You, the beginner, are living in a golden age.
There are three things out there in the world that didn’t exist when I was a beginner that will improve the quality of your Maxing life. Oh, wait–four things… this column is number four. :-)
The first is the searchable archive here at cycling74.com. There are five-plus years’ worth of searchable mailing list archives you can peruse and search to your heart’s content in order to discover whether or not someone else has entertained the same question (or a similar one) before you. In fact, it’s a good idea to check there before you ask your question in public; you may find a rich an fruitful discussion on your burning question is already waiting for you.
The second is www.maxobjects.com, an online database of all the Max/MSP/Jitter objects in the world–the ones that come with your standard Max/MSP/Jitter distribution, and as concise and updated a list of third-party objects (i.e., objects made by anyone other than Cycling ’74) as you can find anywhere. This searchable database is particularly useful when attempting to determine whether any given object you hear about is available for your specific computer (e.g., Macintosh or PC) or operating system (e.g., OS9 or OS X). And you can also search the huge list of standard and third-party objects in case you’ve forgotten what the precise name of an object is (think of it as being like doing a PDF search of all the reference manuals at once and all the third-party objects out there.
The third resource comes from Peter Elsea. You owe him a drink, at the very least–you just don’t know it yet. Over the years that he’s taught Max, MSP, and Jitter, he’s created a set of “Tutorial” documents that stand alongside the standard Max/MSP/Jitter manuals and tutorials. He’s seen hundreds of perplexed students of considerable ability who, having read the materials available to them, remain puzzled about a Max topic. He’s seen dozens more students who want more information on subjects that aren’t covered in the standard Max/MSP/Jitter documentation, for one of any number of reasons. And he’s also decided to provide his own personal overviews of Max, MSP, and Jitter, as well. You can find all of these documents online here (along with his own collection of third-party Max objects (the Lobjects). The tutorials cover a wide range of topics, from general overviews, to great tutorials on things like MIDI time codes, comparisons of various MSP filters, and other great stuff. The available tutorials are described in greater detail here.
These three things (along with this column, I hope) will help make your life much easier.