You Need One Piece Set Entirely to Music

By Joshua Jay - Wednesday, August 24, 2022

You need one piece set entirely to music

Okay, “need” is probably too strong a directive. But I believe a major part of growth as a performer is to develop a piece you can do entirely to music. You learn all sorts of lessons about staging a magic trick when you don’t have the crutch of language to fall back on. For me, one of these music pieces has been “Cylinder and Coins.”

There are three distinct advantages in having a piece you can do entirely to music.

  1. You immediately have a piece you can do onstage, in a more theatrical environment. My observation is that many close-up performers do great work, but if you put them onstage or on television or in a formal setting, their work suffers because it relies heavily on everyone being in a relaxed, informal environment. This piece can close a show because it’s theatrically different to any talking piece you do.

  2. You can play internationally. This has come in handy multiple times, but don’t ignore this facet just because you aren’t regularly performing abroad. In many instances I’ve performed where I live, in New York City, for companies holding events in which not everyone speaks the same language. Also, with the rise of online performing, anyone, anywhere, can perform for anywhere else.

  3. You get to think about magic in an entirely new way.

It’s this last point I wish to expand on here, in this post.

When you design a piece for music, you have to communicate everything you wish to put across without speaking a word. There are no rules, of course, so you have the luxury of introducing the piece before you begin, or setting it up however you like with a preamble. Maybe this is a trick you learned from your teacher. Maybe this is an original piece you created. Maybe this is the trick you performed for the President last year. Whatever you wish to share, you can still communicate this information. But the trick itself will be speaking for itself.

This means we have to think about the piece in terms of mood, and the music we choose has to reflect this choice. I’ve both tailored magic to an existing piece of music, and I’ve had music commissioned around a piece of magic. Both have their advantages, but my advice is to start with an existing piece of music you like (copyright free means you’ll be able to use it on TV and in public spaces) and customize the trick around the beats of music.

To me, music provides great opportunities to accent the magic. In other words, there are beats and moments in my “Cylinder and Coins” routine wherein the coins vanish in tandem with a sound in the music. This is aesthetically a nice touch.

When you’re choosing what magic to put to music, I don’t think there are any rules. It’s helpful if the magic has a visual element to it—this is another reason I felt “Cylinder and Coins” was a great choice for a music routine. It also helps if the plot of the trick takes a little time to develop. In other words, at first glance “Cylinder and Coins” is about coins that disappear. But we eventually discover that these coins are reappearing in the place least expected. By having a plot that is somewhat complex and unfolding as the trick progresses, the audience can focus entirely on what’s transpiring.

The other thing to take into account when choosing a piece to put to music is whether words benefit the trick. In “Cylinder and Coins,” in all versions I’ve seen of the trick, the magician’s dialogue is always a narration of what’s happening. “Here I have a cylinder. Here I have four coins. I’m going to place the coin in my hand and…”

If the only thing the magician is saying is a narration of their own actions, it’s possible that the trick can benefit from the stillness of a music routine. It might gain some clarity and beauty when it isn’t muddied with extraneous scripting.

I happen to think “Cylinder and Coins” makes an ideal piece to music. But of course, what I hope you take from this blog is the challenge to assemble any trick that you can perform without speaking, to musical accompaniment.

Buy "Cylinder And Coins"

Reader comments:


Thursday, 25 August 2022 13:40 PM - Reply to this comment

More excellent thought process work from Joshua. Doing work outside your normal comfort zones fixes the mind to expand. Even if a performer doesn’t incorporate music into their work, the honest attempts to engage in the activity will certainly expand the performer. ??????


Thursday, 25 August 2022 16:24 PM - Reply to this comment

This sounds like a great idea to develop a piece set to music. Even if you never perform it, you will learn a lot from the process.

Remember, though, that there is a difference between a piece that is accompanied by music, and one that is set to music. When a piece has been set to music, there are things that happen in time with the music. It's much harder to create and to perform, but much more effective as well. You can watch the movie Baby Driver to get a sense of how this can work.


Thursday, 25 August 2022 18:51 PM - Reply to this comment

Excellent points. Music is expressive and choreographing a magic routine to music allows the audience's emotions to be moved deeply by what they hear along with the impossibility of what they are seeing, creating far greater impact. Case in point? Shin Lim's performances. Every move he makes is expressive to the music he has chosen, like a lyrical dance combined with the power of illusion. Powerful stuff!


Sunday, 28 August 2022 21:32 PM - Reply to this comment

Any suggestions on which music piece to have for this effect?

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