Difficulty in Magic

By Andi Gladwin - Friday, June 7, 2019

The number one question that the Vanishing Inc. support team receive is: is Josh's hair real? But after that, we hear from a lot of people who ask the difficulty level of a trick. When we first started the company, we mulled over the idea of doing a "difficulty rating" on the site, but there's a big problem:

Difficulty is subjective.

Have taught magic in lectures and workshops for almost a decade, I have learned that what is easy for one person, isn't always easy for another. I have managed to teach some people my Master Pushoff in a few hours, whereas others have spent months on it without much success. To some, it's an easy move, but to others, it's a challenge that will take a serious time commitment.

So when someone asks for the difficulty level of a trick, it's just not possible to give an accurate answer because everyone is different. Therefore, a trick shouldn't just be valued on how easy it is to learn, but how effective it is for your audience. If it's a trick that you want to add to your repertoire, I encourage you to think less about how difficult a trick is and more about how much time you are willing to dedicate to it. If you can spend an hour a day on a new trick for the next two months, you'll give yourself much more opportunity to perfect new tricks than if you plan on adding it to your show next week. And if a trick might be harder than you expected, don't be disheartened: mountains make good hikers, not staircases. The same applies to magic.

Reader comments:


Wednesday, 22 January 2020 04:29 AM - Reply to this comment

I'm afraid I have to disagree with the essence of this argument: *ability* is subjective; difficulty is *objective*. The very fact that it took "some people...a few hours" to learn the Master Pushoff makes it self-evident that said technique is more difficult than (for example) a glide. Similarly, an overhand shuffle is easier than a riffle shuffle, which is easier than an in-the-hands perfect faro, which is easier than a one-handed tabled perfect faro -- the last of which is *so* difficult that in over 50 years in magic I've only met one individual that could actually accomplish it.

As dealers, I believe you are doing a disservice to your customers by dissembling over the difficulty involved in performing a particular effect, *especially* when asked outright if it is suitable for beginners. I can't imagine that you'd recommend Marlo's "Ten Hand Poker Stack" or almost anything by Derek Dingle or Jack Carpenter over "Royal Road...", "Card College", or Lorayne's "The Magic Book" to someone asking for a place to start learning card magic -- so why do you avoid providing a simple yes-or-no answer to a potential customer who asks if the yet-to-be-released "Revolve" is suitable for a beginner? There will *always* be outliers -- folks whose ability (or inability) based on their experience doesn't fall within the broad area under the bell curve -- but by very definition, those folks are exceptions, not the norm. Whether a trick, a move, or a routine is "easy", "requires some experience", "advanced", "expert", or "only in your dreams unless gifted by Higher Powers" is going to be applicable to most people, most of the time.

This isn't a new or revolutionary idea. Craft guilds were built on a progression of learned ability and developing skills: apprentice, journeyman, master, adept. And within any given craft, the tasks one was expected to accomplished were appropriate to the rank one had earned. While we've lost the formality of labels, how is this any different when examining the Art of Magic? It's a long road from "Gemini Twins" to Hollingsworth's "Restoration", with a lot of stops in between. It seems to me that assessing a level of difficulty should be an integral part in any attempt to interact with the magic marketplace -- especially if the idea is to encourage growth and progress in the Art, rather than make a quick buck by selling someone a trick far beyond their ability to perform (the aftermath of which I, personally, would find to be very *discouraging*).

Please reconsider the concept of assessing and applying difficulty levels to the items that you sell as a matter of course -- or at least, stop blowing off an honest request of an assessment for a given trick by simply linking back to this blog post. You may miss a sale or two by telling someone that what they've asked about may not be suitable for their level of experience, but the inherent honesty in that approach may well earn you respect, trust, and long-term customers.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully considering.


Friday, 24 January 2020 21:04 PM - Reply to this comment

Doug nails this. One of the value propositions that sets Vanishing apart from the competition is, in some instances, to go beyond the boilerplate copy that is provided by the distributor, for an item or effect and share some insights that are specifically yours.

The fact that Andi HAS taught lectures and workshops for a decade should give him a sense of how difficult an effect is. Or maybe rather than difficulty, what level of skill is appropriate to tackle the effect? I don't think you would recommend beginners start learning things like the Roadrunner Cull, for example, but it might be appropriate for a more advanced magician. There is a way to do this that is reasonably objective, especially in light of staff experience as real-world teachers of the art.

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