Learning Magic: Traditionalists vs. Radicals

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by CPUYEAR, Feb 28, 2018.


Which camp do you fall into. (Honestly what approach have you used not just recommended)

  1. Traditionalists All The Way

  2. Radicals Rule

    0 vote(s)
  3. Mixture of Both

  1. I'm a productivity nerd who likes systems, and I'm trying to develop a structured approach to learning magic at an accelerated pace. I know reading this I sound like another impatient kid but hear me out. After reading through a number of threads in this forum there seem to be two competing philosophies on how one should go about learning magic.

    Camp #1 Traditionalists: The most recommended approach appears to be to pick up a couple foundational books (Royal Road, Mark Wilson's, etc and start slogging through the material. As a competitive golfer and student of political philosophy, I know how important building a strong foundation is to future development. On the other hand I'm always skeptical of the conventional approach and I don't see a lot of value in learning a ton of tricks I have no intention of performing.

    Camp #2 Radicals: There are a few in the magic community who advocate for letting one's interest guide the learning. These individuals recommend seeking out tricks that interest you and picking up the slights and performance tips along the way. If a person purchased 10 commercial effect at $20 bucks a pop, and took the time to perfect the underlying slights and performance, it seems to me they could have a professional quality working set for around $200.

    The latter approach appeals to me as it seems more efficient, however I'm committed to taking my magic seriously and I really want to build a strong foundation in the art.

    I tend to think the optimal approach is a blend of the two philosophies. A healthy focus on fundamentals and source materials with a few commercial effects tossed in to retain interest and improve the overall effectiveness of my magic.

    I'm eager to hear what the more experience members have to say on this topic!
  2. I honestly think it depends on your goals. great example is playing music. Plenty of great musicians have no idea how to read music, but if you want to become a professional magician you prolly should take the time to learn and be classically trained.
  3. So would you advocate for a strict traditionalist approach or more of a hybrid?
  4. Learning tricks you probably won't preform can help you learn timing with patter and slights or rhythm of magical moments at the very least.

    Getting an education in foundations is pretty useful no matter what. This is not to say a radical approach cannot provide this. I think learning proficiently has more to do with a scaffolding approach for ease of learning. That is learning tricks that can build off of each other in increasing difficulty of concepts or methods.

    I would say either approach above would be fine as long as the lessons build on one another in this manner.
  5. I agree with @JoshL8 that commercial effects help with patter and timing. For example, my first time in a magic shop I got Color Monte and I took months memorizing the script and order of moves. That helped me with my dl and giving the trick meaning like saying One time I was at a carnival and the a man at a booth challenged me to a game. For who I perform to a carnival and a game gives it meaning.

    On the other hand, the next time I went to the magic shop I got Royal Road, which gave me good slights and made me be more creative because to me not all of tricks in the book appealed to me, forcing me to think of my own.

    As I said, I started out magic with Color Monte so I started with effects and even though the red and blue diamonds don't really work for me anymore, I still perform color monte with my own regular cards and my own kicker. I would probably fall into both because it was only a couple months between my visits.
    Antonio Diavolo likes this.
  6. You need both:

    Traditionalist will set you up for the long run. While I’m not exactly the biggest fan of learning a bunch of stuff I’ll never use. At the very least, you can educate yourself on what techniques are out there and existing. The more you know about traditional methods, the more you can adapt and maybe customize your own way of performing a certain trick or a variant of it.

    Radical can work if you’re starting out or working on a show or really going after some niche stuff. It is possible to become very super knowledgeable in corners of magic like cards, thimble work or coins (Eric Jones), etc.

    I’m not saying you have to know everything about every type of magic. Whatever your direction, do your research, check out some texts in the subject (as well as books regarding performing and routine making).
    shiflix, CPUYEAR and Maaz Hasan like this.
  7. I don’t advocate for either. I believe it is up to the individual in question to decide how they want to learn and what they want to do with their magic career.
    notsoltd and CPUYEAR like this.
  8. As others have said, it depends on your goals. People who do what you're calling "Radical" (which has always existed, and isn't really radical, it's just a short cut) tend to end up as 'tricksters'. People who study a wide foundation tend to be better overall entertainers.

    If I were going to give a "Course" to follow, I'd say learn the foundation skills for the prop you are most interested in (for most people it's cards when they start out), and also learn theory. Performance theory will do more for you than a thousand tricks.

    Jamy Ian Swiss has what he calls the Swiss Sleight Study System (SSSS). It's printed up in Preserving Mystery but I think it's also online somewhere. In it, he details the sleights one should have mastered to be a card magician. Well, the types of sleights, that is. Along with many references to sources to learn such things. The same system can be applied to coins, thimbles, etc.

    You can always branch out to other props and techniques down the road. Also, you don't have to "slog through" tricks you're not interested in. I generally skim through methods unless I'm specifically looking to gather information for creating a new routine - I read pretty much entirely for theory these days.

    But my biggest piece of advice is this: The sooner you stop thinking about magic in terms of tricks, the better off you will be.
    Brett Hurley likes this.
  9. Hi Christopher,

    Thanks for your perspective here. I really value your feedback and it has already helped me immensely. I'm currently scripting a routine for Cipher that I can work into ordinary conversation when me and my friends are out for drinks this weekend.

    From what I'm hearing one of the most important aspects to learning magic is limiting your focus. Books are a good way to do this because they reduce the tendency to hop from trick to trick, but the same effect could also be achieved by selecting 1-3 tricks and mastering them inside and out.

    I'm really interested in performance theory and showmanship because it seems to be one of the biggest differentiators between talented magicians and people who spend all of their time on the internet. I'm also a pretty natural presenter and public speaker so this could grow into a strength of mine.

    Are there any specific resources that you would recommend for an good introduction to theory? I've seen "Strong Magic" recommended before and I have that on my Amazon list. I also purchased The Approach by Jamie Grant on the recommendation of one of the commentators in my last thread. At first glance it appears to be focused on the business of magic, but I'm hoping I'll find some good nuggets in there. What resources have helped you the most?

    P.S: Just saw your PDF BOFFO and will totally check it out!
  10. Strong Magic is good, yes. One of the "classics" as it were. I actually liked Maximum Entertainment by Ken Weber more, but everyone should read both. Designing Miracles by Ortiz is on my list.

    Anything by Juan Tamariz will have good theory in it.

    Most things by Robert E Neale are going to be good - though his writing style can be a bit odd to read.

    I've been reading through Jamy Ian Swiss' "The Collection" from Vanishing Inc. It contains four of his his books, and they are all theory. Preserving Mystery in particular has many references to other books on theory in it, including an actual organized list.

    Absolute Magic, and Pure Effect, by Derren Brown are both excellent but difficult to find and often expensive.

    The Alchemical Tools by Paul Brook is excellent. He's got 7 books in that series. I've read The Book of Lies, The Brook Test, and On Mephisto's Shoulder. All of them are great. The other three are on my list.

    Most things by Eugene Burger are largely theory, with tricks explained as well.

    The Show Doctor by Jeff McBride.

    The Approach is great - more of a workbook on becoming a paid strolling performer than performance theory, but an excellent resource.

    For card magic specifically, The Paper Engine by Aaron Fisher is a good source of excellent sleights as well as thinking about how to make effective card magic.

    Tangled Web by Eric Mead is also good.

    Oh, and if you can locate Doc Shiels books, they are good as well - though somewhat oddly written in general and you'll have to do some updating for premises and approaches to publicity.

    Those are examples that I have read specifically, unless otherwise stated. There are many, many good books out there.
    RealityOne and CPUYEAR like this.
  11. I'd use a music comparison too. Some of the most technically gifted and skilled musicians are those who produce incredibly uncommercial music. As a performer it's one thing to be the best technically, but then you have to consider that if you intend to perform and entertain people there are other considerations.

    So there are plenty of magicians out there who've clearly read, studied and absorbed every book under the sun and they're absolutely fascinating to watch and to learn from. However they will never be as successful as say, David Blaine who whilst getting a lot of disrespect - after all he's more of a performer than a creator - as a performer he's done incredibly well. Would you rather be an incredibly skilled magician or an exciting performer? These two things are obviously not mutually exclusive, but on a sliding scale between them where would you want to sit? Do you intend to make money or entertain people?

    There are many magicians who seem to make more money from writing about or talking about and teaching magic than actually performing it. Just like how in my profession the most 'famous' teachers are those who gave up teaching long ago to focus on theorising about it.
  12. Not only are they not mutually exclusive, if you're going to be an exciting performer you're going to want a strong basis of technical skill and performance theory.

    Your post honestly confuses me. Are you trying to say that the choice is between making money and entertaining people?

    Because ... you are probably not going to make money in magic if you can't entertain people. I mean, yeah, there are some guys who make all their money by selling magic to magicians but that's not common and it's a more and more difficult field to establish oneself in. The ease of publishing means someone has to be really good to stand out in the flood of crap
  13. If I had to pick a side of the scale I think I'd skew slightly to the performer/ entertainer end of the spectrum. I respect fundamentals and theory and believe that they are important. However, I also believe these things have diminishing value the deeper that you go. Ultimately, I want to be able to perform impactful magic. My dream goal is to winter in a resort area in Colorado and perform magic and then run a political consulting business in the summer back home in Montana. For now, I'd be content with starting a small side hustle as a working magician. Hope this helps!
  14. These statements are contradictory.
  15. I disagree completely everything as a diminishing marginal utility. The first book you read about paper airplanes is probably insanely valuable because you know nothing about making paper airplanes. However, after you’ve red 30 bucks on paper airplanes an additional book probably won’t help you that much. This isn’t my opinion it’s a law of economics called diminishing marginal utility and can easily be applied to any learning pursuit.
  16. Ok. Whatever you say.
  17. There are different phases of learning. We all start out learning tricks one at a time. Then you start to learn methods and applications as part of the tricks. At that point you realize that you are missing the fundamentals. So you go back to basics. Then you move on to some more advanced learning. Then you start to apply what you have learned. But you realize that something is missing. Then you turn toward theory. You understand the theory but it isn't quite completely applicable. Then you move on to seeking different viewpoints on effects, technique, style, presentation and theory. Then you start to develop YOUR theory and then test and refine that theory through performance and learning.

    The incremental learning by being exposed to different viewpoints and materials may be diminishing in quantity but it increases in value. It's like putting a nice sharp cheddar cheese on a hamburger. Incremental nutritional quantity but immesurable flavor value.
    Brett Hurley, JoshL8 and CPUYEAR like this.
  18. @CPUYEAR, My sense is that your goal in magic is to become a strong entertaining performer, doing it professionally, at least part time. With that in mind I would offer the following recommendations:

    Yes, technique is important, whether you learn it from books, videos or other magicians, or a combination of all, but sleights and moves are tools. Since you value time and efficiency in achieving a goal, I do not recommend sitting around learning sleights in anticipation that they might someday be used it in a trick or routine, or for whatever gratification there might be in being able to say, "I can do x" (fill in whatever move it might be). If I learn a move it is because it is something I need to for a trick I will be performing and I learn it in the context of practicing and rehearsing the trick.

    Sure, theory is important too, but the most important thing in achieving success as a performer is performing - as much and as often and for as many people as possible. The laymen you perform for will teach you more than any magician - at least about what you need to know to be a great, engaging, entertaining performer. If you can work for a couple hours in a bar or restaurant one to two nights a week, even if just for tips, food and drink, you will soon start making quantum leaps as a performer.

    As just one example among many I could offer, when I started out working bar/restaurants and special events, I started to notice people would freely interject comments or ask questions during the performance. At first, I saw this as a rude affront and would hasten to get back into my script ASAP. Then I began to realize that my preconceptions of how people were going to act and react were not realistic. I thought they would just sit back, and watch, and be blown away. It started to dawn on me that they wanted to be involved, to say witty things, to express themselves. They wanted to be able to participate in their own way, and so (lightning bolt hitting me out of the sky) I realized that this was an opportunity to maximize the experience and the entertainment. It was no longer about me and my ego and how clever I was. I began to welcome, even embrace their comments and questions, and to play off them and encourage other spectators to do so as well. They would often say really funny things, have more fun and just really enjoy themselves. (Also, they would ask unexpected questions that revealed more how they thought and perceived the magic, enabling me to go back and strengthen the trick). The tips and reactions I received increased, as did my bookings, because when the host or party planner hears people having fun and participating - well, that's what they care about most. Learning to relax and improvise and encourage everyone to be involved heightened my success as a performer immeasurably. This is one, among many things, I had never learned from a book, a video or a marketed trick.

  19. Thnks so much! This sounds like really sound advice. I’ve already seen examples of how tricks help you learn slights. I wanted my coin bite to be much more convincing so I ended up downloading a copy of Bobo’s Coin magic just to find a believable switch.

    Unfortunately, I think I’m a loooong way from performing in a restaurant. I’m still working up the courage to show my friends what I’ve been working on.
  20. If you want to look good very quickly learn the Chicago Opener, French Drop, Crazy Man's Handcuffs, and Sponge Balls. Don't touch anything else, only focus on these four tricks.

    To most lay people you'll look great. No need to study more. You'll be able to kill at parties. If that's what you want, there's your accelerated route.

    If you want more, magic can offer MUCH more. It's like music. You can learn Stairway to Heaven and be fine. If you want to be a concert pianist, there's more work and study involved.
    CWhite and shiflix like this.

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