Things I wish people had told me (part zero)


I qualify as a beginner because I’ve been one. Three times, in fact.

If you really are a beginner, then you’ll never have to face learning Max, then learning MSP a bunch of years later, and then learning Jitter after that. You get to learn them all at once, and since they all have a lot more in common with each other than not, you needn’t endure what seemed to me to be paradigm shifts with the introduction of each new bit.

I envy you, actually. And I’m about to envy you even more, since it occurs to me that I can tell you some of the things I wish people had told me that might have made my life easier.

In fact, I asked a few friends and acquaintances and some of the people whose names you see often on the Max list what they wish they’d known early on. And you’ll be seeing those things periodically appearing in bite=sized chunks. There were a few bits of advice I got from other people that I don’t agree with, but will pass along anyway.

Okay. The first one (drum roll):

  • If you want to really get started, don’t skip reading the manual marked “Getting Started.”

Yes, I know you’re a clever person, and–like many people (me included, quite a lot of the time)–consider yourself to be a part of what the philosopher Thomas Hobbes called a “natural Aristocracy”: those persons who are innately capable of intuiting the things that other dimmer people read manuals with titles like “Getting Started” in order to figure out. (Discussions about reading Tutorials are best left for another time).

When I started, I thought myself too clever to read anything that said Getting Started, and I spent the next N years making the same silly mistakes over and over again, and never figuring out that there were interesting quick ways of doing things. When others pointed them out to me well into my Maxing life, I assumed that they were mysterious secrets open to the cabal of “power users.” It turned out that all the power users had done was to actually read a section in the “Getting Started” PDF manual. The really embarrassing one involved my not knowing for quite a long time what a symbol was. If I’d managed to make it only as far as page 12, I could have been spared a lifetime of heartache, frustration, and grief.

The same thing held true with learning all kinds of interesting shortcuts that made working with Max a whole lot simpler. It turned out that the only thing that the Max aristocracy did that I never managed was to actually take a look at a whole chapter in the “Getting Started” manual called “shortcuts.” Using the Shift key when you place an object to make multiple copies of that object? Sure–page 60. Entering the name of an object from the New Object List into an object box without typing a thing (including a nice blank space so you can begin typing arguments)? Power users actually looked at P. 61, and I didn’t. Figuring out exactly what messages a Max/MSP/Jitter object accepted? There it was, right on P. 59 (Option-Control-clicking on Macintosh or Alt-Right-clicking on Windows on any object).

Don’t get me wrong–there are things that the power user knows that you don’t, and we’ll be spending some time looking at those things later on. But it turned out that a lot of what I thought was secret knowledge wasn’t–it was only a secret if you thought that nothing of any value could possibly be found in a manual called “Getting Started.”

I learned this the hard way. You have no excuse. :-)