Do I Need To Understand Math?

    Jul 11 2011 | 9:49 pm
    I've got the trial of MaxMSP and whilst I am very interested in it's functions I am finding the tutorials a little tough. I don't understand algebra, or equations, and my math is generally poor beyond a high school level.
    The programming side of things I'm fine with, as I'm a programmer. It's the Math.
    Do I need to understand the Math being used and if so where would the best place to start be?

    • Jul 11 2011 | 10:46 pm
      Hi This is a common concern, and something of a misconception. It is possible to program quite advanced patches in MaxMSP, with fairly limited maths skills. This is due to the software's extensive support network (here, for example). An advanced level of math's skills may make programming a little quicker, and less fraught with mundane challenges; I also believe programmers with a high level of maths tend to be IMHO somewhat more creative in some respects. But that may just be envy on my part.
      I am very happy with my Max skills, I've hacked other peoples patches, pounded this forum for help, devoured the tutorials and documentation. If you have a determined creative mind and some time to spare...........join us!
      There are numerous tutorials out there, some good, some excellent, and the Cycling74 site itself is starting to amass quite a collection of examples and tutorials. I recommend Peter Bachelor's and Baz's youtube vidz for beginner/intermediate; also try to get your hands on Curtis Roads' Computer Music Tutorial - a very transparent and accessible text on digital audio processing.
      Like I say, programming in Max is challenging, but if you have the time also fun and rewarding.
      Brendan (maths-phobe)
      ps I think I posted exactly the same question about 3 years ago.
    • Jul 11 2011 | 10:49 pm
      If you *do* want to brush up on the Mathematics relevant to signal processing and music, I might recomment Gareth Loy's two volumes of "Musimathics," published by MIT press. I have found them useful.
    • Jul 11 2011 | 10:51 pm
      Wow. That's great to know.
      I feel I could probably learn the math over time, but I don't want to have the burden on my head that's telling me "You need to know it" before you can start programming/developing.
      I have creativity flowing out of my ears, that's what attracted me to Max MSP. Using my knowledge and experience as a programmer to create audio (which happens to be my only, and most expensive hobby that I'm passionate about).
      Thank you for the reply.
      Chances are (99.9999%) I will be making a purchase when my trial runs out.
    • Jul 11 2011 | 10:58 pm
      since composing music, processing audio signals, or writing shaders for the video card is all about math, some math will always be part of your maxmsp project.
      i dont even have visited anything close to high school, but i learned what i need for maxmsp simply by using maxmsp.
      for certain tasks such as writing custom audio filters or using geometry for GUI design, you will always find help or examples here in the forum or by browsing the web.
    • Jul 11 2011 | 10:59 pm
      You don't need to know much math to program in Max, just like you don't really need to know math to program in C (or whatever language.) BUT, you do need to have enough domain knowledge to program the thing you're trying to program. For example, you need to know chess to be able to write a chess program.
      So, if you want to write a filter from scratch, you're going to need to know something about the math for filters, but you don't need to know that much math if you're going to slap down a biquad or two.
    • Jul 11 2011 | 10:59 pm
      You absolutely do not "need to know it" before you start :) In fact, Max/MSP/Jitter is just numbers (I think I've paraphrased Gregory correctly), so learning Max is learning Math!
      Speaking personally, I (falsely) believed some years ago, that Max was an unlockable secret, with an arcane and exclusive language. I've since learned the language. By programming in Max.
    • Jul 11 2011 | 11:25 pm
      A lot will depend on what you want to do (like the advice about filter-designing above). An equivalent music-question I get sometimes is "do I need to know counterpoint?" Well, it depends...
      Like Gregory, I also recommend Loy's book.
    • Jul 12 2011 | 12:26 am
      I would suggest to start with this excellent book :
      I've almost finished it : there's in it all you need to know !
    • Jul 12 2011 | 2:24 pm
      Gotta add a recomendation for F.R. Moore's great intro to the math of digital signal processing: published years ago: for sale at I still want to read Gareth's book, I liked him so much when I met him...and it seems a larger intro.: but his friend, mentor, and co-worker FR Moore's article is excellent, and has helped more than a few musicians to discover the beauty of advanced math. I *loved* his explaination of Euler's identity..."The most beautiful formula in Mathematics"... ymmv, pax, G'LUCK! cfb aka j2k
    • Jul 12 2011 | 4:31 pm
      @Charles Baker: thanks for that link. looking forward to reading the article. Also the second part of it looks promising...
    • Jul 12 2011 | 7:24 pm
      Doing synth work (and programming, for that matter) is a great way to actually learn advanced math "without trying." Happened to me, might happen to you!
    • Jul 12 2011 | 7:42 pm
      hey get both pt1 and pt2 of FR Moore's math intro, as well as *the* seminal PVOC article by marc dolson, and lots more in this old book: Dag nabit, they should reprint this sucker....
    • Jul 12 2011 | 9:55 pm
      "An equivalent music-question I get sometimes is "do I need to know counterpoint?" Well, it depends..."
      The first rule of counterpoint is that you do not need to learn counterpoint. The second rule of counterpoint is that you DO NOT need to learn counterpoint.
    • Jul 12 2011 | 10:14 pm
      I was going to write a lengthy exposition on the principles of music but couldn't be arsed, so....
      Counterpoint rules
    • Jul 12 2011 | 10:41 pm
    • Jul 15 2011 | 10:04 am
      Counterpoint is the most important subject I use for developing Max/MSP patches.
      Math is the most important subject I use for developing Max/MSP patches.
      Software engineering is the most important subject I use for developing Max/MSP patches.
      UI design is the most important subject I use for developing Max/MSP patches.
      Music history is the most important subject I use for developing Max/MSP patches.
      Composition is the most important subject I use for developing Max/MSP patches.
    • Jul 15 2011 | 10:04 am
      What are your most important subjects for developing Max/MSP patches? Could be all of the above, could be none of the above.
      If your math is weak, you'll get on just fine without it, but sooner or later you'll come against a brick wall. There is a nice little exchange between John Cage and Arnold Schönberg about hitting brick walls. It's not the end of the world.
    • Jul 15 2011 | 12:55 pm
      Knowing what one really wants in sound and image is "the most important subject I use for developing Max/MSP patches." (ie: "Sound Design") There is no replacement for having worked with electronic music tools and knowing what can and is done, and how that sounds. Exempla gratia: you sample plucking a high-tension guy wire, and time stretch it with some (probably DFFT/PVOC based) tool: both mathematics and experience will teach you what to expect to hear... one knowlege is more direct and simple, but specific; the other more abstract, and therefore generally applicable. both are valid, but one (experience) is the real base for most art. Of course, the math knowlege can definately help you explore these tools, and gain that experience!!!
      But you can't replace imagination with either kind of knowlege. you can have all the tools and understand them all, and have nothing personal to say. Too often what I hear in our field is working with tools ("craft"), but rarely strong communication with the results of those tools ("art")...
      and this "borrowed breath of the Graces" ("inspiration") cannot be taught, it is internal knowlege, not external.
      ok, 'nuf silly rant: ya gotta learn your tools: ALL of 'em!!
      and I hope we all get inspired from them... much love j2k aka charlieb