Learning MAX/MSP

I’ve been aware and familiar with MAX/MSP for quite some time now (late 1990’s?) and I’ve never had a huge desire to learn it. However, as time has passed, I’ve realized that it’s exciting to learn what this application can do, and that it can help me teach music. And this latter idea is completely new as I only previously perceived MAX/MSP for composition and/or really scientific “stuff,” in which I was only somewhat interested. Over the years however, as I’ve followed the industry, companies, blogs, artists and composers, I’ve been inspired to learn MAX/MSP. And after purchasing the text, MAX/MSP/JITTER for Music by V.J. Manzo, I quickly learned another new benefit to learning this amazing application as mentioned. In the very first few pages, Mr. Manzo explains this exciting idea of using MAX/MSP to teach music concepts. Immediately, I was interested in learning this application for this purpose and possibly composition at some point.

While MAX/MSP can be somewhat technical, the textbook isn’t at all. In fact, I truly believe that a 4th or 5th grade student could read this text (or at least the first 3 chapters) and understand it. To write a technical book about a highly sophisticated piece of programming software and make it easy to read, is nothing less than awesome. It proves to me that V. J. Manzo truly knows the subject and besides that, it feels like he is talking to the reader. That’s another huge “plus.” Simplifying something technical like this is truly an art in itself and this is an excellent textbook to pick up if you’re thinking about learning MAX/MSP. So with a profound “Yes,” I’ve been enjoying reading, learning, and programming the last several days and sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.

The format of each chapter is also fantastic. Not only are the explanations and steps very clear as Mr. Manzo has you building and programming from the onset and provides great diagrams, but the “summary” for each chapter is thorough. Here is a list of what constitutes the “review” portion of a chapter.

  1. Key Commands: Mac or Windows based key command shortcuts; I’m a fanatic about using them when possible. Manzo lists with bullet points all of the functions and commands that were used in the chapter to facilitate learning.
  2. New Objects Learned: some of these actually have shortcuts that were mentioned in the above section, but it’s nice to see them separated so you can keep track of the Objects used in MAX/MSP from other commands like zooming, locking/unlocking patches, etc.
  3. Remember: This section is just about things that are important to remember when programming or working with some of the Objects. For example, he reminds “us” that the Max Window can help us debug should we make an error in programming or just show us important information for feedback.
  4. Additional Tutorials: While the list here is referring to tutorials that are already built into the fabric of MAX/MSP, it’s also a nice addition to remind us that there is much more to learn. With the text, built-in tutorials, and a forum available on the Cycling ’74 website, there are plenty of options to find help or more information.
  5. On Your Own: Here, Mr. Manzo suggests reading the Help file for each new object learned as well as a patching “challenge” in which he just explains an idea. Your task is to build or program the patch (as these are called in MAX/MSP) based on his description.

I’ve completed the first 3 chapters so far, learned lots and have had lots of fun problem-solving and coming up with more ideas. I can’t wait to learn more from what Mr. Manzo offers in his textbook. But before I do, I have many “extra” tutorials to complete. I’ll write more about the content of those three chapters in an upcoming post and will also include my own style of moving through the text. This year is looking awesome already!

If you’re also new to learning MAX/MSP, or just have something to add, please leave a comment for me and especially others. Perhaps there’s a collaboration opportunity awaiting us? If not, it would just be great to talk to more people about it and share ideas.

About mikecrain

Educator Composer Percussionist; Advocate for Humanity, Music & Art; living a Balanced Life Passionately with a Zen & Taoist approach
This entry was posted in Music, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Learning MAX/MSP

  1. Hi Mike: Just wanted to let you know that I, too, am working through VJ Manzo’s Max book on my blog! It’s at bartdoesart.com. I’ll be linking into your blog whenever WordPress lets me know. Thanks, Bart

  2. Pingback: Random Atonal Trash in Max « Bart Does Art

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