“Max lets you control your equipment in any way you want. You can create applications for composing, improvising, and ordering or modifying media — anything you can imagine doing with a computer.”

Cycling ’74

Max is a visual programming environment for music and multimedia. Programs are written by connecting objects together via ‘patch cords’, so Max coding is called ‘patching’ and Max programs are called ‘patchers’. This powerful metaphor makes musical programming simple, fast, and fun.

Max was originally developed by Miller Puckette at IRCAM (Paris) in 1986 to produce real-time interactive music. It was further developed by Puckette, David Zicarelli, and many others, and eventually became a commercial product of Opcode Systems in 1991. In 2000, Cycling ’74 (San Francisco) became the official developer of Max, adding comprehensive digital audio and video programming capabilities to it. In 2017, Cycling ’74 was acquired by Ableton (Berlin).

Max has three main components: Max (core programming language objects), MSP (digital audio objects), and Jitter (video objects). The unique organization of its documentation (Tutorials, Topics, and Guides), interactive Help files and code examples, and the recently expanding public library of third-party video tutorials, make Max easier to learn than ever before. Because Max takes care of all of the low-level programming tasks for you (e.g., user interface objects, MIDI objects, audio objects, video objects, etc.), Max is great tool for quickly prototyping an app or quickly working out creative ideas.

Max turns all control information into a stream of numbers. This allows Max to connect to almost any hardware device (e.g., keyboard, mixer, Wii Remote Controller, lighting board, etc.). Rather than being locked into a fixed mode of execution in the time domain like the sequencer window of a DAW, sonic events may be scheduled to occur at some time in the future, or triggered at the will of the creator. This makes Max an ideal interactive playground for the real-time creation of generative music and the exploration of sound.

I created this series of Getting Started with Max & MIDI patchers for my MUSC 336 Introduction to Computer Music students at the University of South Carolina. Included with each patcher you will find a description containing relevant links to Wikipedia, an Object listing with links to the online Max Reference manual, and associated links to selected introductory Tutorials in the online Max 8 Documentation.

Let’s get started….


Bain, MUSC 336 Introduction to Computer Music – https://reginaldbain.com/vc/musc336/

Cycling ’74, What is Max? – https://cycling74.com/products/max

Cycling ’74, Max 8 Documentation – https://docs.cycling74.com/max8

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia


I would especially like to thank my MUSC 336 students. I have greatly benefited from their many suggestions for improvement.

This work is part of the Mutational Music Project, the broader impact component of the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant project Mutational variance of the transcriptome and the origins of phenotypic plasticity (NSF award #1556645). Jeff Dudycha is the principal investigator and Reginald Bain is the other senior person on the grant.

Updated: 10/30/23