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HOW TO LEARN MAGIC

Magicdom’s best kept secret is “How does one learn to be a magician?” It’s actually pretty
simple: you have to teach yourself to teach yourself! Some ways to teach yourself to teach
yourself is the subject of this essay.

BACKGROUND

I recently attended a Michael Close lecture, and he used many parallels between music and magic
to illustrate his ideas. Being somewhat interested in music myself, and having independently
noted many parallels between these performance arts, I found inspiration for this essay in a book
called “Blues Guitar Inside and Out”, by Richard Daniels (Cherry Lane Music 13th Edition 1995).
In the book, a wise old Sage teaches a young upstart all about the blues: history of the various
types of blues, the pentatonic scales, chordal structure, chord and scale substitutions, and so forth.
Once the student has begun to grasp the fundamentals, the Sage then introduces the student to a
huge collection of classic blues albums. The Sage wisely explains that all you need to learn the
blues is on these records, but you have to teach yourself to teach yourself through repeated
listenings, experimentation on the guitar, and playing along with the records.

So, what’s this have to do with magic? Here are some ideas.

STUDY THE CLASSICS

During one of many close-up sessions at the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas, March 1999,
Roger Klause pointed out: “…we stand on the shoulders of giants…” Each of use must discover
in our own way the meaning of this statement, but for me it means repeated study of the classics
of our Art: The Amateur Magicians Handbook, Greater Magic, The Tarbell Course, and so forth.
By studying the classics we can develop our appreciation of evolutionary thinking in magic,
develop our own presentational ideas, and master our theoretical understanding of the
fundamentals of magic. Eugene Burger has a similar concept in mind when he reminds his
students to read one magic book published before they were born for each modern book that they
read. Isn’t it interesting that Roger and Eugene are both considered well respected teachers of
magic?

LEARN FROM THE STREETS

Blues guitarists and rock guitarists have one trait in common: few have had any formal musical
training. The songs, chord progressions, and signature “licks” have been picked up through a
combination of repeated listening of recordings, jam sessions with friends, and performance in
front of an audience. Here’s a paraphrasing of a section of interview of BB King, which I
watched on public television several years ago:

Commentator: Mr. King, how did you learn how to play such great solos spontaeously?
BB King: Well, after 25 years of practice, it is all spontaenous!

Magic is a performing art, and in order to develop our own performing style we must perform in
front of real people. You will find that your confidence will soar, your natural personality will
emerge, and you will develop a wonderful inner sense of misdirective techniques the more you
perform.
By paying attention to your audience—listening and interacting with them, you’ll obtain the
feedback you need to continue to grow as a performer.

Let’s not forget the importance of sessions with our peers, where we develop concepts, learn from
others, and try new things in front of a forgiving audience.

FIND YOURSELF A TEACHER

A good teacher’s greatest gift is NOT to teach, but instead to cause you to learn. I’ve taken guitar
lessons from self-taught musicians and have found that their energy, enthusiasm, and ear for
music are infectious and have caused me to spend many hours trying to figure out the riffs to
“Sweet Home Alabama” or “Taking Care of Business”. I often had the experience in high school
to learn a new rock song from a class mate who had already taken the time to “figure it out”.

We each need to find our own magic teachers, and in this wired world of fax machines, e-mails,
and chat rooms the opportunity for regular feedback is always there. Teachers do not need to be
face to face, they can merely be inspiring—remember—they cause you to learn. Examples of
lessons learned from my own teachers are as follows. These are the lessons I am learning—
others will learn other lessons from these very same teachers.

• Jon Racherbaumer rarely points me to the exact book needed to answer a magical question.
Instead, he suggests a general type of reference, or author, thus encouraging me to explore on
my own and to unearth my own magical treasures from our literature.

• I’ve noted the slow, deliberate style of Roger Klause and Allen Okawa and am trying to
capture some of their personality in my own work. As Dai Vernon said: confusion is not
magic

• Eugene Burger encourages us to find presentational ideas from sources outside of our magical
literature. In addition to staying in touch with current events and popular culture, I’m
currently reading a book on Eastern Philosophy, one on wicca, and a collection of Martin
Gardner essays on physical and social sciences. What an interesting web this will weave!

• Paul Harris has taught me to look for motivation and the emotional hook behind our effects,
even if taken from a somewhat distorted view of our world.

Why should we care? Art in unique in that in can trigger a range of emotions. For magic, we are
trying to stimulate an experience of magic: that slack-jawed, wide-eyed feeling of amazement
and suspension of belief that we have all felt. I have found four wonderful texts for those
interested in further reading. There are many others, but these are some of my favorites. Sadly,
the first two are out of print but worth the search to find. I’ve just purchased the Burger book and
have read it once so far. The final book I found in the Art section of my local Barnes and Noble.
I think it was mis-shelved as it really belongs in the Philosophy section.

Strong Magic (Darwin Ortiz)


The Magic Way (Juan Tamariz)
The Experience of Magic (Eugene Burger)
The Principles of Art (R. G. Collingwood)

Allen Martin
Sugar Land, Texas
December 19, 1999