What’s it like to teach Max/MSP to High Schoolers?

Pretty much the same as teaching it to adults, except the patches sometimes look like this:

(below: what a normal one would look like):

Let’s break it down from top to bottom:

  • “METRO 500” = This object is like a metronome – it sends button pushes out at whatever interval is specified (in milliseconds)
  • “RANDOM 24” = This object, when sent a button push, generates a random number between 0 and whatever number is after the word “random”.
  • “NOTEOUT” = This has three inlets, for pitch, velocity and MIDI channel.  Normally your keyboard sends out these messages, but we used math and stuff to make it instead.  The synth will play whatever this tells it to.

For those who are still reading, here’s what this is: an automatic MIDI note generator.  Basically, this thing will bang out random MIDI notes at a specified speed and pitch level (within 2 octaves of the base pitch value).  When we actually use this, the device chain looks like this:

The Max patch is routed to the Scale plugin (which would be really hard to write – it filters the random notes down to a few that sound good together).  The last device in the chain is the synth that’s actually making the sound.

We put this chain on 3-4 tracks, and record ourselves playing notes at different speeds and levels.  The result?  Auto-ambience.

Moral of the story: high schoolers can learn “advanced” music tech stuff, so long as you’re willing to learn it yourself and teach it to them.  I’ve had multiple students over the years contact me during college thanking me for teaching them patching.  Why?  Either they’re in a music tech class and already know how to do the advanced stuff, or they’re in an engineering class using Matlab or something else extremely similar to Live.  Others who go into computer science are basically familiar with logic routing and object oriented programming concepts.

In an age where music classes don’t usually apply to the “applicable” world for most students, stuff like this is an awesome experience to give your students.

Paul Miller Gets It

Writing about “Paper”, an iPad app unrelated to music, Paul Miller of The Verge inadvertently sums up the whole “toy app” vs. “real app” debate:

At times I’ve chafed against the “beautiful handcuffs” of Apple, the faux-creativity of pre-made themes and styles built into every iLife app. And it’s true that for a professional, those tools are completely inadequate. But for a layman, as I consider myself in the pursuits of drawing and photography, there’s a real freedom in limitation. At least, limitation done right.

A word of warning, however: the “training wheels” can be seductive. GarageBand lets you play a guitar chord, and Figure lets you build a beat, but while they’re about music, and capable of creating music, they’re not really teaching you how to be a musician — you’re not learning how to drum, or how to play a real guitar.

 Exactly spot on.