Hard to get into magic? I can already hear the clamoring chatter of disagreement! Those voices are saying, “But Jafo, it’s easier than EVER to get into magic.” And in a sense, this is true. But if you stick with me, I think I can make a case for why it’s more difficult than ever before. But don’t lose hope! Because with this article, I’ll do my best to guide you through some of the pitfalls that every beginner will face.
Let’s talk first about what it was like to be a beginner in magic say, 200 years ago. To be a beginner in any trade usually required some sort of apprenticeship. Apprenticeships have a long, rich history in almost every country in the world – even as early as the 12th century. Essentially, the parents of a young person would make some agreement with a master craftsman or tradesman that would allow the minor to work in exchange for learning a specific trade. Such agreements could last for eight years or more.
Let’s say you wanted to learn everything about stone masonry or woodworking; an apprenticeship is a great way to do exactly that. By the time your apprenticeship is over, you would be well on your way to being a master in your field and one day having your own apprentices. This system has proved to be so useful, that it’s still in use today. Albeit with some changes to account for modern industrialization.
Someone who wanted to be a magician had to go through a similar ordeal – but with more difficulty. Most people of that time could go their entire lives without ever seeing a magician perform. Those who were lucky enough to witness those early conjurors then had to convince him to be taken as an apprentice. Then they would spend years learning every nuance of his act. Once that magician retired, the apprentice would then take the act as their own – or sometimes they would leave and create an act to make a name for themselves.
Now I know that sounds like way more work than today! And I can mostly agree with you. But in terms of the quality of the instruction, there’s no beating having that mentor. The learning was in-depth, hand-on, and thorough. As a natural consequence, the magic that was taught had real worth and value to the student. The secrets were protected from the uninitiated – protected above all else.
The side-effect of this secrecy was for those who didn’t find a mentor, there simply wasn’t enough information. Contrast that to us here in the modern information age and the problem has jumped to the other end of the spectrum: there’s too much information. The modern student is vexed with too much information and no idea where to begin. This situation can be daunting and discouraging!
Plus, with so much information available, how can you be certain that you’re learning from someone who truly understands the subject? Are you learning the proper basics? On a side note, I cannot understate the importance of a good grasp of the basics. Those basic building blocks should be learned first. Much like how all medical students have to learn anatomy first. You can’t effectively learn how to treat ailments and injuries until you have a solid understanding of the underlying anatomy.
When I first began, I had a single book on coin magic. I kept to the first few chapters that had the basic mechanics that I needed to perform the more complex routines in later chapters. But when I was learning card magic, I tried jumping straight into some fairly complex sleights and effects that just weren’t within my grasp. There’s no telling how much time I wasted as a result of not having any sort of guidance to show me what was properly basic to handling cards.
In fact, I have several friends who suffer the same fate. Their early explorations into card magic began with tantalizing glimpses of slick flourishes, one-handed shuffles, perfect faros, ace-cutting, and the like. And not one of them first learned how to perform a classic pass. Most beginners don’t even know that you only have to know five or six things with a deck of cards (each with their own variations) to be able to perform hundreds of miracles!
Wait, just five or six things? That’s it? Yeah, and I bet no one has ever mentioned that to you before in those countless websites and YouTube videos that teach card tricks. As for exactly what those five or six things are, well let’s just say that’s outside of the scope of this article.
The modern conjuror is beleaguered with information, much of it contradictory, from self-claimed experts. Many of those ‘experts’ are merely beginners looking to get likes and shares. And in doing so, you’ll be sent down a path in which much of your early learning will have to be redone. Or unlearned entirely.
When I first cracked open my copy of Card College Vol. 1, I first glossed over the section on the overhand shuffle. At that point, I had been performing magic for five or six years. Of course I knew how to do an overhand shuffle! So certainly, I could skip that part. Later in the book, one of the effects required the overhand shuffle. And I was having difficulty with learning the effect as written. It didn’t make any sense – I couldn’t make the positions of my cards match the words on the page. So, I went back and read the section on that shuffle and discovered something that blew me away.
I was doing the overhand shuffle wrong. Wrong!
So, I spent several afternoons just overhand shuffling. To this day, I still like to pick up a deck and remind myself of the exact feel of what a proper overhand shuffle is like. The basics never fall out of vogue.
I see you all out there – learning, performing. I see some of you trying to develop your own card tricks before you can even execute an Elmsley count! And believe me, if we do enough research, we’ll find someone who’s already created that exact card trick (or something very close). Why reinvent the wheel? It’s a struggle that doesn’t need to happen at all! But what is the solution?
Well, there’s no one golden bullet that will vanquish the problem. But I know a few things that can help.
Find a magic club. I’ve written in other posts about the importance of attending a magic club. There are so many benefits to the student that it’s worth its own article. Who wouldn’t like to be surrounded by others who share their love of magic? You can get so much good advice that it’ll make it worth whatever club fees you spend.
Get a mentor! Yes, you can still find mentors today. Some of the biggest names in magic today offer their mentoring services. Granted, the big names will usually charge a fee. But perhaps start locally. That’s why I mention finding a magic club first. You will be put in touch with so many people who could potentially fulfill that role for little or no money.
Your mentor doesn’t have to live in the same state as you. Did you know that some of the best magicians in the world offer online classes? Imagine getting world-class instruction from some of the best magicians for a very small fee. Many will even offer the basics for free. And please don’t forget how important those basics are!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas. But I hope I can spark some interest for you to reach out beyond your favorite YouTube magician to find that bright ray of guidance that help you navigate the morass of information overload that I’m sure you’ve experienced.
So, get out there!