Myth #1: The longer I practice a sleight today, the better I will be tomorrow.
It takes many months or longer to get comfortable with a sleight-of-hand technique. For years, I practiced twelve hours a day – often, I’d devote much of that time to just one move.
Eventually I began to realize I was wasting a lot of energy. I’d make an improvement or a series of discoveries in the first hour or two of the session, but after that, not so much. By learning how to sense the end of the productive work and either put the cards down or move on to another subject, I got better results and had more fun.
I tell my online students that 30-60 minutes of focused attention, three to four days a week, will offer better results than four hours in a single day, or even four hours every day of the week. Sleight of hand is like slow setting cement. Take the time to set moves into your muscle memory slowly – you’ll get better results than you will from mindlessly repeating a sleight for hours!
Instead of more practice, focus on better practice.
Myth #2: If I do the move fast enough, no one will see it.
It doesn’t matter if your pass is so fast it’s ‘invisible’. As soon as the audience suspects you’re attempting sleight of hand, the illusion of magic is spoiled beyond repair. Rather than invisible, your sleights must be imperceptible; no one should ever imagine you would, or even could, do anything sneaky. Performing a move with precision is important, but the speed of the move isn’t nearly as important as knowing exactly when to do it, and where your audience will be focusing when you do.
Speed is less important than audience management and timing. As soon as they suspect you of foul play, you’ve lost any chance of creating a magical experience.
Myth #3: I must perfect a trick before I perform it.
Sorry friends, but that’s impossible. The process of performing a trick, then listening to your audience and accepting feedback, is what makes a trick better and better over time. Just make sure you can perform a trick well enough to fool the people – and then get it up on it’s feet in front of a real audience. If you listen well, their reactions and responses will show you what’s working, and what needs your attention next.
Deception is just the beginning of your job. Once you can fool the audience you can move on to the real work of a magician – creating amazement and wonder. This is the real game, and it takes a great many performances and refinements to play. And that whole process can’t even START until you begin performing the trick.
Take the pressure off! Accept that no trick is perfect at it’s debut, and the first performance is part of a much larger process.
Myth #4: Presentation is the most important element of successful magic.
I hear this one all the time from new students in my online training program. They tell me that in order to make a new effect interesting, it must have a unique and fascinating presentation. As Jim Steinmeyer, one the greatest minds in magic of this or any other century, once told me: “Never forget: people go to a magic show to get the pants fooled off of them”. And he was right – that’s the prime directive. If someone goes to your magic show and leaves saying, “Boy, didn’t he have an amazing presentation?” something has gone terribly wrong.
As you develop your magic, focus on how to clearly create and communicate the desired effect to your audience using ALL the tools you have at your disposal: technique, misdirection, construction and presentation. Like too many flourishes, too many extra words in a presentation can muddy the effect and leave your audience feeling confused.
While an interesting presentation can enhance an already powerful and deceptive routine, by treating presentation as the engine that drives your magic, you’ll likely end up with a boring piece of magic that includes too much talk and not enough action. #TheWorst
Effective presentation highlights the effect, but is only one part of the whole machine.
Myth #5: Self-working card tricks require no skill.
This myth comes from the tendency magicians have to assume that the word “skill” refers only to sleights. Unfortunately, self-working tricks often require you to deal, cut, or arrange the cards while holding the audience’s attention and clearly explaining and justifying the whole process. Doing that requires card handling skills, attention management chops and performance ability. These ‘non-sleight’ skills are essential to make a ‘self-working’ card trick entertaining. In fact, they are needed in every trick we do!
‘Self working’ tricks aren’t self-working at all. Use them to master the many important performance skills great magicians need.
Myth #6: Some people have talent & I’m not one of them.
There is no such thing as talent, and, if there is, you needn’t let it concern you. Famous acting teacher and writer David Mamet once wrote that the word talent has no purpose other than to give students a reason to throw in the towel. This advice applies equally to actors as to sleight-of-hand artists and close-up magicians. When we see great sleight of hand artists like Nathan Kranzo or Lee Asher, it’s easy to automatically think “Well, I could do that, but I don’t have the talent”.
As Mamet so clearly pointed out, the notion of ‘talent’ doesn’t matter one bit. All that matters is figuring out where you want to go, and what the next step is to get there. Becoming a real close up magician is like eating an elephant – you have to do it one bite at a time. Don’t think about whether or not you’re special, unique or talented; the people in whom you believe these qualities exist would not be where they are today if they had not taken the single next step towards their success. So, drop that particular ‘talentless’ excuse and start figuring out which part of Babar you want to chew first – his ears or his toenails.
No matter who you are or what particular circumstances affect your life, if you have the desire to improve, you have what it takes to be successful.
Myth #7: We should seek out new, complex effects to stand out from other magicians.
Surprisingly often, my new online students say things like, “The ambitious card is boring, every magician does that…” As soon as we become engaged in magical pursuits, we lose the ability to think like regular people.
The majority of your audiences will have seen zero, one or maybe two magicians in person in their entire lives. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that they will be bored by the same effects that bore you. For most real life situations, especially professional gigs, your tricks should be as simple, clear and direct as possible. Simple (or boring, to us magi), effects like the Ambitious Card and Card to Wallet are clear enough to penetrate the audience’s defences and get you a fighting chance at creating a magical experience. The more complex or esoteric the effect – the harder it becomes to clearly present it and make people care.
The clearest, simplest effects are called classics not because they’re boring, but because they’ve been able to connect with audiences consistently for hundreds of years.
Have any of these myths been holding you back? If so, which ones? Can you think of some myths I missed? Tell me what beliefs about magic your own experience has forced you to re-examine. What Happened? How did your change in attitude affect your magic? I can’t wait to read your thoughts.