Becoming a magician: where do you start?

Every now and then I’m asked if I give lessons. In high school and right after college, I gave lessons to kids and realized it wasn’t for me and so I don’t give lessons these days. One unique challenge to learning magic is that unlike other crafts, it looks easy, when it is not. If you watch a skilled violinist, even if you can’t fully grasp the complexity and subtlety of her performance, you can at least recognize that it looks like she’s been practicing. The opposite is true with a magician or mentalist: it is accomplished by magic! I bring this up because as I started giving lessons, so many kids would stop the moment they realized how much practice was involved.

People often ask me if I had a teacher or mentor: I did not. I learned from books. And I recommend anyone who’s seriously interested in becoming a magician, much less a professional magician for events, etc., start with a few books on the classic categories of magic. Thousands of books have been written on every facet of magic and mentalism, including sleight of hand, how to design props, to how to build a career as a corporate magician for hire. Aside from learning from books, you can learn from dvds or video downloads or even YouTube. However, I recommend against video format learning for a few reasons. First, no matter what, magic takes a lot of work and learning from such an apparently easy media format can obscure the challenges that lie ahead. Learning from books is difficult from the start, and you’ll appreciate immediately that you have a long road ahead of you. Second, books are harder to produce than a digital download or a YouTube video, which means in general the content in books comes from a more motivated and often more professional source. The content also tends to be far more complete and thought out when published in book form. Furthermore, in order to get the value of the instruction, you are forced to read it in its entirety, whereas in video form, you can think you absorbed the full picture when in fact you took away an abbreviated form. Third, and most importantly, when you learn from videos, you can’t help but absorb the performance style and approach of the magician instructing you, losing the sense of personality and individuality that you yourself should be bringing to the performance.

I was fortunate to grow up in Los Angeles, surrounded by world-class magicians who I could learn from directly. But the reason other magicians considered mentoring me at a young age was because they saw how serious I was: I had already read the classics, *now* I was ready for mentorship. In Los Angeles, we have the Magic Apple, one of the few brick and mortar magic shops left, along with the Magic Castle, a club for magicians and mentalists. Both are great resources for meeting magicians and mentalists. They attract local magicians from San Diego, Orange County, and others from around the world. I recommend you visit them, or your local shops; they’ll give you advice and point you to which books you should start with.

Here’s another pointer: don’t ask to buy a trick. A salesperson will comply, but if you actually want to learn how to be a magician, buy a book on, for example, card magic, or coin magic, etc. It’ll teach you the fundamentals along with countless effects.