• How many magic tricks do I need to learn?

  • June 02, 2020

  • One. Yes, you heard me, just one; at least to start with. The temptation is always to think you need to learn as many as possible so you can show an endless stream of magic effects one after the other for your friends. This will have the opposite effect to what you are hoping to achieve.

    I will never forget visiting a friend’s house when I was much younger, and after dinner, it was revealed that his father (we’ll call him Robert) knew one magic trick, and only one. After much insistence and cajoling from me and the other guests, Robert’s family included, he finally agreed to show it to us. Taking a cigarette, Robert placed it into a handkerchief, pushed it down with his fingers and very slowly opened it up again, showing that it had vanished. After that, no matter how much we begged, Robert wouldn’t show it to us again, or anything else. That moment stayed with me long after the holiday was over and looking back, now that I know how it was done, I have so much appreciation for that performance.

    Robert made us work for the effect, investing ourselves into what we might be able to see, and building up the moment in our heads. Then leaving us desperately wanting more and refusing, Robert created a beautiful magic moment that I still am not likely to forget any time soon. It remains to this day the best example I have ever experienced of magic performed by a non-magician.

    Many professional magicians only have a limited number of tricks in their arsenal. When I’m doing a paid gig, I will usually only have up to fifteen magic tricks that I will go to while performing. This is because I know them upside down, inside out and back to front. There is almost nothing that can happen during a performance that I’m not at least expecting to happen. I know one magician who does the same five effects at every table when working a restaurant!

    This is the biggest and most obvious distinction between amateurs and professionals in the magic world. An amateur will know hundreds of magic effects, and will bumble through all of them; their audience will be bored and waiting for the “show” to end. A professional will know their effects, but also will have strung them together into a routine that they can perform in any situation as they respond to whatever the situation throws at them.

    When you are learning magic, there is nothing wrong with starting out by learning a whole host of magic tricks though. This is because you need to experiment. You will need to understand which magic effects suit you, which don’t work for your style and which ones need to be reworked, reworded or completely re-invented. As the herd thins, you will quickly know the effects you want to keep in your performance from the ones that you may have talked yourself into adding to your routine because they seemed “cool”.

    When I was starting out, I obviously tried to learn every single effect I could and would perform endlessly to anyone who would give me the time of day. Very quickly I found myself setting higher and higher standards that I had to meet. My effects had to fit certain criteria, or they wouldn’t work.

    One of my first effects I performed was the self tying shoelaces, a fantastic effect for a street magician, or a surprise effect for when I was with friends going to a party or similar event. Now however, I haven’t performed it in years. As an effect it doesn’t make sense in my professional gigs and would look out of place, feeling all too forced into the performance.

    As you grow as a magician, don’t be afraid to be harsh with your routines, cut and change anything that doesn’t meet your requirements. Be brutally honest and put yourself into the shoes of the audience. How will the effect be received, does it make sense in the grander part of your show? Does it suit your character?

    Only by doing the long and slow process of weeding out your weaker effects, can you raise yourself to the level of a professional magician.

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