Ten Quick Tips to Improve Your Sleight of Hand

Sleight of hand is the cornerstone of magic. It's often difficult, but the results are always rewarding. Here we share ten simple techniques to make your practice better:

1. It’s more than sleight of hand
Your hands are obviously vitally important whilst executing sleight of hand, but don’t forget the rest of your body too. Most people who execute sleight of hand poorly do so because their body is too tense. The secret is to ensure that you relax your shoulders and that you aren’t tensing your body as a relaxed body will ensure that you do not signal to your audience when you are executing a sleight (and that applies with a deck of cards or any other prop).

And finally, remember your head too. Don’t turn your head to one side, and keep eye contact with your audience. As master magic teacher, Jeff McBride said: “If your sleight of hand causes you to break eye contact with your audience, it is too advanced for your skill level.” This is especially true for sleight of hand moves like a false shuffle, where the move is stronger if you don’t look down at your hands.

2. Perfect practice makes perfect
You’ve heard the old saying that “practice makes perfect,” but it’s more than that! It’s important that you practice the move perfectly. Therefore, be sure to regularly check that you are executing the move correctly. You can do this by learning from experts, watching magic DVDs and reading the best explanations in magic books.

And don’t just do this when you first start to [learn card tricks[/learn-card-tricks) - regular check ins are essential, even when you feel like you have perfected a sleight. This will allow you to ensure that you are practicing perfect sleight of hand, instead of just good sleight of hand!

Sleight of hand with cards

3. Record your practice sessions
Experts used to advise that you practice in front of a mirror, but there’s a better way: videotape. The problem with mirrors is that you end up having to contort your body to see the move, and that creates bad habits. A video recording doesn’t have that problem, especially if you try to forget that the camera is watching you.

Whether it’s through a webcam, or your phone, recording your practice session allows you to see yourself from the spectator’s point of view to ensure that the move looks good, then go back and review trouble spots. This is so much easier to do with card tricks and other close-up magic, but a similar camera setup can also work for a stage magic trick.

4. And record your performances too
Magic hero Michael Ammar has great advice: “For most people, watching themselves on video is a humbling experience, but that's how you'll know what to focus on the next time you practice. Try to incorporate the specific improvements you want, then video yourself again and repeat this process as needed. Combine this with real-world experience and there is no better way to learn sleight of hand.”

Performing sleight of hand

5. Slow down!
Here’s one of the biggest secrets of sleight of hand: you don’t need to execute it quickly. Dai Vernon, one of the masters of sleight of hand, would often say that “speed is the enemy,” and he was right! Executing a move quickly often makes your hand and body tense and creates a moment that the audience will notice. Instead, try to find the perfect timing to execute your sleights so that you can make them invisible.

It’s not just your sleights that shouldn’t be rushed though: your whole performance should match. In fact, Dai Vernon also said that “Nothing disarms and deceives an astute audience more than a slow and deliberate performance executed with neatness and precision.” So, match your sleight of hand to the rest of your performance and your audience will have no idea when you execute your sleights!

6. Find a mentor
Sometimes it’s great to learn magic tricks from someone else. If you know a truly great sleight of hand magician, they can help you improve by watching your technique and showing you the changes you need to make. It’s even better if you can find someone better than you at what you do. For example, if you’re left-handed and perform card magic … try to find an expert who is also left-handed and performs card magic better than you!

Magic with cards

7. Practice for ten minutes
We hear a lot of magicians say that they don’t have time to practice. You do! Set aside ten minutes every day before bed and you’ll already be practicing more time than you did before that.

8. Practice with focus
Our cofounder Andi Gladwin wrote an entire book on this exact subject. His advice is simple: know what you are going to practice before you start practicing. Perhaps make a list of the tricks you are working on,all the sleight of hand you want to learn. Dr. Elliot, a magician from the early to mid 1900s understood this, based on his studies of Erdnase’s classic book, Expert at the Card Table: “First, thoroughly understand what you aim to accomplish before you practice."

9. Aim for perfection, but …
It’s impossible to execute sleight of hand truly perfectly, but you can get very close if you practice enough, and question everything you are doing. Roger Klause was a famous sleight of hand magician who said that: “You'll never reach perfection. You strive for perfection. I feel sorry for the people who don't love themselves enough to try to reach perfection and think about what's wrong with what they're doing.”

10. Forget technique
Here’s something you wouldn’t expect, but it’s the perfect way to finish this article. Forget how to execute the sleight! One way to signal that you are executing a sleight is to overthink it. Instead, know the technique so well that you don’t even need to think about it when you are executing the move. Sleight of hand expert, Jay Sankey, put it best: “You have an awareness of how to do the technique, but it has an emptiness, too, because you've gone past the learning process. It's important to get past technique.”