Hey, I’m excited to talk to all of you today about a topic that concerns all magicians: How to Practice Magic.
Magic is, like any hobby, improved through consistent and deliberate PRACTICE.
Which is a fine statement to say, and one that I think almost everyone can agree with me on, right?
But when it comes down to applying this principle in real life, it’s a little easier said than done.
Let me show you my three keys to successful practice:
Just do it
There’s a principle I first picked up from reading books on habits.
More specifically, how to form good habits.
One of the ideas that ‘spoke to me’ the most was the idea that, in the realm of habit, it’s actually a case of quantity over quality.
That might sound strange, so let me explain why:
If you want to create a new habit, it’s more important that you simply ‘show up’ each day rather than necessarily do a good job of the habit.
Here’s an example to illustrate the point:
If your goal is to become an artist, and you think a worthy habit to help you in that would be painting every evening, here’s how I would advise you to do it.
First, I would tell you not to care at all about the quality (or even the duration) of the painting session.
I would tell you to just focus on one thing:
Putting some amount of paint on a canvas, every single day.
There are no minimum requirements. No rules. Nothing stopping you from dipping my brush in the paint and touching the canvas literally once and calling it a night.
(heck, you could even skip the brush and use my fingers and it would still count.)
That’s because, at first, all I care about is that you’re ‘showing up’ each day. I barely even think about what you’ll do once you’re there, I just know you have to be there.
Every time that you do this, you’re strengthening the pathways in your brain and deeply ingraining the habit into your very being.
Now, within a fairly short space of time, you no longer have to worry about forcing yourself to remember to paint. You already took care of that. Now you can focus on slowly working up the quality of the painting.
But because you approached it by first creating the habit of putting yourself in front of the canvas with a paintbrush every day, you set the stage for your future success in achieving quality.
After all, the more times you put yourself in front of the canvas, the more chances you have to create a great painting.
However, if you approach it the other way around and acted as if every time you painted you had to paint something coherent and high quality or else ‘it didn’t count’, you’d find facing the canvas an intimidating task and chances are you simply wouldn’t do it.
So now do you see why quantity over quality is important in the first stage of habit building?
Of course, as ever, this is very relevant to magic.
There’s plenty of advice out there about the best way to practice, which drills you should do, etc.
But I think the No.1 piece of advice is simply to ‘show up’ each day. Every single day, commit to doing SOMETHING to practice. Again, there are no minimum requirements. You just have to do something.
Over time, you can work in more sophisticated techniques to your practice, but you’ll only get the chance to do that if you’re THERE at the table practicing – which if you follow my advice, you will be. You’re building the base by which the quality can be layered on.
And the longer this goes on, the more surprised you’ll be at just how much you approve even with ‘small’ daily sessions. Just by turning up each day, you’re stacking the odds in your favor. Over time, small changes and gradual improvement will result in huge net changes that were made possible by the small things.
I often play a spot of tennis with my brother…only for him to absolutely crush me.
Which, while it sure isn’t all fun and games at the moment, is actually one of the best things I could ask for.
See, it reminds me that however much I think I know, and however many hours I’ve already spent training—there’s still so much more to learn and so many more hours to put in on the practice court.
(and when you love the game, that practice itself is a welcome guest and something to look forward to.)
As a result, far from getting discouraged or frustrated about it…I love it.
Believe it or not, it’s exactly the same in magic.
I see a lot of magicians that are in a rush to ‘figure it all out’ and consequently seem to treat each time they’re fooled as a sign they’re doing something wrong.
Which is, in my opinion, not only the wrong attitude—but a downright dangerous one.
First, being fooled is always going to happen. That’s just one of the many side effects of being a magician 🙂
Secondly, being fooled is a beautiful thing! Many of us got into magic precisely because we loved that feeling so much. Every time we get fooled, that part of us gets to enjoy the moment all over again.
But I think the best part about getting fooled is this:
It reminds you that there are still so many mysteries, methods, and incredible pieces of magic waiting for you to discover and make your own.
Which I find very exciting. After all, isn’t that what we’re looking for?
Let me know if you agree 🙂
Focus and refine
Now let’s talk about WHAT you should be practicing.
Here’s an analogy that should help demonstrate what I’m about to share with you:
I recently wrapped up a lengthy phone call with a ‘friend of a friend’ who spends a lot of time trading stocks, crypto and foreign exchange currencies.
(riveting, I know.)
Anyway, one of the topics we talked about was the importance of ‘focus.’
So many traders go into the stock market hoping to make millions by jumping from one ‘hot new stock’ to another. They follow whatever ‘system’ is currently trending, and then give up when they don’t make the cash they thought would be rolling in.
In other words, they have zero focus.
The REAL successful traders are the ones that focus on ONE system. They immerse themselves in that one system until they know it inside out, and stick to that system through the ups and downs—knowing that in the long run, it’ll make money.
Here’s where things get interesting:
So many magicians I see are like the newbie traders…running from one ‘hot new trick’ to another, each time hoping that this is ‘the one’ that’ll solve all their problems.
When in reality, all the truly great magicians focus on a few key tricks that they’ve been developing, practicing and performing for years. Like the pro traders, they immerse themselves in that one set of effects until they know them inside out—and that’s what makes them so great.
It reminds me of that Bruce Lee quote:
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Here’s a good example:
David Williamson has been performing this famous act for decades, and it’s one of the best AND most hilarious pieces of magic I’ve ever seen:
Extra tips and tricks (pun intended)
Already take the three steps I outlined? Well let’s go a little deeper with, How and Why to Practice Magic Tricks
Please excuse the first image… It’s the first thing I thought of when it came to practice…
Anyhow, a question we get asked a lot here at The Daily Magician is a pretty simple one actually: How and why should I practice magic?
It’s a good question, and one we really felt we couldn’t give you our readers a half-assed response to, unfortunately, we stayed up rather too late writing all of this out for you… Which lead to this story, which lead to the actual answer to your question…
So I guess all’s well that ends well right?
I got caught napping this morning…
After a week working hard on a new project arriving at your proverbial shores in a few weeks, I figured I’d earned a little rest and recuperation.
So, when my extremely sophisticated alarm that requires no less than scanning a QR code to turn it off (true story—I’m a very heavy sleeper) started buzzing, I decided today was the day to cash in.
I turned off the alarm and returned to the blissful arena of dreams.
When I finally arose (at an hour so late I blush even thinking about revealing it) I leisurely swanned downstairs and grabbed a bite to eat.
Approximately 2 minutes into my late breakfast, I heard a sound that to my ears might as well have been a gunshot.
A knock at the door.
Now, perhaps some additional context is required for that sentence to have its full impact.
My usual morning attire consists of a sweeping grey dressing gown and, well, very little else. My hair—unruly and wild after months of not going to the barber—starts the day looking more like a science project gone wrong than something that’s supposed to attach to your head.
So the thought of opening the door on some poor and unsuspecting postman was not an appealing prospect.
However, there was little else I could do.
Frankly, I’d been caught napping…and now it was time to pay the price.
So, with trepidation, I opened the door just enough to slip a hand out and take the parcel. Mumbling my thanks to the postman, I quickly shut the door and returned to my safe place.
The whole thing was not the most pleasant of experiences.
With all that said, now might be an appropriate time to pose the question:
What’s the moral of the story?
How and Why to Practice Magic Tricks
Well, the whole thing made me reminisce about all the time people have asked me over the years to “show them a trick!”
Isn’t it one of the most curious aspects of magic that you can spend literal years practicing hundreds (if not thousands) of tricks, yet be unable to think of ONE adequate effect when called upon to perform?
It baffles me.
But nonetheless, it is most definitely ‘a thing.’
And if you’re not prepared, I’d dare say it’s worse than getting caught in a dressing gown by the postman.
Here are two ideas to get those gears whirring:
Make. A. List.
It doesn’t get any simpler than that, but so many people overlook it.
Simply put together a list of 3-5 of your favorite effects, and get REALLY good at those effects.
You can fill this list with other people’s magic, or you can create your own.
See #2 below…
Understand ‘songs vs chords’
If you’re struggling to come up with something, it might be because you are too reliant on a distinction I like to call ‘songs vs chords’.
Here’s what I mean by that:
If you’re a guitarist who ONLY memorizes complete songs, you have a limited repertoire. You can play those exact songs, and once those songs are exhausted, you’re all out of music.
But if you REALLY learn the guitar, you’ll learn each individual chord and the place that chord holds within the construction of music. I.e which chords go well together, which chord naturally precedes which, etc.
Soon, you’ll be able to string together chords in entirely new ways that are not only great music but entirely unique.
Even better, you need never fear getting told to “play something!” because you can, at any moment, CREATE music.
I’d wager the best magicians are the same.
They don’t just learn ‘tricks.’
They master the moves, techniques, and psychological tactics that make up those tricks.
And pretty soon, they’re able to put together magic that’s not only unique and original but often improvised.
As a result, you can be sure THESE magicians never get caught ‘napping.’
How do you do go about getting to that level?
In my opinion, you read ‘Expert Card Technique.’
It’s one of the most comprehensive guides to sleight-of-hand with cards ever written, featuring material from Jean Hugard, Frederick Bruae, Charlie Miller, and (many believe) Vernon himself.
The fact that you can pick this up for $14 (or $3.46 if you’re inclined to buy ‘used’) is positively criminal.
And I highly encourage you to grab it.
For those of you who followed my recommendation to pick up the ‘Royal Road’, this book is the perfect ‘next level’, penned by the very same authors.
It’s a tried and tested route to real mastery in magic.
Of course, the below IS an affiliate link.
(I.e. I might make a mouth-watering 0.02 cents per purchase.)
But if you were to buy this from your favorite magic dealer instead, it makes no difference to me.
All I care about is this:
If you don’t own it…get it, read it, and profit from it.
If you do…read it and profit from it anyway.
Therein, to quote Shakespeare for no reason whatsoever, ‘lies the rub.’
Go forth and profit from this incredible book:
The Importance of Internal Logic
Some magicians justify awful ideas (that make absolutely zero sense) by saying:
“But it’s MAGIC! The whole point is that it doesn’t make sense! It’s just part of the mystery…”
If that’s you, listen up. I’m only going to say this once…
The issue ISN’T that your magic is nonsensical. The issue is that your magic isn’t ‘sensibly nonsensical.’
Here’s what I mean:
I think we can all agree that many things we do in magic are pretty…strange.
Whether it’s giving cards names, pretending they’re attracted to other cards, or just straight-up pretending they get their egos fueled by jumping to the top of the deck under increasingly stringent conditions—a whole lot of it is just plain silly.
So magic can definitely be nonsensical. There’s no denying that.
However, individual magic performances ought to be ‘sensibly nonsensical’
All that means is that if you’re doing nonsensical things, you ought to be doing them in a way that makes sense according to the ‘rules’ of your performance.
The technical term I like to use for this, shamelessly borrowed from film critics, is ‘internal logic.’
It’s kinda like how complex films like ‘Inception’ can be both totally bonkers and illogical in relation to real life, but very logical according to the ‘rules’ of their world.
In our world, logic dictates that you can’t infiltrate other people’s dreams.
However, in Inception, you can.
Therefore, Inception doesn’t follow all of our ‘external logic.’
But it DOES follow its own ‘internal logic.’
For example, the deeper that you go into dreams, the slower time passes. This is nonsensical, but it’s one of the ‘laws’ of Inception’s world, and so the film makes sure it sticks to it strictly throughout the entire story.
It’s the same in magic.
Audiences are willing to ‘suspend their disbelief’ and let you share something with them that we all know is going to break the rules of our ‘external logic’ of life. However, they expect your routine to have its own ‘internal logic.’
So if you set a rule in your performance, you better stick to it.
For example, if their chosen card jumps to the top of the deck only after you say ‘jump’, you’ve essentially created a piece of your own ‘internal logic’.
I.e the law in your act is:
If you say ‘jump’, the card will jump to the top of the deck.
(note how this rule is completely nonsensical. That doesn’t matter! All that matters is that you stick to it.)
Now that this law and piece of internal logic is established, you MUST obey it throughout the rest of the performance. If you don’t say ‘jump’, the card shouldn’t come to the top, and if you do, it should.
The idea of cards jumping to the top of the deck is still nonsensical—but since it has its own set of rules, structure, and ‘internal logic’ it’s sensibly nonsensical.
Does that make sense?
Anyway, it’s getting late over here and I’m not convinced I’m making much sense anymore.
My Protein Shake Induced Tips and Tricks
NOTE: Here’s a recent (true!) story that I think applies very nicely to magic…
Let me tell you something about me:
I’m not the ‘beefiest’ guy, but I recently decided to do my darned best to change that fact.
I started with the ‘usual suspects’—a free workout app, some ‘home gym’ equipment, and enough motivational quotes to create a modestly successful Instagram page.
But I figured there was one ‘missing ingredient’ (no pun intended)…
Something I’d always wanted to give a shot, but never found the time:
So, I did when everyone in this situation does:
I hit up Amazon and ordered the item with the most reviews.
(I know, I know—a true ‘scholar move’)
Truth was, I was in so deep over my head I figured that if I even TRIED to figure out what was going on, I’d be there for the entire week.
So I ordered the ‘easy’ option.
And when it arrived, I discovered something:
I could barely stomach the taste!
That sucked, but I had no other option than to get it down me (I’d paid for it, after all!)
The next shake to hit my doorstep, a different flavor this time, was no better.
But the THIRD shake…
The minute I took the first sip of that shake, I knew that it was a ‘winner.’
That was a very exciting prospect:
After all, the whole point of drinking the shake was to ‘beef up’—and the more shake I could stomach, the faster that would happen.
So, since the shake tasted good—I managed to ‘trick’ my brain into intaking all the protein it needed to hit my goals.
What’s going on here? Why share this?
The truth is, dear reader, magic—like working out and chugging protein—can be hard.
Sometimes, we don’t ‘feel it.’
Other times, we’re ‘too busy.’
And some days, we don’t know WHY we don’t want to practice…we just know we don’t!
Fortunately, there’s a handy little ‘hack’ that works like gangbusters for avoiding this:
That tip can be found in the two words below…
Proximity = probability.
This is one of the best ways I’ve found to ‘force’ myself to practice, even when I don’t feel so inclined.
Proximity just means how physically close something is to you.
In this case, I’ll use the example of playing cards.
If you can engineer your home so that there are cards placed at a number of convenient locations (i.e where you work, where you eat, where you relax in the evening) the mere sight of those cards will remind you of your commitment to practice – and since they’re so close, they leave you with no excuse not to!
For example, I usually leave a deck of cards next to my bed.
That way, if I’m about to hit the hay but realize I haven’t put in the practice I promised, there’s no excuse—the cards are right there, and I can do a quick spot of practice before
In essence, the proximity of the cards drastically increases the probability I’ll practice.
Of course, the natural step up from this is to make sure you’re physically carrying a deck of cards on you wherever you go.
There will be a lot of situations that come up during the day that you can pay attention to without needing your hands.
Which means those hands are free for practicing.
For example, if you watch a lot of T.V., just bust out the cards while watching. So many of magic’s best techniques are very ‘automatic’ moves that don’t require mental effort.
(I ‘accidentally’ obtained a perfect faro shuffle by doing this exact technique, only with podcasts)
The net result is, just like with the protein shake, you can ‘trick’ yourself into doing what’s good for you by ‘cloaking’ it with something else.
Of course, there’s one element missing from all this…
What do you actually practice?
Well, I have a few ideas on that that we’ll be releasing shortly (more about ‘the project’ soon)
But in the meantime, you can’t go wrong with the Royal Road to Card Magic…
(and yes, I’m aware I’m likely ‘preaching to the choir’ with this, so no worries if you already own and have studied this work)
Each chapter teaches you new techniques—which you can then drill to your heart’s content using the techniques above.
Check it out:1
So, what do we learn from all of this other than what I’ve already said? The thing is, it’s all well and talking about a list, but what if you don’t have three tricks to throw together in the first place?
Well, in that case, nothing beats just stone-cold practice, take a month, take a few months. Really nail some tricks and once you have, well you’ve got your list. Then you’ll never be caught sleeping.
If you need more tips on that you can visit my blog post to learn magic tricks in 2020.
So there you have it, my post on how and why to practice magic tricks!
Thanks for reading this post on how to practice magic. Let me know if you agree in the comments below!