The shelf is a fast access to important functions. You can put your favourite functions, MEL-scripts,..., into your own shelf. You can setup a new shelf with "Options / Customize UI / Shelves". With "New Shelf" you can add a new shelf. "Move up" and "Move down" can be used to rearrange your shelves. Just try your own order. In "Shelf Contents" you can change your icons and your overlay label. If you want to put a function like "[Modeling]/Polygons/Extrude" into one of your shelves, you have to hold "control" and "shift" and the just click on your function.
Menu set pop-up
There are four main menu sets in Maya Complete (Animation/Modeling/Dynamics/Rendering) and five in Maya Unlimited (+Cloth). You use these menu sets to access related tools. Everytime you change the menu sets, the first seven menus remaine the same. You can fast access the menu sets with "F2" (Animation) - "F5" (Rendering).
This feature is a very productive way of interacting with your software. You only have to press your "space key" and you can access nearly everything. If you hold your "space bar" and click with your left mouse buttton (LMB) on A|W you can change your view. Click elsewhere also with other keys (Middle MB and Right MB) you can access different customizeable marking menus. You can change with "Options / Customize UI / Marking Menus". With "Create Marking Menu" you can create a new marking menu. Just enter a name and move your functions,..., from your shelf with the MMB to one of the lighter boxes. If you want to exit the window, you have to save your changes. If you want to fast access your new marking menu, chosse under "Settings" / "Use Marking menu in: Hotbox". Hotbox is the menu you can access via "space key". "Hotbox Regions" are the hot areas where you have to click (like A|W early this tutorial). You also have to chose one or more of the mouse buttons.
To use "View Panels" is a fast way to change the layout of your views. There are already a lot of predefiend views. Just go to "Options / Customize UI / Panels". Important is the "Layouts"-folder. Just make a new layout and change the name. With "Add to Shelf" you put your new layout on your shelf. I've made new shelf called "Views" and customized the view panels. For faster access I put the view shelf into a marking menu in the center of my hotbox. If you want to change your layout, you can do this in "Edit Layout / Configuration". "Contents" changes the content of your view.
You don't know the important views? There are "Orthographic" (Side, Front, Top) and "Perspective" (Persp, Camera) views. A viewport in Maya is a camera (also Side/Front/Top). You can position your viewport-camera in your scene. Just highlight the viewport in the Outliner and use "Display / Show / Show Selection" or "Hotbox / Center / LMB". One of the most important editors is the "Outliner". There you can access every Object. The "Hypershade" is the material editor in Maya. The "Graph Editor" and the "Dope Sheet" are a kind of animation editor to access keys, tangents and curves. "Hypergraph" is a schematic view of your objects. In this editor you can change the history of your objects. Just click on the object you want to edit and click on the "Up and Downstream Connection"-Symbol. The "Visor" is a collection of textures,..., and brushes. Especially the brushes are important (PaintFX). The "Texture View" is a cool way of assigning textures to a polygonal object. The "Renderview" shows the result of the software-renderer and the IPR. You can find the hardware-renderer under "Window / Rendering Editors / Hardware Render Buffer". "Dynamic Relationships" is the essential dynamics editor.
If you have more questions, just use your email editor firstname.lastname@example.org...