This is a semi cleaned up transcription of the first episode of the MoM podcast. Three Magicians sat in a magic shop chatting about magic tricks. Too busy read it all? You can listen to the whole thing by subscribing to the podcast. Still with us? Ok, we have broken it up into three parts. Part one discusses how, when and where to practice your magic tricks.
Dominic Reyes Today we’re going to discuss practice techniques and the way that you can get the most out of learning new magic tricks. I should introduce myself first. I’m Dominic Reyes, the owner of Merchant of Magic and I’ve been performing magic professionally for almost 20 years now and I’m joined today by Ben Williams.
Ben Williams Hello. I’ll just jump in there. My names Ben Williams, I’ve been performing magic for nearly 15 years and performing professionally for about 7 and I’ve been lucky enough to work here at the Merchant of Magic with Dominic for many years. I’ll pass you over to Paul.
Paul Knight I’m Paul Knight. I’m a performing magician. I’ve been doing it for about 13 years and I’ve been working here for at least 3 months now.
Dominic Reyes Three long months.
Ben Williams Tedious months.
Dominic Reyes No, seriously, we love you really. So we’re going to talk about practice techniques. Ben do you want to kick off?
Ben Williams Yeah, I think we’re just going to start out some tips and chat about them first, so one of the things I like to do, is to perform a move and actually look at what the real move that you’re doing is. So if you’re trying to vanish a coin by putting it in your hand you should learn what putting a coin in your hand actually looks like. You’re replicating what the real general move looks like because when you start developing slight of hand moves there are tell tale signs that crop up for everybody. If you don’t study what you’re actually supposed to be showing them then when you’re going to be putting a coin in your hand that’s going to look funny. It’s not going to look like what putting a coin in your hand should look like. So I always think about doing these moves, I always practice what I’m supposed to be doing first. I will genuinely put a coin in my hand and squeeze it about 10 or 20 times. Then I would look at everything from when my right hand puts a coin in, What my right hand does after that, it naturally bounces by your side, your hand closes, you know. Just general movements and try and replicate as much as you can. Yeah. That would be my first tip.
Paul Knight When you’re practicing do you do it in front of the TV?, or do you sit in silence?
Ben Williams It depends on what I’m doing. Say if I’m doing the classic pass then I would happily sit and watch an episode of Emmerdale. Yeah, something classy like that. And I’d quite happily sit there and perform the move repeatedly over and over and over again because that helps with the muscle memory. That helps with the technique that you’re supposed to be doing, but also your mind is somewhere else. Because that’s essentially what you’re doing when you’re doing magic. You’re talking to somebody whilst you might be doing a billion other things in the background which they’re unaware of. So if you can practice and coherently watch a TV show at the same time, then you’re training your body to do these two things at the same time which is a great thing. But there are exceptions to which I’m sure you agree.
Dominic Reyes What do you do Paul?
Paul Knight Well flourishes and sleights, I do what you were just saying, so the mechanics of the magic tricks. I would quite happily sit in front of the TV and practice over and over and over again until it’s second nature like doing up your shoelaces. However, if I was doing a routine or an actual magic trick in itself, which would involve patter, a story, say with a beginning or an end to it, I would always listen to music because music is a distraction from the actual performance.
Ben Williams Yeah, I can totally understand that. I think there’s an awesome magician and a good friend of mine, Eric JonesJones, who only performs and practices his coin magic to music because it’s like a metronome because you get a beat and you get a rhythm. So as you’re performing you get this flow, it’s natural, you eliminate dead spots. It’s a rhythm, it’s a flow. It’s great with coin magic, it’s really helpful, it’s really, really helpful.
Paul Knight A good way to jazz actually is to practice to music. The practicing of sleights slowly, then faster and then it becomes even quicker.
Ben Williams You’ll find things like misdirection will flow a lot easier if you practice with a rhythm then you can establish that rhythm when you perform.
Dominic Reyes It’s a bit like when you learn to drive. When you are learning clutch bite on the pedals. At first all you can do is concentrate on that, and it feels really alien, but then you’re so busy looking at the road, you forget about your feet and once you are a driver you don’t think about that at all.
Paul Knight Another good example is something that everybody does, your morning routine. What do you do when you get out of bed.? You pick up your wallet and pick up your watch. Well, this is my morning routine.
Ben Williams I put my clothes on.
Paul Knight I haven’t done that enough times for it to be in my muscle memory.
Ben Williams Okay, this is where you need to start practicing isn’t it.
Dominic Reyes It’s the same thing, you don’t think about it because you’re doing it so often. It becomes almost a mundane action.
Ben Williams It’s funny, somebody actually posted up the other day asking when did my morning routine change? I used to get up and go and have a coffee and have a shower and now I get up and check my Facebook and check my emails and check my forum posts and things like that. The world is a funny place isn’t it?
Dominic Reyes Well, talking about routine, I would ask how often to practice? There are two ways that I hear from customers coming into the shop and talking to us. Some people will have maybe one night a week where they sit down and they say that’s my weeks practice night. That often tends to be watching magic DVDs and reading books and i’m afraid that’s not practice.
Ben Williams No, that’s very important to establish. Learning magic is not practicing magic.
Dominic Reyes Yeah, and then other people, including myself when I’m learning a new move or a new technique, is a short burst of practice, sort of like 10 minutes, often through the day. Maybe 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at night. I have a deck of playing cards in various rooms of the house. I have one next to the kettle, one next to a phone and as I walk past I can practice. I can run through a routine. I think having those breaks allows you to consolidate the information that you’ve learned.
Ben Williams And then view it with fresh eyes.
Paul Knight That’s it. How many lectures have you been to which have been fantastic. They’re two hours long and you sit there and a billion jokes or lines have gone by which you’re like, oh, I’ll remember those, those will go into my working set. I’ll remember that trick and by the end of the two hours you’ve been so bombarded by information that you carry very little through with you on your own. You know, you would need to be writing everything down and noting everything and it’s just the same with practice. If you just go into practicing for a long session, it’s not as productive as it could be. If you give yourself breaks and do it in short, sharp bursts, it’s a lot more effective.
Ben Williams A bit like revision for an exam. You have a burst, then a rest, maybe a nights sleep and the next day it puts your brain in a fresher place.
Paul Knight People are always saying they haven’t got enough time to practice. Time is always pushing and, you know, life commitments, families and so forth, but how much time do you need? Five minutes in the morning, five minutes in the evening. Keep doing that all week long and that short burst will develop you a lot quicker than sitting there in the evening and going over and over and over it.
Ben Williams Yeah, 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening is nothing but that totals up to over an hour’s worth of practice over a week.
Dominic Reyes Sometimes you’ve got to really focus on it, especially if you’re learning a magic trick and you’ve really got to focus on the instructions. For example: Stand Up Monte By Garrett Thomas Where you’ve got a multiphase routine, you have to do everything in that order. That’s going to take time. So you’ve learnt the flow, but once you’ve got that you can then practice in short sessions often.
Ben Williams In fact something like Stand Up Monte would be the ideal example of something you should practice to music, because you can really pay attention to it, you can get the timing and the flow along with the music and then..
Paul Knight And you can jazz with it, once you understand it.
Ben Williams Once you can jazz with it. [Laughter] Such a great magic trick, but yeah, very convoluted sort of handling which you know you definitely need to practice.
Dominic Reyes They say you can become an expert at something if you do it 10,000 times or spend 10,000 hours on it. If you sit down and you do loads and loads of repetitions you’re going to burn out and after a while you’re just going to skip on to the next trick, whereas if you make it short sessions often, you can keep that energy going. You can keep it fresh and develop into it.
Ben Williams Consider David Stone, this is different, because it’s practicing for competition but David Stone practices his magic in both hot and cold climates, so he will go into a walk in refrigerator and practice his magic and he will go and sit in a sauna and practice, so he can perform with his hands being really clammy or hot and also really cold and sensitive… This is again for competition not in general, but if you want to nail something 100% of the time and you can’t afford to cut corners, he takes 100 matchsticks and he does his move or his routine and if he gets it right he will move his matchstick into a pile and if he gets it right again he moves another matchstick across and he does this again, when he gets it right he moves a matchstick across and he keeps doing this until he gets 100 moves in a row correctly. If at any point he gets it wrong all those matchsticks on the left hand side get moved over to the original pile again and he starts again until he’s done it 100 times in a row correctly. To be fair, that may well be a bit over the top, but…
Paul Knight Did he win?
Ben Williams He placed. He didn’t win, but…
Dominic Reyes His house burnt down. [laughter]
Paul Knight Well, that’s an interesting insight as to how a competition magician would practice something, when he needs to nail it just once on the night, boom.
Dominic Reyes Is that individual sleights and moves, or would that be running the whole routine?
Ben Williams You know I think he breaks his routine down into sections. He will practice his bottle production over and over again and then he’ll practice the bottle through table over and over again, and then he’ll practice the object inside bottle over and over again, and once he’s done them all perfectly and he’s got them down he’ll merge them all together into a routine.
Dominic Reyes And how do you tend to do it,? Do you tend to do it in chunks like that or do you run through the magic tricks from start to finish?
Ben Williams If I try to practice the whole routine I will end up realizing I’ve stopped in the middle of the routine because part of it didn’t look right in the mirror and I’m redoing that part. You can’t do that in real life.
Paul Knight I do that. I’m guilty of that.
Dominic Reyes I think you’ll find quite a few people probably are. You get lost in your own moment, you’re saying to yourself “that didn’t quite look good, how do I make it look good.”
Ben Williams You are being a critic of yourself all the way through, you’re monitoring it and saying how do I do this,? how do I do that? and you only actually half paying attention to the routine. If you actually did it start to finish and if you went wrong, you stopped you would very, it would take you ages to get to the end of the routine.