Archive for the 'Technique' Category

How to Practice the Classic Pass

A brand new podcast designed to help you as you set out to practice the classic pass.  Drop me a comment and let me know what you think!


NEW podcast Series – Thoughts on Erdnase

Check THIS out:

This is my very first podcast. I recorded this with my good friends Alex Slemmer and Steve Johnson. We did it at Steve’s store, my favorite magic shop on the west coast – Grand Illusions. If you’re ever up in the Sacramento area, make sure to stop by and say hello.

If you’re in the area, make sure to come to my lecture at Grand Illusions on March 19 – I’ll be  signing copies of my new DVD, Search & Destroy featuring The Nowhere Pass.

After you listen to the podcast, post a comment with your thoughts! I’d love to read them.

Help with Sleights

Reader Kim McCastle just sent me an excellent question. Here it is, followed by my response.

The Question

“Aaron I am reading Paper Engine with great interest.  I now have workable solutions for the pass which I always found difficult.  So thanks very much.  I was interested in your opinion of where I might find a description of a really great top change.  Sorry this seems so basic but I’m working my way back into close up after many years out of magic.”


The Answer

What a great question! First, I’ll give the basic answer – then I’ll talk about the issues that really matter in the study of the top change.

I personally use the excellent method described by David Williamson in his book Williamson’s Wonders. Close-up workers regard this volume very highly, but frankly, it’s still underrated. Dave’s book is a modern classic, and a must have resource for any serious sleight-of-hand performer. ‘51 cards to pocket’ has been a staple of my repertoire for over a decade and provided the inspiration for my own highly visual effect Panic


Dave Willamson


What Really Counts

The top change gives  sleight of hand students a very hard time. No matter how well you execute any top change technique, you will never learn this move in front of a mirror. This is one sleight you simply have to perform.

The top change bears a great resemblance to it’s cousin, the shift for several reasons:

  • Both sleights require strong misdirection built into the routine to ensure success.
  • These moves have no ‘built in’ cover. The double lift, for example, is performed during the action of turning over the top card of the deck. The turnover pass happens as you turn the deck over. Both the top change and the classic or half passes take place with no such open action to cloak them.
  • Students of both sleights tend to pursue ‘unseeable’ handlings, and in the process, run into trouble. While both of these techniques can be performed invisibly, neither of them can be used effectively unless the performer mastered the requisite timing, focus and misdirection.


Mandy Davis and Me and some annoying magician at the IBM/SAM combined convention a few months back in Kentucky.


The Real Secret of the Top Change

When you see a master card magician execute a beautiful top change in performance, it’s seems impossible – truly magical. There’s nothing to see, and seemingly no cover or misdirection. That, my friends, is the effect. Simply put, it’s an illusion.

The truth is that anyone can learn to have this facility. But if you are in your first couple years with the sleight, and you try to cover it with a casual glint, prepare for disappointment. That sort of mastery takes years to acquire.

In the meantime, you can experience success with these sleights if you structure routines with strong ‘built in’ misdirection to cover the change. At the moment you make the switch your spectator should be actively involved in some action – revealing another card, or picking up a wand.

Using the sleight in such a calculated fashion will help you learn how to direct the audience and command focus. Once you have real confidence in these important areas, you’ll notice a change in your powers. You’ll have confidence in the sleight’s deceptiveness and in your own ability to cover it. Before you know it, you’ll find you can merely turn your head, and in that action, cover just about any sleight with attention to spare.

Your Turn

We all find in our studies that some techniques come easier than others. What sleights have frustrated YOU? Tell  us your story – I’d love to read it and so would your fellow readers!

Do you want an Invisible Pass?

Blog reader How Tah Lun has been studying my book The Paper Engine. He’s been experiencing some difficulty using the Gravity Half Pass when he’s seated at a table – he sent me an email asking for help. I understand his concern. Many shifts are much easier to perform standing, working for an intimate audience of also standing spectators.

A simple way to execute the pass effectively while seated at a table

Here’s an idea: Don’t do the shift over the table at all! I often turn to a person sitting next to me on my left, and as I do, rest my right elbow on the table. Now the audience sees only the right side of the deck. Performed this way, neither the Gravity Half Pass nor the Classic Pass can be seen.

Despite the excellent quality of the reader’s question, it bespeaks a bigger problem that many of us grapple with.


The Real Path to  ‘Invisible Card Magic’’

Shift students tend to get hung up on the notion of ‘invisibility’ – that you should be able to do the pass undetectably while the audience burns your hands. The truth may hearten you. If you want a truly invisible pass, the ‘technical perfection’ you seek only makes up a small piece of the pie. You’ll acquire the reputation you desire much sooner if you spend time on other  concepts many of us ignore.

Do you focus on the following ideas? Whether or not your pass is invisible, mastering these areas will make your spectators think your moves are unseeable. And whether or not you believe me yet…that is the secret of the perfect pass.


Do your routines encourage the audience to focus on the pack at the moment you execute the shift? For example, many card guys use the classic pass as  a color change. If that’s the way you work, you stand very little chance of being credited with truly ‘invisible’ technique. If a spectator exclaims,  “Man, you did that so FAST!” you’ve missed the mark.


Even if you structure your magic to cover the pass, you still need to perform the sleight softly. Remember, passes are like children – better to be seen and not heard. If you tense up at the moment of truth, it doesn’t matter how well you’ve constructed the effect. The audience will be drawn back to the pack at the wrong moment. Even if they don’t see it, they’ll think they did. WARNING: most serious shift students lose the battle on this front.


Do you actively focus  attention where you want it at all times? If you’re obsessed with the pass, it doesn’t matter how well you execute it. You will likely draw focus to your hands at the moment of the shift. If you  focus on the shift at all, even subconsciously, the game is lost.

The Paper Engine was built…

because I don’t like getting busted by my audience. With the material in the Paper Engine, I know that whether I’m having a perfect set, or a show that’s a little off, I still won’t have any trouble. I know that when the move comes  the audience will be looking elsewhere.

Learn the routines in The Paper Engine carefully, and apply the truly essential concepts of tension, focus and design to your own work. Then you’ll experience the joy of having your audience focus on your magic – not your shift.

Then you’ll be able to say you have a pass that is TRULY invisible.


Watch The Gravity Half Pass Video!

In the 6 years since the publication of the Gravity Half Pass in The Paper Engine, many workers have added the sleight to their repertoires. Further, I’ve met guys who said their own ability with the move improved greatly after watching me do the sleight in person.

After all, when you’re in the midst of serious sleight of hand study, and can be very helpful to actually see the move in action.

If you have The Paper Engine, these short clips will help you practice. With a little patience, you can achieve similar results. This sleight can be immediate, soft and all but angle proof. It looks like real magic.

Now check it out from the front!

Now that you’ve had a chance to see the move, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Does this demonstration give you a feel for how the move should really look? Drop a comment and let me know!

With Thanks,


P.S. If you want to find out what more readers have to say about The Paper Engine, click to read the comments here.

The Best Way to Remember your Lines

Have you ever gotten so nervous on stage that you forgot your lines? I have. Today, I’ll give you a rehearsal method  that can help you beat the problem for good. 


Hollywood sign

Hollywood Hike: In the mornings, I like to hike up the hill by my apartment to see our little sign (pictured above). Sound like a great way to learn a trick? Read on.


Get Physical

Every day, magicians and actors struggle to learn their lines. They sit on the couch, or stand by the mirror or pace a few feet in front of the television. I’ve heard people say, “I’ve got to get these lines crammed into my head.”

But the performance of magic isn’t intellectual in nature; it’s a physical act. As much as it may seem otherwise, magic isn’t accomplished with the mind. It’s performed with the body. Your lines must come automatically – as reflex. Don’t think about it. Just do it. 



Credit for my favorite memorization method goes to Lawrence Olivier (You didn’t know he was a card man?). He often performed Shakespeare – memorizing those plays  can be a beast. They have many many very precise words. And every single syllable matters.

When Olivier was preparing a role with a great deal of language, like Richard III (for my favorite film version click here ), he would go to a chalet in the mountains (technically alps). He would rehearse the lines every day as he hiked up the mountain.  Thanks to the hardcore hiking, every single line accompanied real physical movement.

This differs greatly from learning your lines as you pace in the kitchen. Olivier’s physical activity anchored every word to his body. In the same way a card master owns the classic pass, Olivier owned the play. The words lived in his muscle memory. They were a part of him. 

Your Turn

Next time you want to learn a presentation, try this. Go outside and perform the lines as you walk, preferably uphill. Make sure not to go so fast that you can’t breathe or speak. That would make rehearsal difficult. Feel free to experiment with gesture, variety and articulation as you go through the lines.  Play with different readings and see which one you like the best.

As you work, you’ll also make discoveries about the trick, and you may consider  redrafting your presentation. That’s part of the fun.  In the process, you’ll learn your material more effectively and with better retention. Your magic will improve.

And to hell with magic anyway. You’re outside!

Let me know

After you try this, let me know what you think in a comment. Or if you have any sneaky methods you use to learn YOUR material, share it with me!


Are you a card man? This will improve your show.

Posh Bangers

England: Home of the Posh Banger.

Where HAVE I been?

Thanks for asking. It’s been a super exciting start to the year. The last month brought England, a convention, a lecture tour, corporate events in Las Vegas, bar magic, and a week on the main stage at The Magic Castle. WHEW!

And it was great! I got to work in so many different ways for so many different types of crowds. It keeps you awake, thinking and growing. It gives you good stuff to blog about.

Real card magic is physical

No matter how many passes you can do, or how many coins you can palm, the most important magic tool you can learn to use is your own body. That’s one reason so many authors have written about the value of theatrical training for magicians.

Here are just a few of the incredibly valuable skills you’ll acquire if you choose to study our parent art form- the theatre.

Vocal Training

If your audience either can’t hear you or has problems understanding your words, even the most beautiful presentation will fail. Especially if you have some regional dialect people regularly comment on, talk to theatre professionals in your area and get their opinion.

Your native dialect isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You may perform as a river boat gambler and your voice may suit the role perfectly. But what if you live in a place where a truly authentic dialect can only be understood by your immediate family? Unfortunately, many strong dialects only confuse the audience. Be honest with yourself, and your magic will benefit.

A great book to help you explore this topic is here. Take a look at it and read the reviews. It changed my life, but it’s only for those who are ready to get serious.


Movement Training

I’ll say it again. The performance of magic is a physical activity performed primarily with your body. Whether you work on stage or as a walk-around entertainer, learning to use your body effectively will profoundly change your approach to magic as well as the results.

In fact, any work you do with your body, either at the gym or outside, can greatly aid your performance process. Look for a separate post on this topic later this week.

Acting Training

For all the talk since Houdin of magicians being ‘actors playing the parts of magicians’, the truth is, most of us spend our time learning how to honestly and accurately play the one role we will ever take. We strive to play ourselves, as accurately and honestly and compellingly as we can.

Basic acting training can really help you here. Don’t worry about the trappings – fancy accents and weird physicality helps advanced actors create vibrant, believable illusions. But you won’t need much of that to accomplish your immediate goal.

Focus on the truth of the moment on stage. Learn how to stand still under hot lights without worrying about ‘entertaining’ the audience. You’ll develop the ability, with help from your professor, to respond honestly and spontaneously to what the other characters give you to work with. Through this process, you’ll develop a taste for authenticity – a need to express yourself truthfully on stage. You’ll begin to truly understand why so many performers fail to grab your heart – and why others win you over immediately.

Once you really begin to learn these lessons, the audience will give you positive feedback – you’ll see the difference yourself, and fast. And it won’t be the private victory you celebrate when you master a long sought for sleight-of-hand technique. The entire audience will know how much you’ve improved.

Your turn: What do YOU think?

I’d love for you to send me some comments on this post. Perhaps you’ve had a class like this, and you want everyone to know how much it helped you. Perhaps you’ve thought about taking a class but didn’t go through with it. Why not?

Or maybe you really just want this blog to talk more about card tricks – I’d love to hear about that too. This blog is about how my experiences can help you become a better performing card man. Let me know if it’s working.

Thanks for reading!