-click the snapshot name and choose "Rename"). To load a particular snapshot, you just click on it in this list.
- Edit Groups: you can create/delete edit groups by clicking the +/- signs at the bottom. Next to the group name there are two check boxes, called "Active" and "Show". The group will be active when "Active" is checked. When "Show" is checked, you can show/hide the tracks in the group. To make use of one of these edit groups, you have to assign a number of tracks that group. You can do this by clicking the 'g' button on the track, and choose one of the groups from the drop down list. When tracks are in the same edit group, and the regions are equivalent (i.e. they have the same start point in their sound files, have the same position on the timeline, and have the same length), you can select/move/resize them as a group.
- Chunks: You can create a chunk by selecting a particular range with the range tool (see tools), right-clicking the range, and choosing "Create chunk from range". You will be asked to give your chunk a name, and it will become visible in the chunk list. All the tracks that are active (selected) will be included in the range (if you select none, the range will include all tracks). In this way a chunk can span multiple tracks as well. To insert a chunk, select the chunk in the chunk list, make sure the tracks are active again, right-click in the track, and choose Edit -> Insert Chunk. The position will be determined by the edit point.
- Like many other programs, Ardour has a number of tools that you can use. You will recognize this toolbox because it uses little icons to indicate what the tool can do (e.g. the zoom tool is indicated by a magnifier icon). If you hover over the tools you can see their names: "Select/Move Objects", "Select/Move Ranges", "Select Zoom Range", "Draw Gain Automation", "Stretch/Shrink Regions" and "Listen to Specific Regions". We will discuss a number of them in more detail later.
- An important concept in Ardour is the 'Edit Point'. There is button with the same name to the right of the 'Snap/Grid mode' and 'Snap/Grid Units' buttons (you will see the names when you hover over these buttons). The edit point is used in a number of region editing operations, and can be one of three things: Playhead (the vertical red line), Marker or Mouse. It decides which of these things will be used as the time reference for these edits (e.g. split).
- Now we will see how you can edit regions. There are a lot of possibilities in Ardour, and we will confine ourselves to the most important operations. I will assume in these examples that you have selected the 'Select/Move Objects' tool, and that the edit point is set to 'Playhead'. You can apply these edits to multiple regions if you select them beforehand:
- Changing the region start/end time: if you hover with your mouse over the bottom left, or bottom right of a region, your pointer will turn into a bi-directional arrow. Now you can click and drag the region's start or end point.
- Move the region: when you hover over the region, and your pointer turns into a little hand, you can click-drag the region to it's desired place. You can move regions between tracks as well. To keep the position along the time axis constant you can also middle-click-drag the region.
- Split the region: to split a region, you have to select the region (you can also activate the track instead) and move the playhead (or edit point) where you want to split. Then you have to choose Regions -> Split Region from the main menu. You can also use the shortcut, and press 's'.
- Cut/Copy/Paste a region: you will find all these operations under 'Edit' in the main menu, or in the context menu of the region itself (under 'Edit' when you right-click the region). Alternatively, you can hold the Ctrl key and click-drag a region to make a copy. If you want to do this with more regions, you have to select them first. To cut a region you can use the 'Delete' key. You can also use the conventional shortcuts: Ctrl+c for 'copy', Ctrl+x for 'cut', Ctrl+v for 'paste'.
- Using the grid: as I mentioned before there are two buttons to control the grid: 'Snap/Grid mode' and 'Snap/Grid Units'. You can choose between three modes: 'Grid', 'No Grid', 'Magnetic'. When you choose 'Grid', a lot of operations (like moving/editing regions, moving the playhead and markers, selecting ranges etc.) will snap to the chosen grid. There is key you can use to disable this grid snapping behaviour temporarily (default: Mod3). You can choose your own key in Windows -> Preferences under Kbd/Mouse. Or you can disable the grid completely by choosing 'No Grid'. When you choose 'Magnetic', you will be able to move things in between grid lines, but as soon as you get to close to the grid it will snap to it anyway. There are a lot of choices in the drop-down list of 'Snap/Grid Units'. This button determines how much space there is between grid lines, and this can be expressed in time units (e.g. bars, beats, beats/4, minutes, seconds etc.).
- Zooming: at the bottom left of the editor, there are four buttons you can use for zooming in and out: 'Zoom focus', 'Zoom Out', 'Zoom In' and 'Zoom to Session'. These buttons can be used for horizontal zooming only. If you want to make the tracks wider vertically, you can do so by right-clicking on the track (under the track name!), and choose 'Height'. The zoom focus will determine what part of the screen, or what position on the timeline will have a constant position when you zoom. It can be one of: Left, Right, Center, Playhead, Mouse or Edit Point. If you choose 'Edit Point', and your edit point is set to 'Marker', you have to make sure one of the markers is selected (just click on the marker, in the location markers ruler. Now you can zoom in or out with the selected focus (shortcuts: =, -). 'Zoom to Session' will show you everything between the 'start' and 'end' location markers. In the toolbox there is also a zoom tool called 'Select Zoom Range'. If you click with this tool somewhere in your track, The track will be zoomed in to that particular place. If you middle-click with this tool, you will zoom out again. But the best thing of this tool, is that you can zoom to a particular range in your session. To do this you have to click-drag over a particular range in your tracks.
- The 'Select/Move Ranges' tool: if you click-drag with this tool, a range will become visible over all the active tracks (when none are active, the range will span all tracks). You can move the range by holding 'Ctrl' and click-dragging the range. After this you can right-click the range and you will get a context menu which shows what you can do with the selected range. Examples of what you can do with ranges are: play a range, loop a range, duplicate a range, crop regions to a range, make a chunk from a range, bounce a range... etc. You can also add range markers in the 'Range Markers' ruler (one of the rulers above the tracks). This is a way to store the ranges you've made. When you right-click on those range markers, you will also get a context menu for those markers.
3. The Mixer Window
- In the mixer window, you will see mixer strips for all the tracks you've made. We will discuss one strip for a simple audio track from the top to the bottom (from input to output). Other kinds of tracks might have a slightly different layout (e.g. bus and master tracks don't have a record button):
- completely on top, there are two small buttons. The first one can be used to switch between a more or less narrow mixer strip. The second button is used to hide the strip. On the left hand side of the mixer strips, you will see a list of the track names, with a 'Show' checkbox next to them. You can use it to show the tracks you've hidden again.
- The next part shows you the track name. If you click on the name you can change a few things: rename the track, invert the polarity of the track, deactivate the track (to free up CPU power) etc.
- Under the track name, there is the 'Input' button. If you click this button, and choose 'Edit', you will get a new window in which you can configure the inputs for your track. On the left hand side, you will see the inputs, on the right hand side you will see the available connections. You can add a new input by clicking the 'Add Input' button. This will create a new field for your input with a standard name (e.g. Input 1). To remove the input again, you can click the name, and click the 'Remove Input' button. Under the input name you will see the connections for this input. You can add multiple sources to every input. To do this, make sure you have selected one of the inputs, and click on one of the 'Available connections' ports on the right hand side. The name of the input source will appear under the input name. If you click on additional input sources, ardour will add them automatically to the next available input. When there is no next input ardour will start from the first one again. For example: if you have two inputs for your track, and two output ports of a stereo synth in 'Available connections', you can click on the first and then on the second output of the synth. The result is that Input 1 will be connected to the first output of the synth, and Input 2 to the second.
- Next we have the 'Record' button to make recording possible on this track. To start recording, you have to activate the record button in the transport bar as well, and hit 'Play'.
- Then there is a field for pre-fader inserts, sends and plugins. Pre-fader means that the volume fader in the track will have no effect on the input level of the insert, send or plugin (because it is inserted before the fader in the signal path). If you right-click on this field, you get a context menu with a number of possible actions. The most import are 'New Plugin', 'New Insert' and 'New send'. 'New Plugin' will give you a window from which you can choose a particular plugin. When you've added a plugin, it's name will appear in the field, enclosed by parenthesis. This means that the plugin is not yet activated. If you want to activate (or deactivate) the plugin you have to middle-click its name (this is also the case for inserts and plugins). If you double-click the plugin name, you will get a window in which you can change all the plugin controls. You can use 'New Insert' to insert any external program that does audio processing. It will give you a window in which you can connect the outputs and inputs of the insert. For example: if you have a synth which accepts audio input, you can connect these inputs to the outputs of the insert, and you can connect the outputs of this synth to the inputs of the insert. In this way, the signal will pass through your external synth, before it gets to the volume fader. 'New Send' can be used to send the audio signal to an external track. The signal will be 'forked' to your chosen output. This is mostly used to send the signal of multiple tracks to one bus track. Usually, one would add a number of effects to this bus track, and mix it together with the original 'clean' tracks. When you select 'New Send', you will get a new window in which you can choose the destination (output) for that send. On the left hand side, you will see a volume fader with which you can control the volume of the signal you are sending. If you want to edit an insert or send in a track afterwards, you have to double-click the name of the insert or send.
- next in the strip are the mute and solo buttons.
- then we get to the volume fader area. You can change the volume by click-dragging the fader up and down. But you can also just click under or above the fader level, to increment or decrement the volume. To set the volume at once, middle-click the level you want to set it to. To set the level to zero dB, shift-click in the fader area, and to set it to -inf (no sound), use Ctrl-click. At the bottom of the fader, there is a small button which you can use to set the fader automation mode. This will be set to M (manual) by default, which means that automation is not active. If you want to write or rewrite the automation, you have to set it to W (write), and move the fader while playing. In this mode, all the automation will be overwritten as long as you keep playing. With the touch mode (T), automation information will only be overwritten as long as you keep hold of the fader. When you release the mouse, no new automation will be written to the track. To play with automation enabled (without changing it), you can select the play mode (P).
- Under the fader area there are two buttons: 'Grp' (group) and 'post'. When you click Grp, you can select one of the possible mixing groups. You have to define a group first, and this can be done in the bottom half of the area at the left side of the mixer strips. This area looks the same as the edit group area we discussed in the editor window. There are two check boxes, one to make all the tracks in the group visible or invisible, and one to activate/deactivate the group. To add a new group, right-click in this area, and choose 'Add Group', or click on the '+' sign at the bottom. If you add tracks to the same group, you can change the volume of all tracks by changing the volume of one of them. The same works for the mute, solo and record buttons. The button that says 'post' can be clicked to change its value. It can be 'post', 'pre' or 'input'. This button changes the behaviour of the level meter which is visible on the right side of the volume fader. 'input' will show you the signal level at the inputs of the track, 'pre' will show you the pre-fader level, and 'post' will show the post-fader level.
- Then we have the 'Post-fader inserts, sends & plugins' region. This is the same as the 'Pre-fader inserts....'. The only difference is their place in the signal path. If you use post-fader inserts, sends or plugins, the volume fader will control the input gain of that insert, send or plugin as well.
- Depending on the number of inputs and outputs you will get different panners. Ardour has a special panner when you use many inputs or outputs (more than two). But we will stick to mono and stereo tracks. On a mono track, you will see one panner set to the centre, on a stereo track you will see two, set to left and right. You can drag the thin line with your mouse, or you can double-click in this field to enter the value manually. To set the panner to a position (without dragging), middle-click that position. To set the panner back to it's default position (as described before), you can shift-click in this field.
- Underneath the panner are three buttons which affect panning as well. The first is called 'link'. If you click it, it will turn red and the panners will be linked (this only works if you have two panners). The button next to it determines how the the panners will be linked. You can click this button (with arrows in it) to switch between two different modes. The first mode will link the panners in opposite directions, the second will link them in the same direction. The third button determines the 'Pan automation mode'. You have the same choices here as in the 'Fader automation mode'.
- Then we come to the 'output' button. When you click it, and choose 'Edit', you can add and remove outputs, and connect them to different 'output sources'. Normally your tracks will be connected to the master fader, which is again connected to the system outputs. But in ardour it is possible to connect all outputs to all inputs (and visa versa). You can do the same things in this window as in the inputs window we discussed earlier.
- The last button on the mixer strip is called 'comments'. When you click it you will be able to add your comments to a track in a pop-up window. To hide this window, just click on the 'comments' button again.