Updated: Aug 20, 2020
Top tips to avoid the common mistakes beginner magicians make.
If you’re a beginner and interested in learning magic here is some great advice for you. Because we all learn from our mistakes I thought it makes sense to start with some top mistakes beginners make...hopefully saving you the time in making these mistakes yourself!
I’m Ari Phillips Magician, I am a professional Magician, proud member of the world-famous
Magic Circle in London, member of equity! I have been learning and studying the wonderful art of magic since the age of 7, having done my first professional magic gig at the young age of 12! I have come from a family of magic and been involved in all styles of magic, from grand illusion shows to kids parties and intimate close up performances. And with my experience, I am able to share these great tips with you!
THEY FOCUS ON THE METHOD AND NOT THE ‘EFFECT’
When a new magician starts learning magic they are so focussed on the method of the trick and how to achieve it, the sleight they are using or the steps of the effect itself that a lot of the time the presentation is missing or compromised.
For instance, you may have your head down, not engaging with your audience, miss the magic moments, and the opportunity to enjoy and play off your audience.
A lot of the magic comes from good old acting..and the key to creating a powerful magic moment is not to let on what it is you're secretly doing but to focus on your audience and the performance for them.
Choosing the right material for your level allows this. You will be surprised at how many mind-blowing effects there are out there that are reasonably simple yet play big. Focus on these and your performance until you're comfortable with your performance before moving on to the next trick!
TOO MUCH TOO SOON! LESS IS MORE & KEEP IT SIMPLE
Invest..but don't spend. With all the exciting magic trailers, dealer demonstrations, and youtube videos out there it is so easy to get carried away and buy everything you see. Funny but this is not just a problem with beginner magicians but magicians in general. The problem here is that you will end up getting stuck where you find yourself buying effects just to know how the trick is done, or because it looks amazing and you think it might look great on your social media feed, but a lot of the time it looks more amazing in the trailers than they actually really are...and there is a good chance you will just end up having a drawer full of magic and props you don’t use! Having lots and lots of tricks and knowing how they are done doesn't make you a good magician at all.. Maybe a collector..but, not a Magician. A magician takes time to practice, improve and perfect the tricks and effects that he likes that suits their style and personality and that they can perform well to get great reactions. If you keep just buying trick after trick or watching tutorial after tutorial just to learn more magic..its not going to help your magic improve. So Less is more. Choose a few tricks you really like, suitable for your level and skill set, master them, keep performing them and you will do far better with this than having a huge repertoire of magic that you can only perform mediocrely.
It is far better to learn a few tricks and do them really well so that you can perform them at the drop of a hat, and always have something up your sleeve (excuse the pun) to perform at a moments notice and do it really really well than to learn everything you can and do it unconvincingly with poor showmanship.
Put your time and effort into making your favourite effects better.
And as your magic improves you will see that there is a good chance you can still keep performing these effects with an added twist, sleight, or additional flair.
I say invest your time and learn great magic. But don't go out spending just for the sake of it.
If you do, research, check the reviews, make sure its suitable for your level, always buy the original, and learn it well.
So a good point to remember is that Less is more…
This is key when learning as a beginner.
By keeping the magic and the techniques simple when you start allows you to spend time working on your performance, persona, and magic style. It is important to feel relaxed during
the performance. A nervous performer is uncomfortable to watch. It’s almost impossible
to put on an entertaining performance when you are too busy concentrating on the
technique of the trick. By learning simple tricks to start you can really develop your confidence and performance style and charm the audience with your wonderful magical personality which will shine through because you’re simply entertaining your audience and making them laugh, smile, and experience the joy of magic.
SHOW OFF?...BE A PERFORMER, NOT A SHOWOFF
There are two types of magicians: the show-offs and tricksters and the entertainers. It’s always better to be the entertainer as it leaves people surprised, with a sense of wonder…and want to see more. The show-off, on the other hand, looks great, and people may say “Wow, they are clever” but often they leave feeling cold or annoyed thinking “How did they do that” rather than the sense of joy from being entertained. It’s not about,
‘hey look at me and how clever I am’...it’s all about ‘hey...let me show you something that is
fun and will entertain you’. By all means, learn and practice impressive moves and skills, techniques, and flourishes, but only as a way of enhancing your performance and not to show off. Nobody likes a show-off.
REPEAT THEIR TRICKS!
Show that again…..Never repeat a trick.
Just like a good joke...it’s never as good the second time you hear it!
People either want you to repeat the trick because they feel they missed something,
or because they want to work out how it’s done. Neither reasons are good enough for
you to perform it a second time...it just opens you up to scrutiny. The more you show them, the better the chance they have of working it out too and the magic is lost! Instead, it’s better to slow down when you perform so they don’t miss out on anything, and agree to do it again,
but surprise them with a completely different result. A great example of this is the ‘ambitious card’. It magically comes to the top, then the top of the middle..or your pocket, or under a glass...it keeps coming back...but with a different result. This is ok, but for it to keep coming back to the top is plain boring and somewhat predictable.
Maybe when they ask..just say, I have a better trick to show you and go on with the next one.
Something to add is that although when performing live we can avoid repeating a trick, it's almost impossible to avoid people watching your magic over and over again when adding it to your social media! This is something I have always shied away from on social media! 1. Because I feel that showing all your magic online spills an element of the magic and the surprise, but also people just love to watch the clip over and over with the hope they may work it out, even watching them in slow motion! so it means that should they want, they can view the clips over and over again to try and work out how it’s done. So if you do choose to add something online, do make sure it’s flawless and is not revealing anything it shouldn’t.
FORGET THE MAGIC MOMENT
Eyes up, confident, encourage applause, and remember - every trick should have a magic moment...A moment when in the eyes of the audience that the magic actually appears to happen (even if your way ahead of them and the magic move has already happened). (This also makes for a great applause cue too) For instance, a simple snapping of your fingers, a wave of your hand, a gently blow or even a magic word (f doing a children show) is when the magic is supposed to have JUST happened. This adds to the drama of the performance and makes for good theatre.
Its important when performing that you look at your audience when presenting to connect with your audience. This is essential if you want to capture and engage their attention and make them feel involved in the performance. Hold your props high and confidently. Not low and at your crotch with your head down. This is a big no-no and so many young magicians and beginners present this way because they are nervous or haven’t practiced enough to take their eyes off the trick. This shows and reveals you as a beginner. And is also very uncomfortable for the audience to watch and participate as a volunteer/spectator.
A lot of this is coming out because these days people are getting so used to performing on youtube and practicing like this that they don't go out and practice how they would when performing for real audiences! As previously mentioned If you have rehearsed enough you shouldn’t have to think about how the trick works and you should be able to concentrate more on the performance. This means you’re able to focus on your spectator and audience
throughout the trick. ]
When you engage with them more than you do the props you will come across far more
confidence and people will want to watch you for longer.
Always remember the magic moment and that there is nothing wrong with encouraging
applause. Make sure you pause your performance very briefly to allow time for the
magic to happen and the applause to come. When something happens by magic you could
consider holding it up close to your face, blow it, make a magical gesture, hold your arms out
, and look at the audience and smile. Holding it there for a moment is the cue to applause.
We love the applause and there is nothing better when you’re performing at an event or party
and the other tables/groups keep hearing you get all these wonderful applause and
cheers. They will wonder what’s going on and want you to come to their table next...and if its a paid performance it’s great for the person who booked you to hear this too!
NO STORY TO TELL
What’s your story? The difference between a professional magician and a beginner or amateur is that a professional magician takes the audience on a magical journey that draws them in. Through moments of wonder, magic, and amazement. They tell stories. They engage the audience not just because of a great trick but because they have captured their imagination.
Magic is visual and the audience can see what you’re doing...but to add a story while your performing adds to the theatre and drama of the act. It draws attention and makes them curious. This is so much more exciting than just saying…”Now what I’m going to do next….” ..” and what I’m going to do”... or what I’d like you to do” and then telling them. Ha?
Where is the surprise in that? Don’t tell them! (More on that in a moment)
If you’re not creating a story for the magic you present, then know your magic so well that you can engage with your audience while performing it without having to stop and think about your next move or what you’re going to say. This is often why there are dead moments in patter, while the ‘beginner magician’ is thinking what to do next…
Its a filler. Which gives them a chance to think about what to action next. Should you know the trick well enough you can talk till the cows come home...and no need for uncomfortable dead spots and pointless magicians fillers…Also, this will avoid quiet uncomfortable moments when you're asking your volunteer to sign a card for instance… Often there is dead silence which may be ok for the magicians and volunteers, in a close up situation or on one, but not when you have an audience! If you know your routine well enough, you can then proceed with asking them questions, or their name, or telling a joke, or explaining to the audience why you’re getting them to write on your cards...something rather odd and alien to so many people. You will be surprised how often people question you when you ask them to sign a card….so explaining that its to ensure there are no duplicates in the pack keeps the dialogue going, educates, and avoids any uncomfortable silence.
There is no need to learn a script by heart (although in some cases it helps) but you
must have a good idea of what you want to say to make the act more fluid and to stop you
saying things such as “what I’m going to do next...and for my next trick” etc etc.
So think about it. and it its a silent act, then think of the music and the drama it can add!
WHAT I'M GOING TO DO NEXT…
Don’t tell them what you’re going to do!
Would you reveal the punch line to a joke before telling it?
Or give the answer to a riddle before explaining it? No. It just kills the surprise...so why tell your audience what you’re about to do before doing it? If you do it will only increase the chances of getting caught when trying to “do the move” and will also weaken the drama of the story you are telling.
Come up with some reason as to why you are doing it, but don’t tell them you are going to
make something vanish and where it will reappear (unless it’s part of the routine of the
trick). By doing that you’re only adding heat to your performance and the audience will
burn you when you least want it. Don’t tell them until you’re clean and the trick will go
Smoothly. What you can however do is a recap...This is really impressive when you can reinforce what the audience “believe” they have seen and just before you make the reveal. For instance, “You selected a random card, you memorized it and put it back in the deck, you shuffled it, so there is no way I could know what it is to even locate it. ...and remember I didn’t even touch the cards until now...so wouldn’t it be amazing if….” You will also be surprised by how they remember the order of events when telling the story to their friends in the future! Although some of the over-exaggerated stories i hear back are just brilliant!
Remember surprise is the key to magic and why we do it...see keep the suspense and the drama in your routines and acts.
COPY CAT! (BE THE BEST YOU, YOU CAN BE)
Be yourself. The best ‘you’ there can be! Be the best you there is. No one can be you better than you! Be original, be unique, and be yourself. It’s ok to be inspired by others
and learn from others, but it’s not ok being the copycat. Take what you know, learn it,
develop it, and make it yours. Create your own persona and develop your personal style.
That’s how you will make a name for yourself and earn respect from your fellow magicians.
It's tough at first when trying to decide on your persona, your character, or how you want to be perceived, but generally, I found that the best magicians out there are just being themselves. They are either naturally funny, serious, mysteriously, odd or something that makes them, them. Trying to copy them or emulate how they do their performance will never work and is unoriginal. I'm not referring to the magic itself, as more often than not most magicians tend to perform a lot of the same material...but it’s about adding your own personal touch that makes the performance so different. And a lot of the time it’s just you being you!
Its always better to develop your own patter and presentations and consider everything from the individual tricks right down to the way you choose to go from one trick to another.
Bring your own unique style to your magic, and you will never go wrong. Remember there are so many magicians out there, why do they choose you over anyone else.. Assuming your all good magicians… its personality! They connect to you and like your style of magic and want you!
So remember, be you, and be the best you, you can be!
So many young beginner magicians feel that watching youtube tutorials is enough to get them to where they want to be! Although there are some amazing tutorials out there, there are also some very bad ones too..but nothing beats learning magic like having a mentor, mixing with other magicians, reading good books, and learning from others. Also, a YouTuber video can’t evaluate your performance or offer you feedback. Something very important when learning magic!
Do yourself a real favor and get a mentor, do a course, join a magic club, and mix with like-minded people. Learn as much about magic as you can! Learning is fun, but learning magic is extremely fun! There is no doubt in my mind that I am lucky to be working and studying and learning something I am so passionate about. And the same could be true for you... But it’s not always so easy to learn alone. And you will learn so much more, and faster by having the support of others.
There are so many resources out there to learn from: from buying books or borrowing them from the library, DVDs, and watching countless YouTube videos to going to magic shops, joining a course, or the ultimate, getting a mentor or joining a magic club.
There are so many resources out there, which is great, however, there can be many
roadblocks and hurdles along the way with trying to learn material that’s not right for you,
too difficult for your level, or you are learning it for the wrong reasons. Watching YouTube is
great, but there is no one there to support you, give feedback, evaluate your performance
and progress or advise, and give tips. So having a mentor, joining a course or group,
attending magic conventions, and joining a club will be an important step in becoming a
ASK FOR A VOLUNTEER
You hear the term you don't ask, you don't get… right. Well, nothing could be further from the truth when performing magic. It’s very rare you will get people putting their hands up to help a magician unless you are a children’s entertainer performing at a kids’ party! People are reluctant and more nervous about being called up to help a magician...usually because of past experiences having been embarrassed or seeing someone else being embarrassed or humiliated in front of an audience. This is no fun for the spectator and not good practice as a magician these days either. But also makes it harder to get the right volunteer.
The best way to get someone to help you with a trick is to directly ask and involve them in your show. “Hi there Sir/ Madam. ”(confidently looking at them ) “would you please take a card…” as you bring your cards out towards them to select one. Hi, Madam, would you please assist me on the stage as everyone gives you a round of applause...As you put your hand out to hers to join you on stage. The audience already claps and she has little time to dispute it. This doesn’t give them any chance to say no. Do not open yourself
up to embarrassment or failure unless you’re confident you won’t. By saying “I need a
volunteer”, especially for a stand up / stage show, and no one puts their hands up puts
pressure on you as a performer and doesn’t look great if they don’t respond. Far better to
just walk towards someone, ask their name, take their hand and say “Please give a warm
round of applause to ‘X’ for joining me on stage to help me with my next trick!”
Of course there is plenty of other ways to randomly select a so-called ‘volunteer’ to help with your act...especially for stage performances..such as throwing a soft toy, a scrunched up paper ball, or even a paper airplane into the audience to catch….Just be creative and come up with something direct rather than openly asking for a ‘volunteer’.
BELIEVES EVERYONE LOVES MAGIC.
Everyone loves to laugh, smile, and be happy, and magic sure does bring that out in people...but not everyone likes magic. Some love it and can’t wait to see more, while others may find it frustrating and only watch it because they want to know how it's done or maybe just don’t like it at all and don’t want to even watch it.
Ideally, it would be great to perform magic only to people who like magic...and if you're lucky enough to have your own show, then that's great as people are paying for a seat in the theatre to watch your show. However more often than not you will find yourself performing at parties, weddings, functions to a complete mix of people... And as wonderful as it may be to us.. not everyone likes magic. So we need to be aware of this.
By approaching people and speaking with them you will soon get a feeling as to whether you should be performing for them, how much to perform, what type of magic they like, and what to do next. It’s important to listen to them and should they not want to see the magic, then respect their decision...The key is not to take it personally, it may be that they love magic, but it was just a bad time..., for all you know they may be having a serious discussion, going through a tough time, had an illness or death in the family..and it's up to us as the entertainers to accept this, politely thank them for their time and leave on a friendly note, maybe suggesting if they do change their mind to just let you know and you’ll be sure to make my your way over ...wish them well, have a good day, night, evening and be on your way to the next group.
Approaching people and groups is always a tough topic for beginner magicians...and we could speak at length just on this topic...so if there is a demand, I will create one.
There will also be times when you perform to a group of people and there is a heckler in the group or someone who just doesn't like magic, it won't take you long to establish who this is, because more often than not they make it very clear and vocalize it. Just be yourself, be polite, and do the best magic for the rest of the group as you can…
Hey, You may even surprise yourself, if you put on an entertaining performance you may even convert the nonbeliever out there who usually doesn’t like magic but enjoyed your performance or trick! It happens and, I must say, very rewarding when it does :)
BUY NOW - PERFORM TOMORROW! PRACTICE!
These days so many magicians and especially beginners want to buy a trick today and be able to perform it tomorrow. This may be ok with some self-working tricks but it won’t make you a magician! The key to being a successful magician is putting the time into practice!
Practice Makes Perfect: before you show anyone a trick be sure to practice.
To be good at anything, practice is essential.
Just as if you wanted to play guitar or piano, you must practice..even to play chopsticks!!
The key here (excuse the piano pun) is, Practice, practice, and practice some more. Work on a trick step-by-step until you're comfortable with it before moving on. The best way to do this is in a learning process and not jumping ahead. Don't just try to learn everything you see because it looks amazing. A trap that so many aspiring magicians often fall into is buying loads of amazing visual tricks and then not getting round to learning them properly. If you try to just learn or buy just one trick at a time and work on it, you’ll get to know what material suits you and not go and waste loads of your hard-earned money on tricks that you don't use or don't work for you and your style.
Choose the right one for you and your skill set, something that you enjoy performing and practice it until you get so good that your sleight of hand is indetectable, you don't have to think about the moves and you can solely concentrate on entertaining your spectators!.
I repeat...Practice, practice, practice. Never perform magic without it being practiced and rehearsed first. Learn it, practice it, practice it again, and perform it seamlessly without error and then practice some more! Only then are you ready to present to friends and family.
By going out and performing it you will get more confident and be able to hone in on your
skills and polish your performance. The more you do it, the better your act will be...however
do not perform to anyone until you’re happy with it. Using a mirror to perform in front of
will always help when you learn something new and you can also use your camera or
phone to record yourself from different angles to see if you can spot anything you may not
want your audience to see.
Take every opportunity to perform in front of a live audience, and as much as possible,
whenever you get the opportunity so you can be practicing your skills. There is every
chance you will experience problems or mistakes along the way, and that happens to
the best of us (it’s just how you deal with it that differentiates you between an amateur and
a pro), but on your next performance at least you’ll know what to look out for. And learn from your mistakes.
As a magician you should Never stop learning, never stop practicing.
But make sure you always have fun!
STAY IN THEIR COMFORT ZONE. - NERVOUS
It can be daunting and make you nervous when performing live at first; hell... I still get nervous before every show (because I want to be the best me I can). So If you’re nervous
about performing, the best way to get over this is by doing it as often as possible. It does
get easier the more you do and the more experience you get, I promise, .
You may feel nervous to approach people with your magic for many reasons and Its totally normal. You probably find comfort in performing for your family and friends only when starting out...but in order to succeed you need to get out of your comfort zone and push yourself. And perform for anyone who is happy to watch you perform. (of course, after you have practiced enough first)
We tend to worry ‘what if an effect may go wrong, or not go as planned, which is always a fear when starting out. But the more practice you put in the less chance of it going wrong. Or you may worry more about how the audience will respond to you..but as I mentioned earlier, if you concentrate on the performance and engage with the audience they will warm to you and it will be far easier.
Push yourself and you will find It will get easier with practice. Put yourself in situations where you purposely put yourself out of your comfort zone...For instance, don’t just practice at home or in front of the tv, but practice your routine sitting on the bus or the train to work or school! You will be surprised how curious people are and how when they see you practicing it sparks up a conversation...usually..something like….are you a magician…....show us a trick… (of course, you would only want to practice routine you know well...but it gets people talking).
It puts you on the spot but you should absolutely show them something. It may put you out of your comfort zone, but its the best practice ever when you're presenting to a real audience..especially when they want to see the magic!.
So don’t be put off if your performance doesn’t turn out as you had hoped….just learn
from your mistakes to work out how you can improve it for the next show! That’s how we
grow as performers.
The difference between a professional and a beginner or amateur magician is that a pro would know how best to deal with such a situation…(most the time) and that comes from experience.. The main thing is to compose yourself, fake your confidence, and move on to the next effect. Or if you can turn the mistake into part of the show...more often than not this is the best way, because the audience will not be sure whether you have genuinely made a mistake or its part of the performance. If you can then bring it back and save it, fantastic...and not, you're a beginner and that ok. Apologise, be honest, and promptly move on with the next trick.
And that reminds me...to sum up
DON'T ALWAYS HAVE A TRICK ON THEM
Always have at least one trick with you Always be able to perform a trick at a
moment’s notice. When you tell someone you can do magic, the first thing they will always
say is “Show us a trick”. It doesn’t do anything for your image as a magician when you respond, “I have nothing on me...I can’t right now, or I don’t have any props!”
Real magic shouldn’t require anything and you should arm yourself with a few very quick, visual, or amazing effects that you can do anytime and anywhere!
Now, go out there, get practicing, and most importantly have fun!