What is Sleight-of-Hand?

Sleight of hand card magic image

Written by Steve Faulkner

January 10, 2021

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 

and

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

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