What are self-working magic tricks, and do they actually exist?

Self-working card trick performance

Written by Steve Faulkner

January 13, 2021

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.

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