Card Magic. How do you practice?

When I started back into magic a few years ago, I still remembered a lot of the basics that I picked up when I was a kid. Double lifts and top changes. Double undercuts and the fantastic 21 card trick! Jeez I was a pro, and I was just a beginner!

But why stop there, right? I bought a book or two, which then became ten. A pack of DVDs arrived on my doorstep, and I had instant downloads in my inbox. I don't even need to mention YouTube, but since I did let's just say that there are a few freebies available there too -- and honestly, they're pretty good quality*.

So much information, so many sleights and routines. How on earth can anyone become great at a routine when tomorrow we start learning the next one?!

Today I'm going to talk about information overload and the negative effect is has had on my journey into the magic world. I do think there's light at the end of the tunnel though, and from where I'm sitting it's quite bright. Stick with me here for a few minutes here and see if anything stands out to you too!

Information Overload

If you've seen my library, specifically the  books and videos lists, I have enough content to keep any person busy for quite a long time. Unfortunately, I haven't even entered in a quarter of my collection yet and based on the recent shipping notifications I've received, it's still growing.

I've read in Genii about some of the pro's not having access to magic books or videos when they started their magic hobby and that they had to figure everything out on their own. I very much respect that and think that we could all learn a lot from them. If they wrote a book, I'd buy it! This isn't about those folks though. This is about the rest of us. Those of us who have access to a magic shop, or an online store.

If I was just starting out and I searched for "card magic for beginners", guess what I see first:

Google search results for "card magic for beginners"Besides Google's self-promotion of YouTube results, books on Amazon show up as ads -- nice! Funnily enough, I don't have any of those three so maybe I'll check them out. Scrolling down the page though, there are many, many more sources from blog posts to books and much more. You can see by the screenshot above, there are 16 million results for this. Wow!

That's kind of where I started too, except I knew the book I wanted: Royal Road to Card Magic. I went directly to Amazon and bought it. Why Amazon and not a magic shop? Well, there aren't any magic shops near where I live (I think?), and I didn't know any of the magic shops like Vanishing Inc. or Ellusionist at the time.

My first year in magic I would learn a few sleights from Royal Road and Card College each week and practice for a few days. Then learn a few more and then a few more after that. By a year-and-a-half into magic, I had maybe 20 books and a dozen videos and was consuming at least one per week. My time spent practicing individual sleights went from a few days to a few hours. If I could do the sleight and it looked good, I moved on to the routines and I would practice one or two, maybe show it to someone, and then move to the next.

Each book I read and every video I watched would reference another work that I haven't heard of and after brief research I would add it to my queue. It didn't take long until my library outgrew my capacity to consume. Even today, though I've slowed buying books, my backlog of "to read" material is enormous. On one hand, this might seem cool. I have all the reference material I could ever need! On the other hand, I'm spending so much time context switching between new and different sleights and routines that I don't devote much time to any of them.

How can I become a good magician if I can't become a good magician?

My Current Lack of a Practice Regimen

I feel like it's important to describe my environment a little, before I get into the nitty-gritty. So, I work from home and have a dedicated office in my house. My computer desk, a solid 6'x3' hunk of wood is large enough for my monitors and close-up pad. I have meetings throughout the day, every day. So even though I work 9-to-5 I can still practice sleights and routines during that time. I've got it pretty good =]

Before work each day I have time to practice too, though I typically reserve that time to work on this website. After the kids are asleep at night, more practice time! I work with cards more during the week than the weekend too, which might sound counter-intuitive but hey, it fits my schedule.

On a given day I would say I have cards in my hands for an average of maybe 4 hours. Conversely, on a given day, I practice specific routines or sleights only for a few minutes.

A lot of my time, during the day, is spent fidgeting with cards. Maybe I'll work on a cardistry flourish during a meeting without looking at my hands. Or maybe I'll be practicing false shuffles and cuts, or second deals. Maybe I'm just fidgeting with the cards. The Classic Pass is one of my go-to fidget moves and I swear I do about 100 of them a day, if not more. But routines? Rarely. And it bugs the hell out of me.

The exceptions to this are when I'm practicing a specific routine to show someone or to post online. If I’m unable to perform the routine itself, then it'll be the sole thing I practice for a day or two, if not longer. I'll keep at it even after I think it looks good just to make sure I'm actually good at it. That way, I justify to myself that it's "just to get it once and move on." However, after I've shown the routine to someone, there's a great chance I move on to the next thing.

I've read and seen instructions for easily over a thousand routines, and I've practiced hundreds of them. I've performed far, far fewer. The ones that I would say I'm really good at are around 20. These are ones that for the past 4 years I've practiced many times and have performed for folks. I like to think that I'm good others too, but there's a difference between being good and really good**.

When I sit down with a book nowadays and am flipping through, I always have a deck with me and practice as I read. If a routine or sleight is hard, I'll give it an extra few minutes before reading further but often, that's it. I write down the things from that book that I'm interested in or that I think will come in handy later and move on.

My practice regimen? Non-existent.

Practice Ideas

It really, really bothers me that I don't practice regularly. I know that this is an opinionated internal struggle that may or may not apply to anyone else, but for me the struggle is real. I want to be better at magic not so I can go on some game show like AGT or Fool Us, but so I can be a better mentor for others.

To me, there is an ideal state for getting better at card magic and that is to identify a sleight or routine of interest and practice until it's perfected (i.e., until I'm really good at it). That, however, is inefficient. It doesn't scale with the amount of information I have available to me so there has to be an alternative.

One idea I've been pondering for a while now but haven't put into practice yet, pun not intended, is the idea of reading like I do now (which only really happens at night or in the mornings) and during work, practice the routines that I've flagged as "of interest". Not just from the book I'm currently reading, but from everything. I have a list of everything I'm interested in, so maybe I could create a round-robin style list (or even randomize it) to pick one or two or six routines to practice on a given day and practice just those. The next day, a new list. My thought process here is that it will get me to practice a lot of different routines, regularly, and enough times that I would become good with them. It will also break up the monotony of just fidgeting and might help prevent lulls in magic.

I've put thought into it for a while and really haven't come up with an alternative that would allow me to practice all that I'm looking to practice, so I think I'm going to start this idea in March. That will give me a baseline to track from (opposed to saying, "I started on February 24th" and then doing math... nah, I can just say I started in March =P. I'll see how it goes and will post a status update every now and then!

I'm very, very curious to hear about your practice regimen too. If you have any ideas, or if you've found yourself struggling with figuring out what or how to practice, definitely let me know!

* The free "magic tutorials" on YouTube, some are great. And then some are blatant rip-offs of others' hard work. I'm not going to lie, but I've watched my fair share of them and have learned a good amount. I have a lot to say on this topic though so I just wanted to add in a quick note here that YouTube tutorials should really be referenced with a giant grain of salt.

** To me, you can't be perfect at a routine since there's always a chance for a mistake. However, being really good means that the routine is natural to you. You're comfortable performing it and you're not constantly worried whether the double you're holding's going to split. You know all the outs in case something does go wrong or you're able to think of them on the fly. Being good at a trick means that you can perform it. Maybe you've only practiced it but never performed. Or maybe it's your first time performing it, maybe your 10th. You might be comfortable with cards, but you still have that lingering thought that something could possibly go wrong because you haven't performed it enough yet. I say that 100% knowing that as a hobby magician, I don't perform a lot so technically by this statement my skill level would always be under the "good" category but like with anything, there are exceptions. At least, it makes sense in my head =P

... and a third p.s., the header image is just two stacks of books on my floor right now =P. I just got a new area rug for my office and they're helping flatten it. No disrespect to the authors! I stacked them quite carefully <3

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