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MaxForLive: Creating Your Own Audio Tools in Max For Live

Learning MaxForLive: From the basics to the advanced, with Ableton Certified Trainer J. Anthony Allen.
Jason Allen
1,042 students enrolled
English [Auto-generated]
Use MaxForLive to create custom devices in Ableton Live
Speak the syntax of MaxForLive, and know how to find answers
Design unique MaxForLive patches for sale, sharing, and using in your own music

For years I’ve been teaching Ableton Live and Max in the college classroom. As a University Professor, my classes are sought after, and, frankly, expensive. I believe Ableton Live can be learned by anyone, and cost shouldn’t be a barrier. This class uses the same outline and syllabus I’ve used in my college classes for years, at a fraction of the cost.

MaxForLive is a powerful tool that lets users design their own instruments, effects, and devices. It isn’t without its drawbacks: MaxForLive is notoriously difficult to learn. I’ve developed an approach for teaching MaxForLive that focuses on teaching it like a language: You will learn small blocks and patches, understanding the how and the why along the way. As we grow our vocabulary, we “learn how to learn” more and more.

Topics include:

  • The unique and quirky history and development of Max
  • What we can do with MaxForLive
  • Max vs. MaxForLive
  • The MaxForLive Devices
  • Finding and Sharing MaxForLive Devices
  • Getting Help: Help Windows in MaxForLive
  • Presentation Mode & Patching Modes
  • The Max Editor
  • Messages
  • Bangs & Buttons
  • Project 1: Building a MIDI Delay
  • Project 2: Building an Arpeggiator
  • Working with Audio Signals
  • Project 3: An Audio Delay
  • ~ Objects (tilde objects)
  • Presentation Setup
  • Controlling Live
  • Abstractions
  • Controlling anything in Live
  • Project 4: A Beat-Quantized Randomized Filter
  • Finding the Beat from Live
  • Project 5: Artificial Intelligence (sort of)
  • … And much more!!!

Also included in this class is 6 of my own MaxForLive patches for you to download, dissect, use, and build on.

And of course, once you sign up any part, you automatically get huge discounts to all the my other Ableton classes. You will not have another opportunity to learn Ableton Live in a more comprehensive way that this online.

J. Anthony Allen is an Ableton Certified Trainer, and a PhD in Music Composition and master of Electronic Sounds. His music has been heard internationally in film, radio, video games, and industrial sound, as well as the concert hall and theater.

He currently as an adjunct professor of composition at the University of St. Thomas, Macphail Academy of Music, and the CEO of Slam Academy in Minneapolis.

Praise for other classes by J. Anthony Allen:

  • “I’ve had Live Lite for a while but never quite understood how to use it because of the different options in how to arrange audio. This course explains exactly how to do that and get the most out of Live.”
  • “Great overview – I would start here for sure if you are just getting your feet wet with live. clear and to the point. session walkthroughs are great. looking forward to more”
  • “I have never had any formal training in music at all. Trying to learn all the notes and how everything translated was a serious challenge. After going thru this class, Dr. J has totally brought down the barriers. The content was very useful and was easy to grasp for me.”
  • Welcome & Overview


    Welcome to the world of MaxForLive. Say goodbye to your friends, your spouse, and your social life (but surprisingly not your money). This is addictive stuff.

    Asking Questions

    What is MaxForLive?

    MaxForLive in a Nutshell

    For starters, I want to just talk about the basics of MaxForLive, and show you what it looks like.

    The 10K ft View

    Next, I want to take a 10,000 foot view, and show you how MaxForLive works.

    What We Can Do in MaxForLive

    Lets talk a little bit about the possibilities of MaxForLive.

    Patch Download: Artificial Intelligence Experiment

    Our first download: This is the patch I showed in the previous video.

    MaxForLive vs. Max vs. Max/MSP/Jitter

    The name of this thing can be a little confusing. I'll address that here just to get us all on the same page.

    A Brief History of Max

    Max has actually been around for a few decades - while MaxForLive is fairly new. It has a long and strange history - worth knowing about (and fun to talk about!)

    Getting Started

    The MaxForLive Devices (In Ableton)

    The MaxForLive Devices are our basic building block - sort of our canvas for creating devices.

    Loading MaxForLive Devices

    Your installation of Ableton Live probably came with a bunch of MaxForLive devices. Take a quick look at what you've got - knowing that any device can be opened and altered.

    Finding and Sharing MaxForLive Devices

    The MaxForLive community is large, and growing every day. There are a number of great resources for find and sharing patches.

    Starting From Scratch

    Finally - I want to talk about some workflow tricks for starting from scratch (which we will be doing for the rest of this class)

    Getting Help: The Help Windows

    MaxForLive (like Ableton) has a built-in Help section that can guide you to answers quickly.

    Creating Our Own Devices

    Modes: Presentation, Patching (Editing), Locked, and Unlocked

    Max has 2 different "modes" and both of them have 2 "views".

    The Max Editor & Patching

    "Patching" is what we call connecting things to build more complex things. In this video I'll walk you through how to patch things and start building.

    Objects & Arguments

    Max is made up of hundreds of things called "Objects". In this video I'll show you how they work.


    "Messages" are another kind of building block in Max, important to understand how to use.

    Bangs & Buttons

    The mighty "bang" message is something completely unique to Max, and a little tricky to wrap your head around at first.

    Learning How To Learn Max

    One more note about my approach to teaching Max, and how you can best take advantage of this class.

    Our First Project: A MIDI Delay

    Workflow: Approaching a New Project

    This is how I approach programming a new MaxForLive patch - this is a trick that helps us to outline what we are going to build before we start.

    Our First Object: Pipe

    Pipe - this is an object that will delay numbers, lists, and messages. Perfect for a MIDI delay.

    Adding the Dry (not delayed) Signal

    Next we need a way to add back in our not-delayed signal. While we are at it, lets learn how to put a switch on this so we can turn it on and off.

    Why Not Notein?

    We made this using the default [Midiin] object. But we could have used something called [Notein]. Whats the difference?

    Download Patch

    Here is the patch I just made for you to download, play with, edit, remake, build on, and have fun with.

    Project 2: Arpeggiator

    Walkthrough: What We Will Need For This Project

    First I'm going to walk through the different things we are going to need in order to put this project together.

    Delaying Notes

    Step 1: Delay some notes!

    Transposing Notes

    Step 2: Transposing notes!

    Deploying & Encapsulating

    Once we do something once, we can deploy it to do it a bunch of times.

    Download Patch

    Here is the patch I showed in the previous video. Download it, use it, dissect it, and play with it!

    Working with Audio in Max

    The Tilde (~) Objects and Yellow Patch Chords

    Objects with a Tilde (~) can have an audio signal in them - they mostly work the same, with a few oddities.

    Audio UI Objects

    When we work with audio, we have a few extra UI objects for showing and interacting with our signal.

    Project 3: An Audio Delay


    You will soon get used to these! I do them all the time.

    Tapin~ and Tapout~

    Our main object for delaying an audio signal is Tapin~ and Tapout~. These work a little different than other objects we've seen so far.

    Volume Control

    We might as well slap an audio fader (and level meter) on this while we are here!

    Audio Toggle

    We should probably have a way to turn our dry signal on and off - so lets build that in.


    Now that we have one delay, we can deploy it out and make many delays!

    Presentation Setup

    Lets go one extra step and make this one look nice by visiting Presentation view.

    Download Patch

    Here is the file (the "patch") I showed in the previous video. Download it, use it, dissect it, and play with it!

    Talking to (and Controlling) Live


    We've seen Abstractions before, but for the next part we will really want to look at them a bit deeper.

    "The M4L List of Abstractions"

    This is a list of a bunch of Abstractions that comes with your installation of MaxForLive. You already have these!

    Some M4L Patches

    In this video I'll walk you through the basic language of how we talk to Live, and show you a few patches I've made to outline the syntax.

    Patch Download

    Here is the file (the "patch") I showed in the previous video. Download it, use it, dissect it, and play with it!

    Controlling Any Parameter

    More detail on how we can ask for different devices and difference parameters in Live.

    Patch Download

    Here is the file (the "patch") I showed in the previous video. Download it, use it, dissect it, and play with it!

    Project 4: A Beat-Quantized Randomized Filter

    New UI Object: Filtergraph~

    The Filtergraph~ object is what we use to control a filter. But it isn't actually a filter itself. For that we need [biquad~].

    Finding Beats

    We can get the tempo from Live easy enough, but what if we want a steady beat? It can be a little tricky.

    Controlling Filters by Using the Beat

    Now that we have a beat, and a filter, lets connect them and see what happens!

    Patch Download

    Here is the file (the "patch") I showed in the previous video. Download it, use it, dissect it, and play with it!

    Wrap Up

    Thanks For Watching (And 1 more project!)

    Thanks for Watching! A few thoughts on some more things you can do to keep learning!

    Patch Download

    Here is the file (the "patch") I showed in the previous video. Download it, use it, dissect it, and play with it!

    Bonus Lecture: MaxForLive Connection Kit

    Update! Ableton has just released this awesome set of MaxforLive externals. Here is the link and what they are.

    Bonus Lecture: Discount Offers & Mailing List

    There is so much more to learn!

    You can view and review the lecture materials indefinitely, like an on-demand channel.
    Definitely! If you have an internet connection, courses on Udemy are available on any device at any time. If you don't have an internet connection, some instructors also let their students download course lectures. That's up to the instructor though, so make sure you get on their good side!
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