A Beginner's Guide to Magic
Note: Last updated August 2006.
(some minor corrections Jan 2022 - fixed misspelling of
Roberto Giobbi's name among a couple of other tweaks).
This is a modified version of the beginner's guide that
was originally hosted at Byran Dean's www.magictalk.com, which
I helped write. That site has been gone for a long time,
now, though, largely replaced by The Magic Cafe.
If you are new to magic, or perhaps getting back into the practice after years of neglect, this page is designed to get you up and running. The Internet has really opened up the world of Magic to many more people, as you no longer need access to a local store anymore to learn how. With the influx of information, however, comes the great potential for throwing away a lot of money!
Where should you start in magic? Much will depend on what you want to do with your magic, and how much money and time you can budget towards it. Magic need not be expensive, but once you get the "bug", the costs (in both time and money) can certainly add up (just ask my wife!).
Good magic is much more than just tricks. Many beginner's books do little more than present a collection of secrets, with little information about how to perform the trick to make it truly magical and entertaining. Magic performed in this way becomes just a series of puzzles for the spectator to try and figure out. This challenging of the spectator is not the best way to present magic.
Rather, a good magic presentation entertains the spectator, and allows the spectator the opportunity to suspend their skepticism for at least a short while, much like when you watch a movie. Instead of challenging the spectators, you entertain and involve them.
That said, you still need a collection of tricks, or effects, to perform, so even those books that just present tricks can be useful in developing your magic education.
In general, you should start with a quality beginner's book or two, and perhaps a video. These will provide you with tricks you can perform with regular objects or that you can build yourself. The video will help you to see how good magic tricks appear when viewed from the audiences perspecive. The video could even be a "performance only" one. If you find that you enjoy performing magic and want to do more, you can follow the guidelines here to move on.
In many cases, you don't have to buy anything to get started in magic. Most public libraries will have many books and videos on magic that you should read. These books will give you a good introduction, and will help you decide if an investment in other resources is warranted. Often, the tricks presented in these books and videos use items you may already have in your home and that you can make yourself. Also, sometimes the effects you will find in library books are very good! Be sure to check both the adult and the children's section. Although many of the effects in children's books will seem to be too elementary, I have discovered quite a few gems mixed in.
While I am partial to books, videos are an excellent way to actually see magic performed. Magic videos are becoming more and more popular lately. You can buy beginner's tapes starting from $10, and the average "professional" tape costs around $30 each. There are now many videos available to download to your computer, as well.
Advantages to books include:
1. They don't wear out rapidly (Videos wear out, DVDs can
scratched; downloadable movies can be archived a fairly
Advantages to videos include:
1. You can actually see a sleight or performance. In many
cases, trying to figure out a sleight from the written
word can be
As your interest in magic grows, you will likely find yourself collecting both books and videos.
Buying Tricks is a difficult area for the beginner, as you will find it is very easy to throw away lots of money on effects that don't perform as well as they sounded on that Internet site. Fortunately, many of the Internet shops (and local shops, as well!) offer good assistance in recommending or discouraging trick purchases, and there are many forums on the Internet where you can ask advice and read reviews before you shell our your hard earned cash. Please learn to make use of the experts (but not on their toll-free order lines!).
Bobo, J.B.: Modern Coin Magic. Although not for the absolute beginner, Bobo's is an excellent book if you like coin magic. This book is available in two versions, hardcover or paperback. The paperback is an older version that is missing some chapters from the hardcover. I recommend the hardcover if you can afford it.
Cassidy, John & Michael Stroud: Klutz Book of Magic. Includes tricks like Young Clips in Love (paper clips), Thread the Needle, The French Drop, Beam Down This Quarter Scotty, The Vanishing Salt Shaker, Siamese Twin Ropes, Ring Flip, Cut and Restored Rope, and more. Comes with a few props.
Fulves, Karl: Self Working Series. Karl has written an excellent series of books for the beginner that covers a lot of good magic. The volumes include Coin Magic, Rope Magic, Card Magic, and seveal others. These books can be found in larger book stores. They are filled with magic tricks, with the emphasis on tricks and not presentation, so they are not recommended as your only books. However, there is a lot of good impromptu type magic in these volumes.
Giobbi, Roberto: Card
Volumes 1-5. A complete course in Card
Magic. Volume 1 alone includes: The Tools of Card Magic,
Techniques, Overhand Shuffle, Riffle Shuffle, False Cuts,
Cuts, Card Controls, Card Forces, Glide, Double Lift,
Flourishes, Spread Cull, Top Change, Key Card, and
Hugard and Braue: Royal Road to Card Magic. This is a very good introduction to card magic. See DVD collection by R. Paul Wilson below for a visual approach to this book.
Pogue, David: Magic
entertaining book is full of both presentation and tricks,
written with the beginner/amateur in mind. A lot of the
material is of
the impromptu, magic anywhere type, which makes magic fun.
Tarbell, Harlan: The
Course in Magic.
This is an expensive but worthwhile 8 volume full course
originally written in the 1920's. Although some of the
dated, there is much in here worthy of study. I would
by getting Volumes 1 and 7. Volume 1 is a great
Volume 7 contains lots of good stuff along with a full
index to the
first 7 volumes. Volume 8 adds a lot of material that was
left out of
the original series.
Tarr, Bill: Now You See It Now You Don't. You may be able to find this in the library. It is an excellent introductory text to sleight of hand magic, and very well illustrated.
Wilson, Mark: Mark
Complete Course in Magic. This is one of
books for beginning and
intermediate magic. There are effects in here that
professionals use as
well. Well illustrated, and includes a decent amount of
advice. You will learn cards, coins, and many
magic you can perform without having to shell out lots of
props. Be sure to get the full size Complete Course in
Magic, as there are also smaller versions of the
book, such as Mark
Wilson's Cyclopedia of Magic.
Fun, Inc.: Produces both the 25
Amazing Magic Tricks series and the Amazing Magic Tricks
DVDs. These beginner DVD cover many of the basics of
magic. As of Aug
2006, available titles include:
Giobbi, Roberto: Card College E-Book Volumes 1 & 2. These are e-books designed to add video instruction to these excellent books on card magic. Volume 1 Includes 89 video clips along with the text of the first volume in this series. The volume 1 e-book version varies slightly from the English version of this book since it was derived from the German edition. www.lybrary.com
Greater Magic Video
This series has been re-released in DVD format, and
features many of
the greats in magic performing magic classics. While not
absolute beginner, these videos demonstrate what makes
good magic, as
well as teaching the building blocks in your own magic
Sankey, Jay: Amazing Magic Tricks Anyone Can Do. 2 Volume DVD. Includes Torn & Restored dollar, vanishing a borrowed coin, stretching a rope, 4 Aces, and many more tricks with drinking straws, dice, cards, coins, rubber bands, and more.
Thompson, Johnny: The
Tomsoni & Co. Present Magic Made
Easy. Starring Johnny Thompson and Michael Ammar.
effects, including Coin, Card, Rope and other effects.
Ammar, Michael: Complete
to Coin Magic DVD. Michael Ammar is a great
teacher and this video has gotten good
reviews. The ability to view on DVD makes reviewing those
and over a breeze.
Ammar, Michael: Amazing
DVD: The Magical Reversal, The Finger Flinger, How to Play
Definitions, Mind Power, Slop Shuffle, Fundamentals, The
3s, Two Hearts That Beat as One, Top Ten List, You Do As I
Do, My Lucky
Nickel, The Magic Words, How to Control Cards (False
False Cuts, Flourishes, Forcing a Card),
Take & Shake, Tossing the Aces, Advice on Forcing,
Good Advice, The
Aces Triumph, Planning a Performance, The Power of
Giobbi, Robert: Card College Volumes 1 & 2. See the e-book selection above.Kaufman, Richard: Basic Basic Card Technique DVD. Originally produced in 1997, this DVD features Biddle Move, Bottom Palm, Braue Addition, Dealing Position, Double Lift, Double Undercut, Elmsley Count, False Cut, Faro Shuffle, Force, Glimpse, Hamman Count, Hindu Shuffle, Injog Control, Jordan Count, Multiple Shift, Overhand Shuffle, Peek, Pinkie Break, Secret Subtraction, Side Steal, Thumb Count, Top Change, Top Palm, Zarrow Shuffle, and much more.
Pearlman, Oz: Born to Perform Card Magic DVD. Includes Fundamentals: Mechanic's Grip; Biddle Grip; Breaks, Swing/Swivel cut, Double Lift, Top Palm; Controls: Classic Pass, Hindu Shuffle Pass, Double Undercut, One Handed Top Palm, Elmsley Count, Spread Cull, Swing Swivel Cut; Forces: Hindu/Riffle; Flourishes, and 4 Routines: Ultimate Transpo, Two Card Monte, Biddle Trick, and Ambitious Card.
Wilson, R Paul: Royal Road to Card Magic DVD Set. A complete course in card magic that takes the Royal Road to Card Magic book (see above) and updates with new effects, improved methods, and new advice.
Tricks are difficult to recommend simply because each person's tastes are different. You sometimes see advertised "Easy to Do, No Sleight of Hand Required". While some of these tricks may be satisfactory, I would expect that the reason you are at this website is because you want to do some sleight of hand. That said, I've tried to include below some of the easier effects that are not necessarily "self-working".
Magic Sets: Most magic sets you find in the toy stores are of limited value. While many of the effects and principles involved are the same as you will find professionals use, the quality of the props is often not high enough even to perform seriously for friends. For the most part, you are better off buying the better tricks one by one. That said, there are a few sets out there that seem to offer some decent effects, such as:
Fantasma Toys Magic Sets: Sets are well done and come at a variety of price levels. Deluxe Magic Collection 1; Deluxe Magic Collection 2; Deluxe Legends of Magic; Secret Agent Executive Magic Case (with Aluminum briefcase!); and Deluxe World's Greatest Magic.
Melissa & Doug Magic Sets: Made from wood and designed for younger magicians, these magic kits are made to last and include some good effects. I've even seen them in Toys R Us stores.
Tarbell Course In Magic Set Vol 1. Set includes Tarbell Vol 1 book as well as many of the props needed. I haven't seen the quality of the props, however.
Effects: The following is just a small sampling of inexpensive, fairly easy to do, effects suitable for the beginner to intermediate performer. Prices are approximate.
21 Cent Trick: Two nickels, a penny, and
dime are placed in your hand. A nickel is removed and
placed in your
pocket. When your hand is opened, all the coins have
Al Goshman Sponges: The Al Goshman sponges
are well made, and the basic instructions that come with
the four ball
set are actually quite good.
Cards: Several packs of Bicycle Cards in both red and blue backs are recommended. They can be obtained at most discount stores for a few dollars per pack. Use these with some of the above recommended books and videos.
Cups & Balls: A set of three Aluminum cups & balls can be found inexpensively. Metal cups are generally easier to handle than the plastic ones.
Color Vision: A block with different colors
on each side is placed in a box with one color selected
facing up while
the magician's back is turned. The magician receives the
box and brings
the box to his forehead, where he is able to determine the
Electronic Rating Pen. A penny is shown and
placed on the back of the spectator's fist. The spectator
is asked what
they rate from one to ten. The penny is tapped with a pen,
instantly into a dime!
Magic Coin Box: A coin is initialed and vanished. A box is produced sealed with rubber bands. Inside the box is another box, and inside that is a small bag. Inside the bag is found the vanished and marked coin.
Misled: A very good pencil through dollar
Equal/Unequal Ropes / Professor's Nightmare: Three ropes
different lengths are shown. They all become the same
length, and then
are changed back to their original lengths.
Scotch & Soda: A US Half dollar and
English Penny are shown. They are placed in the
spectator's hand, and
the half dollar is removed. When the hand is opened, the
has changed into a quarter.
Stripper Deck and Svengali Deck: While generally sold as "beginner" trick decks, I don't recommend them. I think you will get more milage out of a standard deck and a good book of card tricks. The effects produced at the beginner level with these trick decks are too often obvious tricks.
Tenyo Products: most of the Tenyo products are highly mechanical and almost "self-working", yet of a decent quality. Their only downside is they often appear more as puzzles than pure magic effects.
If you have a local magic shop, you should try to purchase your magic here. Even though the prices may be slightly higher than mail order, you have the advantage of getting to know the shop workers. In the long run, they will be able to help you by letting you know what's good and what's not, and letting you see products before you buy them. Many effects sound much better than they appear! There are a few magic shops, however, that seem to charge very high prices, sometimes even higher than retail! It is good to know prices before you buy...
The list of shops on the Magic Links pages should give you a good starting point. While I can't vouch for them all, most have come recommended, and I have tried to mention those I have personally done good business with.