Sleight of hand is all well and good, but is it really any better than using gimmicks or self working magic tricks?
Sleight of hand for the sake of it.
Magicians are addicted to learning new moves and techniques. However, practice of sleight of hand just for the sake of it can be a sure fire way to waste your valuable practice time. Recreational practice is not a problem in and of itself, unless that’s all you’re doing.
If you decide to commit your valuable practice time to mastering a move, make sure you also have an application for it. Being able to perform 20 different colour changes is no better than mastering a single method, that fits perfectly in the magic trick you want to perform. You only need to learn one method, until you have another magic trick or routine that actually requires a different technique. Don’t waste time building things that you don’t have a use for. Spend your time collecting complete magic tricks, not individual moves.
Everyone loves to invent. Magicians especially love creating and modifying sleight of hand. A problem can occur when it’s done for no other reason than to publish and name something.
At the Merchant of Magic, it’s rare that a day goes by without the team receiving a video clip from a magician who has ‘created’ a new variation. Sometimes these variations are awesome, but mostly they are a traditional classic move with a layer of unnaturalness added.
The goal of sleight of hand isn’t to be unique or different, but rather to do something invisibly. Sleight of hand needs to look like ‘nothing at all’. Perfect technique strips away any movement and hand positioning, leaving only normal ‘everyday’ handling or action. If a sleight adds anything unnatural to your movement or hand position, it could be weakening the magic trick rather than improving it.
The busy fool principle.
Despite what we were all told at school, how hard you work, is sadly, not a direct indication of your likeliness to succeed. Hard work only leads to success if it’s focused in the right direction. This is done by creating and working towards clearly defined goals.
If we take earning a living from magic as an example, any magician can get a full diary of gigs if their fee is low enough. A magician can easily do 5 gigs every week for a fee of £50 each. That magician works really hard and feels successful as they have as much work as they can handle. However, another magician can have a larger income by charging £300 per gig, but only landing a single booking each week.
In just the same way, many truly obsessed magicians practice night and day learning moves and sleights, but have not set a goal to build a magic act. They work like a ‘busy fool’ building their knowledge without any goals to make the effort pay off for them.
The Emperors new clothes.
The Emperor: ‘The collar’s always around the neck, the sleeves always come off the shoulders, the waist always goes around the middle! When will they invent something original?‘ – The Emperor’s New Clothes 1987
So many moves are published that are nothing more than pipe dreams, invented by magicians who never actually perform them. The moves get attention from other magicians who also learn them, without any real intent to perform them either.
The inventor gets plenty praise, and the students congratulate each other on their skills mastering these obscure moves. There are countless online discussion groups built around discussing, reviewing and often arguing over these techniques, their originality and development. There are even online magic shops that specifically repackage this behaviour into a fashionable lifestyle culture.
It’s a fun pastime, sold as ‘training magicians’. In reality, it may not be doing that at all.
Technique over entertainment
Which would you rather watch?
5 different uses for an Invisible deck?
Which would teach and entertain you most? I don’t actually need to write any more on this to get the point across, do I?
Practice vs. the average magician.
Let’s face it. Practicing magic is boring for most people. Some magicians love it, and the work itself is part of the reward and becomes a passion, but most people feel they have better things to do with their time than sit down and drill sleight of hand. The fun part is discovering a new trick, or discussing how a trick works. Most magic forums probably 99% discussion of new tricks, reviews, reverse engineering, marketing, and arguments about which trick is the best. You have to dig very deeply to find the 1% of useful discussion about practice and rehearsal.
We can moan about this as much as we like, but it’s simple maths:
The average magician is only prepared to spend an average amount of time working on their technique. This means that half of the remaining magicians are even less prepared to practice than them!
The result: A lot of terrible sleight of hand!
The Merchant of Magic was established as a magic shop to:
- Help people fall in love with magic.
- Guide beginners to practice.
- Help magicians design an act.
- Encourage magicians to perform.
If you have ever visited the shop, or called the team by phone, you’ll already know that the team often recommends the use of gimmicks over sleight of hand, for the majority of beginners. The sleight of hand guides and tutorials are also recommended by the shop, but the focus is on quality act creation, not an artificial ideal of purity in magic. After all, that’s how ‘he who must not be named’ would probably run a magic shop.
Using gimmicks doesn’t make you some kind of ‘mud blood’. In fact, it puts you in excellent company with magicians like David Copperfield, Dante, Devant, and Dia Vernon, and pretty much every other famous magician. The greatest magicians throughout history have always been partial to using gimmicks.
Come on Dominic, it’s not as simple as that.
Maybe. I’m definitely polarizing the issue to a large extent. Few magicians choose only sleight of hand, and refuse to use gimmicks. Most magicians study sleight of hand, and also buy self working tricks or gimmicks.
My point isn’t that you should choose to abandon sleight of hand, and fill your act with gimmicked props alone. You shouldn’t choose between sleight of hand or gimmicks at all.
I’m warning that it’s very easy to get wrapped up in ‘technique’ being sold to you as the path to being a fabulous magician. It’s hard to spot because it’s not being sold to you by magic dealers, it often comes from other magicians who are also caught up in the same trap of assuming competent sleight of hand defines the quality of a magician.
I recommend that you ignore advice based on the assumption that sleight of hand is always better. There are excellent techniques, and there are terrible techniques. In just the same way, there are amazing gimmicks, and dreadful gimmicks. Forget about the method of a trick you are thinking about learning. Look at the effect, the presentation, and what actually happens from the point of view of the spectator. If those elements are awesome, then you should learn it, regardless of the mechanics involved.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below: