Ten Top Tips for Becoming a Good Magician

If you want to become a good magician, here are 10 top tips to set you on the road to success.

1. Learn as much as you can about magic

Read and watch

There is some debate as to whether it’s better to learn by reading books about magic or by watching DVDs. In my opinion, both can be useful. A lot depends on the quality of the book or film itself, of course, and the rest depends on your learning style – whether you learn more easily by reading, at your own speed, or by listening, watching and copying. Most people use a mixture and build up large libraries of both. Don’t feel you’ve got to buy everything at once, however. Start with something that interests you and read or watch that until you have mastered the techniques it offers, before you buy other things.

You’ll find some suggestions for books and DVDs to teach you magic on the next page of this section.

Attend lectures

Take every opportunity to listen to a more experienced magician lecturing (see point 3). Whether you think you’re interested in his/her brand of magic or not, you never know what nuggets of information he/she may offer.

Take magic lessons

Magic lessonReading, watching and listening are extremely useful but, in my view, the quickest and most effective way to learn is to have magic lessons from a really good magician who is also a really good teacher. I used to run a language school and we often had people come to us after months of trying to teach themselves Spanish, German, Thai or whatever. They needed someone to guide them, encourage them and reassure them that they were on the right track. To me, this is the same with magic. A few lessons at the beginning get you into good habits and lay the foundation for subsequent self-teaching. Of course, you can go on taking lessons for as long as you like – the longer, the better, if you’ve got the right teacher – but particularly at the beginning it’s an excellent investment.

(The picture shows former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff taking a magic lesson from Iain Moran, as part of a feature on Sky Sports in 2007.)

2. Practise!

It has been mentioned before but the key to success in magic is ample practice. Buy a couple of tricks and practise them in front of the mirror until you can do them automatically, without having to think. Then you can give your mind to the presentation. If you really practise, this will set you apart from a good 60% of magicians – and that is a conservative estimate. Most magicians want to buy a trick today and perform it tomorrow.

A trap that aspiring magicians frequently fall into is buying loads of cool-looking tricks and then never getting round to learning them properly. If you buy just one trick at a time and work on it, you’ll get to know what sort of stuff suits you and not waste tons of money on stuff that doesn’t.

Don’t necessarily go for the self-working or the easiest tricks, or anyway not when you’ve been doing magic for a few months or more. Be realistic about what you can do at your level of experience but also challenge yourself. With enough practice (and perhaps some help from a magic teacher), you might be surprised what you can achieve.

3. Get to know other magicians

Hang out at your local magic shop (if you have one), join your local magic society and find yourself a buddy or two

If you are lucky enough to live near a magic shop, spend as much time there as you can spare. The dealer will keep you up to date with what’s going on in magic and you may meet some interesting fellow customers. Most dealers are happy to help and encourage new magicians and to show you tricks they think you might like and be able to perform well.

It’s also a good idea to join your local magic club or society. There are a surprising number of these around the UK and you should be able to find one within a reasonable distance of where you live. Beginners are welcome and you will gain a huge amount from rubbing shoulders with more experienced magicians. Apart from being a forum for meeting and exchanging ideas with other magicians, a magic society has a programme of events, including many lectures for you to attend and competitions for you to enter, when you’re ready.

When you get to know some fellow magicians, it can be very helpful to have regular meetings with one or two with whom you get on well. This way, you can help each other by giving audience feedback on tricks and by generally keeping each other inspired and motivated.

Attend conventions

It’s always useful to go to magic conventions. You’ll find out about the latest tricks people are doing, learn from more experienced magicians and, with luck, meet some of your heroes.

Keep an eye on the online forums

As a beginner, you may not wish to get involved in magic ‘politics’ – indeed, it’s sensible not to, at least until you find your feet and can see the big picture. Even then, I would advise you to be wary about expressing negative opinions and to steer clear of gossip altogether. Sadly, although there can be wonderful cameraderie amongst magicians, there can also be distressing levels of small-minded nastiness.

Nevertheless, it can be very interesting to join an online forum or two and see what people are saying. Perhaps the biggest one is The Magic Café. It’s run by Americans but magicians from all over the world take part in its discussions. The biggest British one is Magic Bunny.

4. Experiment, make existing tricks your own and invent your own tricks

Don’t just slavishly follow the ‘recipe’: play around with things and see what happens. It’s always cool to have invented something yourself. (If you’re not sure whether you’ve found something new, ask around but, if you have created something original, be careful nobody steals your idea.)

5. Learn about the psychology of magic

The difference between an all-right magician and a great magician is often not much more than presentation. Give your routines a story, think what is going to hook and engage the audience. “Look at this!” is usually not enough. Why should the audience be interested? What draws them in?

Also, remember that all your movements need to have a motivation from the audience’s point of view. If you move the coin from one hand to the other, this may be a vital part of making your trick work but why does the audience think you’re doing it? If you have a ‘cover’ explanation for everything, it will be much more difficult for the spectators to work out what you’re really doing.

6. Work on your presentation skills and confidence

It is absolutely essential to connect with the audience. Make eye contact with the spectators, talk to them (not just into the space), make them feel involved.

It’s also important to appear relaxed. If you’re nervous, the audience will feel nervous for you and this will spoil their enjoyment. I know this is easy to say and hard to achieve in the heat of a scary situation but it’s a useful point to keep in mind. Basically, you can get away with a great deal as long as you give the impression you’re happy. Just as important as getting the tricks right is being able to laugh it off if something goes wrong.

I can’t emphasise strongly enough how vital public-speaking skills are to success in magic. Being a magician is not just about performing magic; it’s about stirring an emotional response in your audience.

7. Perform for the public as often as possible

Cartoon of a magician pulling a snake out of a hatIf you feel confident performing in public, that’s excellent and it’ll stand you in good stead. However, the danger is that you may not have anticipated everything that could go wrong. If you take every opportunity to perform in front of a live audience, you’ll experience disaster from time to time (that’s life) and on the next occasion you’ll know better what to do. Things go wrong sometimes for absolutely everybody; what’s important is to deal with it smoothly.

If you’re nervous about performing in public, the only way to get over this is by doing it as often as possible. Push yourself. It will get easier with practice and experience, honestly. Don’t be put off if a gig goes badly but learn from your mistakes and work out how you can make it go better next time. Remember that you are in charge and you have a strong influence over how a show goes. Of course, some audiences are dire and wouldn’t appreciate the greatest magician on earth: that’s their problem, not yours. Feel sorry for them and move on.

8. Develop your persona

What makes you different from other magicians? Look for your Unique Selling Point and capitalise on it.

9. Aim to join The Magic Circle as soon as is realistic

Being a member of the prestigious Magic Circle brings all sorts of benefits. For a start, you will know that you’re good, which is always reassuring, and it tells other people you’re good, so that you don’t have to explain. Obviously, it will take a lot of work and practice before you’re ready to apply – and you may not succeed at your first attempt – but it’s a useful goal to have in mind once you start getting serious about magic.

10. Enjoy magic and maintain your sense of wonder

Once you become cynical and look on magic purely as a way to make a living, you’ll lose your edge. Magic is creative, it’s stimulating, it’s meant to be fun! A career in magic is hard work but it should also be a joy.