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how difficult is it to learn max/msp ?

August 6, 2010 | 3:10 am

ok i know most of you have probably heard this question a hundred times but i thought i’d just ask anyway. i’ve been interested in max/msp since i first heard about it a few years back. i always thought of it as one of those things that i would never use because i simply would not be able to understand it.

basically i have no background in programming or anything. i am horrible at maths. i’m beyond terrible. so why would i even be interested in max/msp? well a couple of years ago when i first started making music i was using propellerheads reason. for those of you who are familiar with the product. it allows you to very simply route the various devices together. i loved the while wiring and semi-modular nature of the reason setup but it obviously has huge limitations.

i purchased reaktor a couple of months ago and have been using it a bit. the good thing about reaktor i find is that it doesn’t force you to get deep straight away. you can very easily just modify existing patches to make something usable. you can choose how deep you want to get. i’ve just made some simple synths and fx for the time being. i haven’t even dived into the core level yet (the the "core" structure is basically the deepest level of reaktor).

so a while back i download the demo for max/msp. but i didn’t get much time to use it before my 30 day trial ran out. so far the past few days i’ve been using pure data. i’ve just been following simple tutorials but it seems so much more complicated than reaktor.

i was thinking of purchasing max/msp on an educational discount in september but was wondering would it honestly be worth it for somebody who has no background in programming and is terrible at math? i do know about synthesis, sampling and audio related effects (pretty most things related to electronic music production) and i have some very very brief experience with reaktor.

is max/msp really as difficult as i’m making it out to be in my head?


August 6, 2010 | 3:45 am

Hello, my answer won’t be very good but…

I think if you cant learn stuff then everything will take you ages and if you can’t figure out help files then you won’t create anything. That’s jst the n00b stuff though, if you actually want to master the program you will probably have to be be the sort that could program.

Actual maths though I don’t know…maths taps stuff lke working memory attention that sort of part of the brain I think anyway and I would imagine that would certainly help but then so does all music making.

Incidentally I listen to and want to make noise and I don’t know I imagine that takes a sort of ability a little different to idk learning the trumpet or making house or something. The creative process is a little confusing for me (trial and error? What about having the right setup how muh comes down to that?) and I certain don’t know maxmsp so…


August 6, 2010 | 8:14 pm

thanks for the response. i also primarily make noise and minimal music. atm i’m using some small analog synths, some digital fx pedals and my DJ mixer (as a feedback machine) to create noise. i just record lots of sessions and and then cut and paste them together in my sequencer.

primarily i would like to use max/msp for some more experimental "arty" work. i have no intention of delving into the scripting element of max/msp as i personally don’t think i would be cut out for that at all (and i don’t think i’d find it that enjoyable) but i do find it much easier to understand graphical programming environment. possibly because i understand basic signal flow and in my mind using patch cables is a lot easier to comprehend than lines of code.


August 6, 2010 | 10:19 pm

you’ll love it. no need for scripting at all, for most things. check out noise~ tapin~/tapout~ teeth~ filtergraph~/biquad~ gizmo~ and on and on… but the real strength isn’t the MSP objects themselves, much of the time, it’s the Max patching around them for your control and UI that makes them do the really interesting stuff.

getting basic things up and running is dead simple, it’s where you go from there that can get complex quickly. just keep everything as modular as you can and stay organized. then you can re-use nicely-made elements instead of re-patching them all the time, and you can hook them together with a minimum of wires (dependencies) which can otherwise start to get like a big spaghetti mess. Though that can be fun too.

don’t overlook the most basic Max elements, especially objects like trigger (and understand why it’s so important). With every Help patch you open, try and understand at least the majority of what it says, but check all the other messages that object can take too. Then open up the See Also… object help patches that are related to that one. You’ll start seeing many ways to do a certain thing, and many new things you can try.

for great fun to start, look at [mtr] :)


August 7, 2010 | 5:27 am

In my experience, max is addicting like legos. So you’ll know if you’ll like it within the trial period. I think that’s all you really need to know to decide.

I usually discourage people from using it unless they have the impulse to customize or do "maxy" things in which case I proselytize.


August 7, 2010 | 7:13 am

"basically i have no background in programming or anything. i am horrible at maths. i’m beyond terrible"

you could be talking about me!

I bought Max on an educational discount too a few years ago – it’s the best purchase I ever made, without a doubt. Don’t imagine that Max uses some arcane language/protocol. It’s like a musical instrument in this respect, easy to learn and requires time and effort to master


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