For various reasons, I rarely give private lessons. But here are some thoughts on what I would try to teach someone, if they were my student … so that they could advance, and eventually continue on their own. These are not so much rules, as guidelines.
What’s the secret of being a better magician?
Setting a Personal Ideal … not just good enough. Each new trick should have an ideal vision behind it. What would it look like for real, without moves?
Malcom Gladwell speculates 10,000 hours of study, experimentation and practice to master something.
Don’t quit thinking too soon
Become your most observant, objective critic, and your most nurturing, positive minded coach. Build up mentally.
Learn from Historical Magic
More than just what is on YouTube and at your web site dealer. The latest trick is fun, but is it what everyone else is doing?
Is it a performance piece, or a “product”?
Are you responsible for the result?
Have you worked on the presentation, details of handling, technique…. really thought things through?
Why else should you deserve applause? If you are not using your muscles, someone else,
perhaps the trick’s creator, deserves that approbation more than you.
Is magic an art?
Just participating means nothing…… How much are you contributing?……. If you become an artist, with all the hard work,
integrity and responsibility that entails…… art will be a part of what you do.
What’s the best way to practice?
Focus. Eliminate distractions. Don’t be satisfied with “good enough”
First, get it off the page. Memorizing the moves and the sequence is the first step …this is where most magicians stop!
As Al Baker said, “Magicians stop thinking too soon”
Different types of Practice
Thoughtful…… research, experiment, adjust
Technical….. repetition, to work in muscle memory.
if there are problems, you go back to thoughtful and find out why it is not working, you are dropping the cards, or it doesn’t look right
Alternate mechanical and thoughtful until you have a smooth, workable method.
Different from practice. Rehearsal should be like a live performance …. the same energy as a real show to memorize your lines,
the sequence, and block out your actions
What is the effect?
If you can’t explain the effect in a short phrase, it’s not a memorable effect.
Cards Rise, appear or change.
“He did a lot of cool things” is not an effect. If they can’t talk about it the next day, they won’t remember it and your impact will be minimal.
Even if you don’t follow it word for word, you have a foundation for what you will say. You can move parargraphs, change words, cut words, and eliminate or substitute entire parargraphs. After you have done it a dozen times or more, you are on your way. If you change it incrementally over many shows, you will be surprised how much it has changed over time…… sometimes not even close to your written script…. but this will get you started.
Respect past masters …. if you just think magic starts and ends with youtube and the latest magic product, your are doomed to mediocrity.
Don’t just have one person that you listen to……. it’s great to have a guide, but take in good ideas any where you find them….. and toss out what doesn’t make sense.
Much different than just buying things. Learn from past masters, but then exercise your own creativity. How can you fix weaknesses? Present it differently? Enhance the effect through streamlined methods, understanding of showmanship, presentation and theater skills.
Video or Books?
Video is fine, but only a small percentage of magic knowledge is available on video. And it does not force you to think any differently. You will most likely do it exactly as the person in the video, with the same method, gestures, jokes.
Books give you basic concepts where you can read between the lines, and interpret things to come up with something new.
But not just originality for originality’s sake…. it must solve a problem or make it more practical or a better effect. Just changing a move or the color of the cards does not bring anything truly new to the idea.
Keep notes on your ideas….. variations on what you work on, changing and adding over time…… inspirations, inside and outside of magic
OK to work on lots of things, but come back to a core of strong effects…… over time these would become your “go to” routines. Effective and practical under most circumstance……. If you keep trying to improve, even these routines you have done for years, they will become like gold to you. You can always rely on them and when you do them, you are always seen at your best.
Experience and refinement
Learn from your mistakes… make adjustments….. try again…. repeat.
Good technique is a series of incremental adjustments, eventually resulting in a consistent outcome.
Beginners always know the easy way, they never know the simple way. Simplify means taking out anything that detracts…….. awkward moves, susupicious moments…. making things practical and not something that just works “most of the time”…….. Simple does not mean easy…… it is a distillation to an essence. Exactly was is required, no more, no less.
Many simple things take great skill to eliminate tedious procedure and superfluous action.
If you don’t decide what you want to project to people, you are leaving it to chance. If you are not a funny guy, settle for being of good humor and a likeable guy…. nothing is more uncomfortable than someone trying to hard to be funny….. or someone trying to be dashing and romantic, when they don’t fit the role.
Have daily, weekly, monthly, long term goals.
If you practice 5 days a week, for 30 minutes a day, totally focused without distraction….. you won’t be a great magician, but you will be miles ahead of most. If you raise that to a couple hours a day…. in just a few years, you could be one of the greats.
Choose material according to what people like, not just a clever principle, prop or gimmick that you like.
Real World vs. Contests
Goal of a contest should be self improvement, with a deadline and goal. If your only goal is to win, you might lose. Otherwise, you have advanced and have an act you can use in the real world.
Be careful learning from YouTube
Not everyone knows what they are talking about. Even if you think they do.
From The Book of Secrets
If you are only learning from videos, you are leaving out an important component in your magical progress: your own interpretation. Videos teach us to imitate, not just technique, but the style and manner of the performer you are watching; his timing, his sense of humor, his gestures. To remedy this, I enthusiastically recommend books as your major information source, with much to be learned “between the lines”.
In listing the following books, I have included a potpourri of titles and subjects. I feel that it not only makes for a more complete conjuror, but also stretches one’s possibilities. It keeps the love for magic in a perpetual romantic stage, preserving our interest long after the “bloom is off the rose”.
It is impossible to know it all, and when you believe that you do, you are no longer capable of further learning and growth. A general understanding of dove magic will help you with your coin magic, and a familiarity with illusion design and principles will assist you in creating smaller gimmicks and props.
As Edwin Sachs suggests, one is not ready for stage magic until a general mastery of “small magic” is attained. The skills learned working for a few people at a time provide an indispensable cornerstone of technique and general performance skills. These skills provide a springboard for making the rather prodigious leap onto the stage.
Here I specifically list sources to find direct methods and clear effects. I have included material with a wide variety of objects for both stage and close-up. I have purposely avoided mention of most current books and those that deal exclusively with technical minutia. Current “pop” tricks and books should be seen in proper perspective. Trends come and go in magic. The classics will always provide a strong foundation that will stay the weather of many years.
Many volumes listed below are out of print but still available through dealers in used magic books. This list could be regarded simply as a few books that I, personally, would bring to the proverbial desert island. I have many other favorites, but I believe that these books alone would provide enough material and knowledge to keep any of us thinking about magic for a lifetime.
I have found biographies of magicians to be quite fascinating and inspirational. Except in the most deifying interpretations, they show the greats of the past as real people like ourselves, experimenting and sometimes failing, but remaining relentless in their pursuit of the hidden secrets of the craft. My favorites in this genre are Carter the Great, The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin, The Life and Times of Augustus Rapp, and David Bamberg’s Illusion Show. Milbourne Christopher’s Illustrated History of Magic and David Price’s Magic offer hundreds of fascinating profiles and insightful perspective on magic’s development.
Johann Hofzinser’s work is exceptional in the history of magic with beautiful, poetic plots and innovative, ingenious methods. J.N. Hofzinser’s Card Conjuring and The Magic of J.N. Hofzinser will inspire awe as well as new respect for the artistic potential of the magic craft.
Sleight of Hand by Edwin Sachs is probably the single most complete book ever written on magic. It includes both stage and close-up magic, chapters on technique, presentation, and all the peripheral skills necessary for great conjuring.
David Devant, arguably the greatest conjuror in England’s history, has written several terrific books on magic including Secrets of My Magic and My Magic Life. He performed both sleight of hand and illusions, with all his books written from the perspective of a real performer. Together with Nevil Maskelyne, he wrote Our Magic, one of the most thorough and thought-provoking magic books ever.
Not all the ideas presented here will be immediately understood or applicable to what you do. However, if you absorb these concepts, the more you perform, the more relevance they will have for you. I have reread Our Magic every few years and find that each time I discover something that I have learned through experience, along with a foreshadowing of what I have yet to learn.
An excellent and entertaining introduction to the principles and psychology of stage illusion may be found in Jim Steinmeyer’s analysis of Guy Jarrett, The Complete Jarrett. I recommend all of Mr. Steinmeyer’s excellent books of original material, my favorite being Device and Illusion. I would also recommend Steinmeyer’s The Magic of Alan Wakeling as one of the best books on stage conjuring in recent memory. [Recently all of Mr. Steinmeyer’s articles in MAGIC magazine have been condensed into one of the finest books on stage magic ever written The Conjuring Anthology.]
It is no secret that I consider Al Baker one of the greatest minds magic has ever produced. His Magical Ways and Means and Pet Secrets are indispensable to the serious student of magic. Period. If you can manage to find them, he also published Al Baker’s Book One, and Book Two, two small paperback booklets that contain a wealth of clever, practical material. [All Al Baker material has been recently compiled in one fantastic, must-have volume, The Secret Ways of Al Baker.]
If you want to understand misdirection and timing, there are no greater authorities than John Ramsay and Tony Slydini. Ramsay’s student, Andrew Galloway, has written The Ramsay Legend, The Ramsay Classics, and The Ramsay Finale. In these superb books, many of the art’s most subtle secrets are revealed along with some devilishly clever magic. Lewis Ganson’s The Magic of Slydini and Leon Nathanson’s Slydini Encores, two very important books in my early development. Slydini was certainly a master of misdirection, but the greatest lessons he teaches are those regarding timing and choreographed movement.
Every magician’s library should have reference books covering a wide range of subjects. The classic Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann, along with the sequels More Magic and Later Magic, are some of the most exhaustive studies of the magical art. Everything from mechanical principles, prop construction, sleight of hand, and presentation are covered in these indispensable volumes.
No magic reference shelf would be complete without S.H. Sharpe’s Conjuror’s Optical Secrets, Conjuror’s Mechanical Secrets, Conjurors Psychological Secrets, and Conjuror’s Hydraulic and Pneumatic Secrets. These excellent books give a brief, understandable overview of nearly every major principle in magic. Sharpe wrote several inspiring books of magic theory, recently republished in a single volume as Neo Magic Artistry.
The original six volumes of The Tarbell Course in Magic contain enough material and sound advice to construct several excellent career-building routines.
I would, of course, recommend any book of material by or about the magic of “The Professor”, Dai Vernon. I consider Lewis Ganson’s The Dai Vernon Book of Magic to be the most complete of all his books. It contains magic with a variety of objects, with each routine a lesson unto itself. Be sure to read and reread “The Vernon Touch” chapter at the beginning of the book. This section effectively encapsulates his theories on sleight of hand that may be applied to every routine you undertake. Vernon was, without a doubt, one of the world’s greatest exponents of pure sleight of hand.
Magic with Faucett Ross, one of my favorite books, contains many practical, audience-tested routines for the stage from my early mentor and friend. Faucett understood the meaning of a good effect and was skilled at transforming standard trick, through routining and fresh combinations, created great magic entertainment.
In The Books of Wonder, Stephen Minch presents the superlative work of Tommy Wonder. This two volume set is filled with brilliant, visual magic and thoughtful essays. Wonder does not demand that we agree with his “theories”, instead he inspires us to think for ourselves, using our own experience, ideas and hard work to elevate the art though our participation.
This list is by no means complete, but should serve the reader in good steed. Use these books for reference, guidance, and inspiration. Through your appreciation and respect alone, significant improvements will begin to show in your magic. Knowledge is indeed power, the power to manifest your ultimate potential.