• What is the most important part of a magic trick?

  • June 17, 2019

  • As with any art form, there is a saying for this, as there are three parts. Practice, more practice, and even more practice.

    Resist the temptation to roll your eyes, believe me; I certainly did when I used to hear this. As unfortunately, no matter who you are, whether you’re a newcomer to the world of magic or a seasoned veteran with decades of experience, this still rings true.

    If you’ve ever seen a young magician performing or one who is trying a new effect out, it is undeniable when they haven’t put in the time to practice. This is because the performance will be jumpy and stilted, with odd pauses at strange moments, rushed parts at others and a lack of a continuous flow. These are the telltale signs that you should look out for in your performances.

    I have been guilty of committing all of these atrocities in my performances as I was learning to perform magic, and they each hide a particular aspect that was overlooked in practice. Imagine a singer who plays the guitar is trying to learn the song “Sweet Home Alabama”, one of my all-time favourite songs and the first I ever learnt to play, albeit poorly!

    When they first start, they will practice the notes, chords and progressions separately until they are all smooth and can flow from start to finish. Then they will bring them all together so they can play the whole song from start to finish. This is how a magician should practice his sleights, keeping the rest of the performance in mind so that the rhythm remains the same all the way through rather than picking up pace during the easy parts and slowing down at the “hard” parts.

    Then the performer would practice the singing, without the instrument, so they know the words and have the tempo in mind, noticing which parts roll off the tongue, where the tongue-twisting lyrics are, where the song rises and falls. This is akin to the patter you will be using. Admittedly, this stage is more appropriate if you are using a script that has been pre-written rather than your own, but you get the idea.

    Finally, the two parts are brought together. I go very slowly at this part as if the tempo has slowed to a crawl so I can practice doing one thing with my hands while I say something completely different. This is a crucial part of the practice as you must get comfortable with doing one thing with your hands while saying something else, a surprisingly hard step, so watch out.

    After a bit of practice, you now have a song (magic effect) ready to practice. That wasn’t a typo; you’ve only just completed the first stage of practice. Now, you can practice the whole performance from start to finish. This is when I would practice facing a wall rather than a mirror, which is undoubtedly the obvious choice. Still, you should only use a mirror to check your sightlines and ensure that you will be correctly practising the move so as not to reveal anything to your audience.

    Practice this until you can comfortably perform the whole routine from start to finish smoothly. Smoothness is the key. I always remind myself and my students that slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Once you’re comfortable with this part of the routine, without being too harsh on yourself, you will know when you’re ready to perform to a live audience.

    Performing to a live audience is the final part of practising. Your body will have a physiological reaction that you just can’t imitate unless you have an audience in front of you. You will need the risk of failure to loom over you as it will cause your brain to go haywire and trip you up. Don’t worry, take a deep breath and let your muscle memory take over. You’ve put in the practice to get to this stage, so you’re ready.

    This last stage of practice never ends, which is not a bad thing! So don’t let it get you down. Every time I perform, I learn a little bit more about the effects I’m performing. Maybe I pick up a new line from my audience or realise that one part isn’t working as well and I need to draw more attention to it so the joke or reveal doesn’t land flat. So don’t underestimate the importance of practising!

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