If you’re anything like me, you’ll know how frustrating (and of course, fun!) learning a sleight can be. Sometimes they come fast, but often, well, not so much.
When we stop seeing progress, it can be so tempting to quit. This is because the human brain isn’t very good at dealing with long-term goals, meaning that motivation can wane if we can’t see short-term improvement.
It’s Not All About Goals.
In the world of performance and development training, of which I am a part, there is a lot of talk about goals. And for good reason. You need to know where you are going. If you’ve ever started learning a move from a book without really understanding what it looks like, you’ll know what I mean. Often, only when I see how cool something looks will I move forward into action and start putting the work in. It can be so motivating until it’s not. Goals are great, but they can do more harm than good if we fixate on them.
How To Stay Motivated.
For years I tried to maintain a health and fitness practice but would fall off the wagon repeatedly. It was all very exciting at the beginning, and I would feel better pretty quickly. But when that became normality and progress slowed, I would quit. Every time I started again, it seemed like such a colossal task to lose that weight and get back to fitness. This was often the same with any discipline: work, practice, learning, reading, quitting certain foods. But then something changed. Though I look rather old, I’m the most healthy I’ve ever been, and I love magic more than I ever have. Why? Because I forgot about goals!
Focus On Process
Well, kind of. Of course, you need to decide what it is you want to achieve. But after you have made that decision, begin to work out how you are going to achieve it. The process. What do you need to do to be able to achieve it? With magic and health, it’s pretty simple.
I decided that I would participate in some kind of exercise every other day for a minimum of 40 minutes. At the time I made this decision, It was the gym. I kept that up for three years. Then covid hit, and it’s either been yoga, running or cycling. It’s a habit. And this is how you get to learn your sleighs.
So let’s say that you want to learn the Spread Cull. You get your download and realise that you’re really struggling. Your cards are not playing. Pretty soon, the idea of culling a Four Of A Kind seems like a huge mountain to climb. That goal seems way more daunting. But you still really want to learn it.
Here’s The Plan
Turn up. Decide how much you’re going to practise, and just turn up and enjoy the process. Put some music on or a podcast and be in the moment. Work on what you have now and trust that repetition means improvement. Take the heat off of yourself. Focus on the process. Commit. It may be 10 minutes a day for a week.
Then review and reflect: Do you need more or less practice? More or less frequency? Treat it as an experiment to be adjusted. Play. Then check back in with your goal every now and then, now you know how long it may take, and decide if it’s still for you at this moment.
There’s nothing wrong with realising that it’s not worth your time right now. But make sure that decision is evidence-based rather than just a belief caused by frustration. This move took me a long time, but things sped up when I focused on the process.
Sometimes I don’t want to practice, sometimes I don’t want to exercise. But I made a commitment, and by staying in the moment and not fixating on the task ahead, I do it.
Do it. And if every now and then you don’t. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re not a failure; you’re a human. Turn up tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.
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In two previous posts, I’ve introduced and briefly outlined the main differences between sleight-of-hand magic and self-working tricks. There were two reasons for this:
a) for those completely new to learning magic, you now have a definition, with a little clarity, around the common misconceptions of each
b) I get many people asking about the pros and cons of each approach, and which they should choose as a speciality.
For this post, I’ll concentrate on the latter.
First, I’ll very briefly summarise the main difference.
Sleight of hand magic: Magic requiring more physical dexterity and the learning of moves and ‘sleights’. The learning emphasis is on physical practice.
Self-working magic: Magic requiring a piece of apparatus, or methodology/process to achieve the effect. The learning emphasis is on memorising the routine and building a presentation around it.
So which is ‘better’ ?
In my professional opinion, based on the experience of performing and watching hundreds of people react to hundreds of magic tricks, is that there is no good, bad, right or wrong. But you still may have a preference and choose one over the other. I know this sounds like a cop-out, but let me explain.
An audience, presuming that they haven’t been scouring YouTube to find out how magic tricks are done (this happens far less than many magicians believe), should have no idea of the method. They want to be entertained. With either approach, they’re probably not going to know how the trick was done. If you’ve put the work into practice, they will be ‘fooled’. But what kind of ‘fooled’ will they be. They could see a long, drawn-out dealing process that results in their chosen card being revealed. They may not know how it was done, but hey may think it was something to do with the process. Or by the end of it, they may not even care and just be praying for it to be over.
So to remedy this, we can go one of two ways: Make the process so entertaining, they don’t care, or create a plausible reason for the procedure. No easy task, but sometimes just having someone take part in an unusual process can be novel enough to create entertainment. As long as you can engage the participants and perform the routine smoothly, again taking rehearsal and practice, you’ve got a good chance of still being perceived a wizard.
If you’ve read the previous two posts, you would be forgiven for thinking that the last paragraph describes a self-working trick. However, I’ve read, learned and seen many incredibly challenging sleight of hand tricks that have so much process you’ll need a photographic memory just to follow what’s going on.
The point again is that the spectators shouldn’t see the sleight-of-hand anyway. So to them, there’s no difference. It’s either an entertaining magic trick with a magical finale, or it’s a puzzle. Either can be achieved with either a sleight-of-hand or self-working routine.
However, personally, I prefer sleight of hand. Here’s why:
- Preference. I enjoy the practice process. I’m a very kinaesthetic person, spending time juggling, playing the guitar and of course practising and teaching sleight-of-hand magic. I can work on a move for hours, but after twenty minutes of trying to remember a magic routine, I lose the will to live. So it makes sense that I’m going to go with what I like, rather than what someone says I should like. Any approach is going to take a lot of practice and rehearsal. If you go with what you enjoy, you’ll have a lot more chance of achieving a high competence level.
- Freedom. I enjoy the freedom that extensive knowledge of moves gives me. I can improvise in real-time. It’s like understanding scales on a guitar vs knowing some pre-written pieces. Both are valid approaches (and I do both), but I feel constrained when limited to the latter.
- Peace of mind. This is a biggie for me. The thought of getting half-way through a routine and getting lost, or something going wrong terrifies me if I’ve got nowhere to go. With a tool-kit of sleights, I can take the trick in a different direction if things go south. This can be done with some self-working concepts, but I find it way more complicated. Because my brain doesn’t work that way.
- Variety. If you work on sleights, it opens up more avenues for learning and performing. It’s a lovely feeling to know that you can open up nearly any magic book and learn anything from it. The skills are transferable, so learning new sleights becomes quicker. Additionally, you can usually find a move to substitute if you don’t want to learn another force, control or count. It’s also worth remembering that many classic routines blend self-working ideas with sleight of hand. This often gives the spectator less chance of being able to get anywhere near the method.
- Performability. Though not always the case, many self-working tricks, especially with cards, require more time and focus. This can be an issue in a performance setting, where background noise, space and attention span can be an issue. Sometimes the sad truth is that you don’t have long to impress.
- Strength of effect. With gaffs, you can create miracles that are pretty much self-working. However, if you want to perform with regular coins, cards, elastic bands or even sponge balls, you’ll need the chops. Borrowing a deck of cards, getting someone to name one, and pulling it out of your pocket is stronger that anything I’ve been able to achieve with a self-worker. Direct and unforgettable magic may be harder to learn in this way, but it’s way easier to perform once you’ve done the work.
Please be aware that these are my preferences, but I have nothing at all against self-working magic. I perform it regularly in the right setting. I just like the feel of working this way. The ongoing learning is something that I’ll never tire of. But that’s just me. Go with what you love, and have fun. If you’re doing that, You’ve already succeeded.
Steve Faulkner is a professional magician and creator of Card Magic Course. An extensive and ever-expanding resource for those serious about learning magic in a very unserious way.
In a previous post, I mentioned that when learning magic, we can take a number of different approaches. In fact, when we think of the thousands of tricks with various apparatuses, there are hundreds of approaches. That’s why learning magic can be so intimidating. Just look in any magicians (often unused) collection, and you’ll know what I mean. But for this post, I’ll be focusing on one of the many overarching preferences: Self-working tricks.
On one end of the magic skill spectrum, we have knuckle-busting sleight-of-hand, where it can take years to master a specific move or ‘sleight’. Way over on the other end, we have self-working magic tricks. A self-working trick is where the process, or the prop, does most of the work for you. It seems that all you have to do is memorise a set series of actions and viola! You have a miracle. What’s not to love?
No Skill Required!
You will often read tricks marketed with copy such as ‘no skill required’ or ‘totally self-working’. This sounds like a good thing. And for those starting to learn magic, it is. But like the craft itself, it is also deceptive. As in my experience, there is no such thing as a self-working trick. To make a trick deceptive, you have to know the routine inside out. That means practice and rehearsal, which means work.
You may be able to play a simple tune on the piano, but there’s a difference between playing it and performing it. And if you’re showing someone a magic trick, you’re performing, even in the least formal of situations. Yes, you’ll get away with it if you’re a little clunky, having to think about what to do next. That’s an essential part of the process. But you’ll only create a magical experience for a spectator if they have no idea how you did the trick. That means you need to think of the subtleties, script and premise. If you just follow the procedure, you’ll be demonstrating nothing more than a puzzle. Remember, we’re not talking about anything complex here. Just a nice, engaging presentation that creates rapport is fine. Less is, rather often, more.
I’ll write about learning self-working tricks in more detail in other posts. But for now, know that self-working tricks can be amazing, but they’ll still need some work. Maybe not as much, but put in some time and you’ll find them a joy to do. And what’s the point if you don’t?
Steve Faulkner is an award-winning professional magician and the creator of the acclaimed Card Magic Course. An incredible resource for those seeking mastery in Card Magic. For any level. Click here to check it out.
So what does it take to become a good magician? Is it skill, dexterity, psychology or just clever props? As a professional magician, I get asked about this a lot. One of the most fascinating, and sometimes most overwhelming things about learning magic is that it incorporates all of the above. There will be posts on each of these approaches to magic, as if you want to take your learning seriously, you’ll need to gain knowledge of all. But for this post, we’ll focus on the dexterity part, known as sleight-of-hand.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes Sleight-of-hand as:
skilful movements of your hand that other people cannot see
the fact of tricking people in a skilful way.
This means that as well as spending time learning and remembering the script, process and method of a trick, you’ll also have to spend time learning a certain amount of ‘moves’ which can vary in difficulty. For some, like me, this can be an attraction. For others, it can feel like pulling teeth. In another post, I’ll look at the pros and cons of taking this path. But for now just know that you can learn many magic tricks, requiring no physical skill, that will get a great response due to the other factors mentioned above.
So what’s the point in learning sleight-of-hand?
Magic tricks that don’t require sleight-of-hand are not necessarily easier—even those known as Self-working tricks. As the name suggests, these are tricks that need you to know only the process. But the name deceives, as making these tricks entertaining sometimes requires more scripting and performance, which is a separate, but not necessarily easier skill. Other tricks may require memory work, which for some will be more comfortable, but for others (me) it can prove more challenging than sleights, when under pressure. Then of course, some use special apparatus or adapted, seemingly innocent props (gaffs) that hold a secret.
You can also learn tricks that require massive amounts of skill that will receive a lukewarm, in any response at all. Again, more on all of this in future posts.
So do you need to learn sleight-of-hand to become a magician? Certainly not. Many magicians make an excellent living with no physical dexterity at all. As I’ve said, doesn’t mean that they have no skill, because as I’ve mentioned above, performance, scripting, engagement and psychology can be more challenging to learn and demonstrate than the tricksy finger stuff.
Whether you choose Sleight-of-hand, self-working or performance-driven magic is a preference. But my advice is to have an open mind. Understand that there is a reason for learning each of these. The important thing is to learn what you love. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.
Steve Faulkner is a professional Sleight-of-hand magician and creator of Card Magic Course, a huge library of videos and tutorials, with live sessions weekly. If you want to take your learning seriously, check it out here
Following my piece on how to learn magic, books, or videos, I thought I would share some information for those who are just beginning their journey or maybe just thinking about it.
Learning magic used to be a lot of hassle. Most magicians would, quite rightly, adhere to the ‘magicians code’ which states that, among other rules, magicians must not share the methods behind their tricks. (I’m completely paraphrasing here, but you get the idea).
This makes complete sense, as if everyone knew how a magician did his, or rather too rarely her, tricks, then they would become rather pointless. So with all this secrecy, how would one even begin to learn magic?
There were books, and later VHS cassettes (the things that people of a certain age had before DVD’s and downloads), but they were rather expensive, and took significant effort to track down (or decipher). So, it was accepted that if someone were willing enough to put the effort (or money) in to learn magic, they had earned the right to gain further knowledge. More experienced magicians would usually be much more open with secrets if they could see, or feel, genuine enthusiasm and willingness to learn. This was a wonderful and rewarding process, of which I have very fond memories.
The Perfect Source For Learning Magic
Now with YouTube and the abundance of magic downloads, this process may seem to be archaic and time-consuming. But if you are interested in learning magic, I have a little advice. It may seem obvious, but like the magic you are interested in learning, not is always as it seems. And it may not be as easy as you think. If you want to become a magician, the advice is this.
Learn from one.
Simple. Or is it? Unfortunately, many people teaching magic have yet to perform, and a great deal never will. If they did, they would learn that the tricks and routines that they claim will ‘slay audiences’ do little more than confuse or bore them. Of course, you may want to learn magic just for the joy of it, and you have no interest in showing anyone. That’s fine and brings its own rewards, but my feeling is that at some point, you’ll realise how wonderful providing the experience of amazement and wonder can be. If you learn properly, this craft can change your life as it has mine. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity.
Luckily, the internet hasn’t completely killed this craft, and in some ways has enhanced it. Because many professional magicians have seen the problem and done something about it. My initial motivation to create my own course was just this. But there are others, and I suggest you shop around. Have a look on youtube or ask them about their experience. Most will and should provide you with some free performance footage (you’ll be able to spot the fake audiences that some use). And most experienced performers will be able to point you in the direction of some authentic performance footage (have a look at me with Arctic Monkeys, and apologies for the name drop!)
You’ll be surprised how many people will be happy to help, if they see that you really do want to learn. Magic is a beautiful craft, and many of us want to keep it that way.
Thanks for reading.