A little more than a month ago I wrote about wanting to find another up-the-ladder false running cut. While I knew of many, my mind was stuck on the memory of one in Principia, a book by Harapan Ong. I first read Principia in March 2020, shortly after receiving it. Cover to cover, I spent a full week going through the contents of that book and for a full week, I was mostly over my head.
I had been learning card magic for a little over 2 years at that point. As a hobby magician with two little kids and a full-time job, just starting to learn, those 2 years didn't equate to anything more than reading a book or two and watching YouTube. By the time I received Principia, I was still very much a beginner and was excited from the hype of Instagram (where I learned about the book). Fast-forward to now where I consider myself a lot more read and, while not an expert, still more than a beginner.
What is Advanced Magic?
Beginner magic, intermediate routines, advanced and expert level effects -- these are all just labels, right? To a point, yes. And, for the most part they do hold an in-the-eye-of-the-performer (or spectator) bias. Something that might be "beginner magic" to me might be "intermediate" for someone else. Or maybe I think something's a bit expert-level and Dave Buck thinks it's beginner-easy.
It's rare, in my experience, to find a book or video with a label that says "advanced". However, I have seen plenty that directly say they're for beginners, or they're more intermediate.
When I say "advanced" here today, I mean anything that's intermediate or harder. If a routine requires you to know a sleight that's not available in the book you're reading, the expectation is that you've been doing magic enough to be exposed to that other sleight. Similarly, if there is a required sleight that will take weeks of practice to be decent at it, well, that doesn't sound very beginner-level to me.
Self-working tricks can also be more advanced, but they do tend to fall more into the beginner category. Why? Because they're mostly presentation. Yes, I know, not all fall under this rough description, but we're being general here. If they require a lot of crowd control, multiple outs, or don't end clean, that's a little more than a beginner trick. Luckily, most self-working tricks don't =]
At the end of the day, it's up to you to decide what level the magic is for you. If you're comfortable with the level, it's at whatever level you consider yourself to be at. If it's easy to pick up, congratulations, you're a notch higher than "beginner". If it's too hard to pick up, well, let's call it advanced.
Studying Advanced Magic as a Beginner
When you're a beginner in magic, especially in today's age, you have access to a lot of material. With free content like YouTube, you could be learning 10 different color changes, false shuffles, and full routines a day for weeks and never see the same thing twice. Sites like Ellusionist, Penguin Magic, and Vanishing Inc give you access to paid content -- streaming and downloadable -- that's more in-depth and structured too. If you include Gumroad and Patreon and dozens of other online magic shops, video content is through the roof. And then, there are books. I am a card magic book collector and have over 100 myself... and yet not a week goes by without me seeing a reference to at least half a dozen books that I don't own.
The point is, as a beginner, it's very easy to be exposed to a very large variety of magic that can cover the entire range of skillsets from beginner to advanced to knuckle-busting-impossible. Yeah, I'm looking at you If an Octopus Could Palm.
So, as a beginner, should you even bother with reading, or watching, or let's just say studying magic that's more intermediate or advanced?
My Experience, As a Beginner
I mentioned the book Principia. Is this an expert-level book? Maybe. It's at the very least intermediate. But, before this book I had read another named The Card Classics of Ken Krenzel and this book is definitely expert-level. It, like Principia, contains a lot of difficult routines, audience control, and requires you to have existing skill with several sleights. I love many of the routines in Krenzel's book... but, I haven't ever performed them because at the time, they were beyond my capabilities. The same thing went for Principia. But why?
The reason is fairly simple: I never performed any of the routines from these books because at the time that I read through them I needed to learn more foundational material before I could actually perform the routine.
We could argue that that's not a good enough reason and I could have still practiced those routines and yada, yada, yada. My opinion on the matter is that I couldn't.
For example, the On Producing a Four-of-a-Kind routine in Principia requires Fisher's "One-Handed Popover" move, Thompson's "False Cut", Lorayne's "HaLo Bottom Slip Cut", Vernon's "Chinese Second Deal", "A Flourish and Pass" by LePaul, and a "Stuart Gordon Double Lift". One routine required 6 moves that I didn't know how to do.
You know what I did though? I added this routine to my list of keepers, bought LePaul's The Card Magic of Le Paul, got a video tutorial of Fisher's move, and finally opened Inner Secrets of Card Magic. Today, I can say that I know how to efficiently perform all the requirements for the routine. It's been 2 years, but those foundational sleights and flourishes can be used with so many different things that I really wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
So again, as a beginner should you even bother with studying magic that's more intermediate or advanced? I 100% fully believe that you should. In my case, I do it because it provides me with not only references for other foundational pieces of magic, but it also gives me ideas and inspiration on other ways to use sleights that I already have in my skillset.
The key, in my opinion, is to be able to understand when something is out of your current reach. You can practice it right now, definitely. However, you have to know that it will take much longer to be really good at it than other routines that are more of a "beginner" level. That's not a bad thing mind you, but if you're only practicing really difficult sleight of hand and it's taking longer than expected or just not working out, the chance that you'll give up and stop being interested is much higher.
Studying Beginner Magic as an Expert
What about the other case? If you're already someone who can pull off knuckle-buster sleights or you have a repertoire of hundreds of routines and can easily jam or jazz on demand, should you bother with studying beginner magic?
To reiterate from up above, when I'm saying "beginner magic" here I don't mean that magic kit you get on Christmas from your grandma. But, something like Royal Road to Card Magic, yes.
When I got back into magic, even though I bought Royal Road, I didn't want to read it at first. I wanted to learn the harder things, the more advanced material. "Royal Road is for kids," I was thinking. "I know how to do a double lift, I got this!"
And then I read it, cover to cover. I also read Card College 1 through 3 (I have 4 and 5 too, I just haven't read them yet). The material is much easier in these books and the routines are more practical. Things that I, as a beginner, could actually do. I don't need to rely on equivoque or card forces or other convoluted misdirection. I can perform routines that will get a positive response from the audience and help boost my confidence while I practice the harder things. It was great!
But, again, I was a beginner still... would an expert or professional bother?
I can't say. I think that it's something only each person, individually, would be able to answer. I do want to make one observation though and that's that a very, very large portion of YouTube magic -- even from the more famous performers like Chris Ramsay and Alex Pandrea -- are directly from books like Royal Road. The comments on those videos are nothing short of "the crowd goes wild", and yet, they're performing what's deemed "beginner magic". Hmm... I guess performance makes a huge difference!
When Should You Come Back to Older Material?
When you're ready, of course! I want to say "just kidding" here, but really, that's the answer.
In my case, I keep a list of routines that I want to perform and the required sleights for each. In the example up above for On Producing a Four-of-a-Kind, that routine required 6 sleights and I knew none of them. I had written down this routine in a list of "keepers" that I maintain and went off to learn the sleights before coming back to it. The idea being that after I learn most of the sleights I can come back and knock out the routine. In this case, that was the idea...
In my experience so far, normal routines don't require this many sleights -- normally, you'd look at only one or two sleights max (not including self-working routines). I would learn the sleight and then go back to any routines that were in my "keepers" list that required it and start practicing them in rotation.
Because I read books cover-to-cover, after going through one I might end up with a list of 5 to 10 routines and just as many sleights to learn. While practicing those sleights, I'll be reading the next book already and the lists continue to grow.
Eventually, I do get to a point after 3 or 4 books where I look at the sleights I've picked up along the way and that's when I'll go back to a book that I've previously read. I'll skim through the routines that I jotted down and start practicing! In Principia's case, and Card Classics of Ken Krenzel, this hasn't happened yet unfortunately. I love both books, but they both have so many "keepers" that it's daunting just thinking about it.
Maybe I'm not ready for them yet...