25 Tips for New Magicians
Learning magic is a fun pursuit but as with anything, I think you get the most enjoyment out of it when you dedicate yourself to learning the right way to do it. Even if it's just a hobby, you should want to improve. Otherwise, what's the point? With that in mind here are 25 Tips for New Magicians, although if you've been in magic a while, it's still worth taking a look as we can always find something we can improve on.
And if you want to find out more about learning magic, then check out the magician's only page of my site.
I've provided a short explanation of each piece of advice, and it's worth reading through them, as I've sprinkled in some bonus tips too, but before we dive into that, here's the list in full.
- Get a notebook
- Don't just stick to card magic
- Read more books
- Find a mentor
- Find a framework
- Beware magic shops
- Practice better
- Work on other skills
- Have empathy
- Consider the internal script
- Don't steal or copy
- Scripting doesn't mean writing
- Throw away the instructions
- Aim for a great performance
- Show, don't tell
- Avoid hack presentations
- Aim higher than a groan
- Aim higher than "that's clever"
- Keep it simple
- Don't try to master too much
- Find places to perform
- If in doubt, stand still
- Don't admit to being nervous, even if you are
- Confidence is a ladder
- Respect other magicians
1. Get a notebook
A notebook dedicated to your study of magic, helps you to record anything you see whilst reading and learning, but also any ideas you have. Perhaps you're practicing something and you come up with a handling that works for you, maybe you think of a funny line to add to your script, maybe you read about an interesting topic that might make a useful presentation. All of these and more can go into your notebook so that you don't forget them.
2. Don't just stick to card magic
So many magicians start with card magic, and it's easy to see why. It's a popular and widely advertised genre of magic. Most people know one or two card tricks already (although there is a difference between card tricks and professional card magic). My recommendation when you are just starting out in magic would be to not limit yourself too soon, and instead take the opportunity to explore all of magic. Learn some coin magic, mind reading, even some larger scale performance pieces like rope magic and paper magic. Not only does this give you a wide ranging knowledge of magic, but you may find a style of magic you enjoy but might not have considered otherwise.
3. Read more books
The secret to all of magic is in books. Video can be useful for some very specific situations, but generally the way to learn magic is to teach yourself from a book, or to find someone who can teach you in person. It's the same with any other art form. Show me any performing art that is taught primarily by video?! So forget YouTube and instead pick up a general magic book with good quality diagrams. Here's a blog post with five recommended books for beginner magicians.
Bonus tip: The secret to magic is also in non-magic books, so don't restrict yourself just to magic books. Reading about theatre, science, philosophy, maths, history, etc, will allow you to bring your performances to life, and help to connect you to your audiences.
4. Find a mentor
The only way to learn anything is from someone who has already done it before. This could be from a book, as mentioned above, but if you can find someone who can mentor you one to one, then even better. There are only a handful of real magic schools throughout the whole world, but a local magician or online mentor can offer you personalised tuition to help you to progress. My extra piece of advice regarding this is to take advice from people who are where you want to be. There's no point asking a local children's party magician to mentor you if you want to perform close up magic for corporate events.
5. Find a framework
How do you know if you're any good or not? A few years ago I created a performance rubric that gives you a series of written statements to consider when performing. You can download it here. It's a useful framework to keep in mind when you are practicing or why not use it with your mentor? Ask them to watch a performance and give you feedback.
6. Beware magic shops
People are more interested in people than things.
- Dariel Fitzkee, Magic and Showmanship
Magic shops serve a useful purpose in providing specialised props for magicians. Online magic shops such as https://magicworld.co.uk are great places to pick up high quality playing cards, ropes, and specialised utility devices. However, there is also a problem in the number of ready made tricks and single trick downloads they advertise. They offer a fully thought out routine, which takes away any creativity from the performer. It's the easy way out, but the performance will always lack that je ne sais quoi, the personal element that draws people to the arts. Some performers seem addicted to buying new material, rather than expending the effort to create something new.
In my case, that doesn't mean you I never purchase a single trick prop or download, but generally I steer towards props and gimmicks that can be used for multiple routines.
7. Practice better
Put aside a little time each day to practice. It's better to spend a short about of time 15 to 20 minutes a day practicing, than it is to try to catch up with a longer one hour session at the weekend.
8. Work on other skills
Knowing how to do the trick correctly, and not fool anyone is only the first step. There are so many other skills that go into making the performance of magic look effortless and be entertaining. Confidence is one for sure, as is how you communicate with others.
- How will you interact with people?
- How will you grab the audiences attention?
- Will you play a character or a modified version of yourself?
On stage there are more skills such as blocking, entrances, exits, plus it wouldn't hurt to know a little about lighting and sound. It's worth thinking about all of these things, and certainly there are many magicians who have studied acting, dance, poetry, and other associated skills etc.
9. Have empathy
Every beginner I've taught has struggled with what we magicians call 'magician's guilt.' It's the idea that the secret is so obvious that other people must be able to see right through it. But it's only obvious because you know it. So much of magic is about thinking about what the other person's perspective is, so put yourselves in their shoes. And remember, no one is looking at an empty hand.
Bonus tip: The extension of this is to not embarrass your audience or make them look stupid. So, definitely no sexist or racist material but also any lines that say, "No, you're wrong," belittle the audience.
10. Consider the silent script
The moment he stops thinking, he begins thinking his own thoughts. This throws him out of character ... Every performer needs lines to think when he is silent.
- Henning Nelms, Magic & Showmanship
You place a coin in your hand. A moment later you open the hand and the coin is no longer there. But how did you do it? I don't mean the actual method, but the narrative behind it.
- Did it vanish instantly?
- Did it slowly dissolve?
- Maybe, it's still there but we can't see it, why?
- Did you make it invisible?
- Did it travel to a different time dimension?
- Maybe you didn't do the magic at all and you are just as surprised as the audience.
All of these options, and more, are valid, but it's important that you pick something. Your final decision might not make it into the final script but it will influence how you perform the routine as a whole.
11. Don't steal or copy
As you watch more magic you'll undoubtedly hear someone say something that you like, a funny line here or an interesting presentation there. It would be easy to just take it and use it, but that's stealing from that person's creativity. Don't be a hack. Instead, ask them if you can use the line. They might say it's an old line or a well worn presentation that everyone uses, they might say you can use their thinking if you adapt it slightly, or they might say no. And what about if you can't contact the person because you heard the line in a video, well, sorry but you can't use it.
12. Scripting doesn't mean writing
With the above warning about not stealing done, here is the next tip. You should be creating your own scripts. That doesn't mean you have to write everything out long hand, although that can be useful later down the line. Instead, what it means is that you think about how you want to perform a trick. At first this might just be an initial concept of how you want to present the trick. Next you might workshop your ideas by saying the words, and different variations, during your practice sessions. Then you might make some bullet points before your first performance. And finally after several performances (it will change as you find what works and what doesn't) you might sit down and record the script in full.
13. Throw away the instructions
If you do purchase a single trick item from a magic shop (with my tip six caveat in mind) throw away the instructions. Obviously you want to know how the trick works but what you don't want is the tired hackneyed routine.
14. Aim for a great performance
Magic is a performance not a demonstration. A great performance of an average trick is a lot better than an average performance of a great trick.
15. Show don't tell
I see this error with many new magicians, and even some that should know better. I often call it "magic for the blind" as they often just describe what's happening:
"What I'm going to do is..."
"I'll now shuffle the cards."
"Here I have a coin."
You can make your presentations more interesting than that.
16. Avoid hack presentations
Here is a list of presentations that are so well worn. Eliminate them. You can do better.
- Do you know what I've written on the back of the this envelope? NO
- Your name
- Baby gag
- Barcode gag
- Do you know what this is called? Showing off
- Less to shuffle
- No, the clean hand
- The invisible deck (yes, there are other ways to present The Ultra-Mental Deck, without saying, "No, take them out of the box first!")
Many of these lines elicit groans rather than actual laughter, so another reason to eliminate them.
17. Aim higher than a groan
Recognise the difference between a laugh and a groan. A great joke has a moment of surprise. If it's too obvious, you'll get a groan. An act made up of groans is not comedy.
18. Aim higher than that's clever
There's a world of difference between a spectator's not knowing how something is done versus his knowing that it can't be done.
- Simon Aronson, Shuffle-bored
There are some performers, especially in the sub-genre of gambling routines, who advertise themselves as having 'fast hands.' The two problems with this. Firstly, it challenges the audience to catch you out. If they don't they feel frustrated. If they do, they feel let down by your claim. Secondly, and I think most importantly, while someone with 'fast hands' might be entertaining, it's not magic, and it can never be magic. You're supposed to be doing the impossible. Magic is the experience of something where there is no other possible explanation except magic. If you hear your audiences say, "That's clever," then they haven't been convinced by the magic. And that's on you.
Edit: I've noticed some experienced magicians say that our audiences today know that we are not doing 'real magic' and therefore we should treat everything as a puzzle. I feel this is wrong. This is not about true belief, it's about the 'internal script' - see tip ten. Do I believe in magic? When I'm performing, the answer is always yes!
19. Keep it simple
Confusion is not magic.
- Dai Vernon
A clear effect is one where you can describe the trick in one sentence. That means eliminating all of those tricks where you deal the cards into three piles of seven, three times and then deal out a playing card rose, discarding the last card, and then eliminate piles of cards, and then put the cards between a loose fist and slam the cards and suddenly you're holding your card. It also means eliminating any unnecessary words or actions. If you audience appear confused then you need to work on your performance in order to highlight what's important, and what's not. A coin placed on the hand disappears. Simple.
20. Don't try to master too much
This sounds like the opposite of tip number two, but it's not. I think you should explore as much as possible, but once you've found something that appeals to you, I think you should begin by trying to master only a handful of tricks. So read up on practice as much as you can, but then prepare three or four for a performance. Which leads me on to my next tip.
21. Find places to perform
Magic is a practical art, that is learned in front of an audience.
- Arturo de Ascanio y Navaz, The Magic of Ascanio, volume I, The Structural Conception of Magic
Give yourself a deadline and work towards a real performance. You'll never feel ready to start so why not push yourself outside of your comfort zone. This doesn't mean performing for friends and family. Instead, why not look for a local charity who host events locally, or a talent competition you can enter (it's not about the winning). Magic doesn't exist in your bedroom. It's a live art designed to be performed for other people. A fifteen minute performance will teach you so much more than you can learn from just practicing at home.
Bonus tip: Book in three events within the space of two weeks. Why? You might not get a feel for things after just one show. Three will give you a real idea of whether this is something you want to continue with.
22. If in doubt stand still
I once heard it said that the only thing you need to do when performing on stage is convince the audience that you feel 100% comfortable being there. There might be more to it, but that would be an excellent start, and not an easy one. Stagecraft involves lots of skills, including entrances, exits, blocking, how to handle props, how to interact with spectators, but for now here's a simple tip, if in doubt stand centre stage and stand still.
See also this blog post: Don't sing and dance at the same time
23. Don't admit to being nervous, even if you are
AKA, fake it, 'till you make it. However, I should add that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Make sure you stay on the right side of it.
24. Confidence is a ladder
With the above to tips ringing in your ears, I offer you this one. Don't be afraid to be rubbish. Confidence is a ladder and you will fail on your way to success. That's fine. In fact, it's a good thing. We learn more from a failure than we do from success, so I refer you back to tip twenty-one, find places where you can really start learning how to interact with audience.
25. Respect other magicians
It's great to enjoy watching other magicians, but whatever you do, don't interrupt them. I see this a lot with less experienced magicians who interrupt the performer by saying the secret.
"I know that one too."
"Nice sleight of hand!"
"Oh, you won't fool me, I'm also a magician."
Instead, just enjoy the performance. Play along as if you don't know how it works. If there is a time at the end, you could introduce yourself and say you are learning magic, but be humble about it. Don't ask for the secrets, and certainly don't try to give any advice. Remember you are the beginner.
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