What Is The Secret Behind A Magic Trick?

Guest Blog written for Abracadabra Blow By Phil Taylor – Magician

www.magicianscorner.co.uk or check out the podcast at www.magiciansadvice.com

The secret behind magic is sleight of hand, misdirection, psychology, and years of practice.

When performing magic, I’m often asked can you teach me a magic trick. What they are really asking is what is the secret to that magic trick you have just showed me.

You will need to learn and understand the following to discover the real secret behind magic.

  1. Sleight of hand
  2. Misdirection
  3. Psychology
  4. Patter
  5. Showmanship

There are three things happening when a magician performs a magic trick:

The secret moves, how the trick looks, and remembering what the spectators are taking in.

What is sleight of hand?

Sleight of hand according to Wikipedia refers to fine motor skills when used by performing artists in different art forms to entertain or manipulate. Sometime called prestidigitation or legerdemain.

Sleight of hand takes many years to master with hundreds of moves to learn, with multiple objects to manipulate, it can take decades to become proficient and skilled at sleight-of-hand magic.

The most common objects magicians use when performing sleight of hand are playing cards and coins. The magician’s choice for cards is a brand called Bicycle Cards which are made by United States Playing Card Company as they offer the right quality and price to practice without breaking the bank.

How to learn sleight-of-hand magic?

There are plenty of ways to learn sleight-of-hand magic. The wrong way is to watch YouTube clips as most Youtubers are not professional magician’s – they do not understand how to perform the move correctly.

The best way to learn sleight-of-hand magic is to read books or watch downloads/DVDS. If you are beginning your journey into magic the best books, you can buy on sleight-of-hand are the CARD COLLAGE by Roberto Giobbi.  There are five volumes  – each book builds your knowledge toward the mastery of sleight of hand magic with a deck of cards.

For sleight of hand with coins, the book I would recommend is Modern Coin Magic by J.B. Bobo and download Ammar Complete Intro to Coin Magic

Once you master sleight-of-hand you are ready to move onto the next area of magic and one of the most important, misdirection.

What is misdirection?

Misdirection as quoted in Wikipedia is a deception in which the performer draws audience attention to one thing to distract it from another.

This is the cornerstone to the secret behind magic. Magicians will try to control your perception of the world using language, movement, timing to influence you or distract you for a moment whilst they execute sleight of hand.

A good magician knows you can only concentrate on one thing at a time, knowing that information they can use this knowledge to their advantage. There are many ways to misdirection to achieve magic in the minds of the spectators.

Once you learn misdirection, you never look at the world again the same way.

The master of misdirection is Juan Tamariz, you can watch and experience the finest misdirection in the world on YouTube. You can also learn about misdirection from Dariel Fitzkee’s Magic by Misdirection (1945) The Five Points in Magic Juan Tamariz and Leading with Your Head Gary Kurtz.

How do you learn misdirection?

It’s difficult and takes a lot of real-world experience.

 Understanding Human Behavior

  • Eye gaze
  • Facial expression
  • Vocal tone
  • Body language
  • Rhythm and flow of conversation
  • Of beat
  • Relaxation

Understanding how human behavior works gives the magician the advantage. He/she will know where people look, how a facial expression will trigger a response or using his tone and cadence in his/her voice will make you feel. Using only a handful of these techniques’ magicians can make you look at the seemingly important point in the trick whilst executing secret move elsewhere right under your noise

There have been several experiments to understand how a magician can make objects disappear seemingly into thin air.

To really understand what I’m talking about you need to watch Kuhn and Lands Vanishing ball illusion. The idea is you follow the ball with your eyes as most people will until the last throw where the ball hides in the magician’s hand. Most viewers will follow the pattern of the ball being tossed into the air and presume the ball has vanished in mid-flight. The illusion works because the magician is using body language to convince you, the viewer ,the ball is still being tossed into the air. Watch this short clip a few times and notice on the third throw the magician’s head and eyes. This should give you a better understanding of how to use misdirection.

You may also find this interesting, a brief clip of a Social Proof test – looking at the sky.

Focus Attention

Magicians know that people can only process one thing at a time. Asking a question, handing an object out or miscalling the named card, distracts the spectator from the magician enabling he/she to sneak in a coin, change a card, or ring in another object.

Check out the quick clip of the brilliant Juan Tamariz


Stories boosts our feelings of trust, compassion, and empathy.  A good storyteller can hypnotise you into painting a picture in your mind, deleting and implementing ideas as he weaves his narration, all the time occupying your attention and focus. It is another tool in the magician’s belt that should create magic in the spectator’s mind.


Creates a natural human reaction that provides the magician time to switch in or out any object, it deletes the time in a spectator’s mind as the mind can only occupy one thought at a time. For me, this is the most powerful use of misdirection and if used correctly invisible to the naked eye.


Using time as misdirection has been in the magician’s arsenal for many years. Magicians use time to allow other ideas to form in a spectator’s mind. We also use time to execute sleight of hand, so spectators forget the moves as we introduce extra information.  Pulling time correctly is powerful once understood.


Magicians use repetition to throw off the scent of audiences. For example, counting cards is repetitious and once observed has no further interest in a spectator’s mind. A good magician will use this to his advantage. He will execute secret moves that are needed in order to pull off the trick. It only takes a split second for a magician to switch in or miscount something to fool his audience.


To convince someone of something you may let a person thoroughly examine an object or ask a spectator a question such as “we haven’t set anything up” or “we have never met before this evening” Once confirmed by another person others will believe and go along with the conversation. Convincers add to the overall illusion of the magic trick and enhance the effect hopefully to create wonder in the spectator’s mind.


Psychology is understanding the mind and behavior of humans, this includes the conscious and sub-conscious minds. Misdirection is psychology,  it is using your knowledge of the world to trick your perception and to jar reality. Magicians will use body language, storytelling, and timing to fool a spectator. When you learn magic, it is important to understand everything is psychology: the way you dress, the way you speak, the way you move, the way you look. A lot of magicians do not go beyond the tricks they are performing and wonder why they never get the moment of wonder in spectators’ eyes, it is all psychology, understand that and you understand almost everything.


Performing a magic trick is interesting, but adding a hook, idea, metaphor, oxymoron, or paradox will elevate your magic tenfold. Story telling is how humans survived for thousands of years passing knowledge down through the ages and it’s no different today, give people something to think about, share some knowledge, make it interesting – see I told you this magic game was all about psychology.


Skill at entertaining, theatrical presentation, or performance. When you are performing as a magician everything is showmanship the minute you turn up you are the magician, your walk, the way you talk, dress, smile, move objects.

Believing in your magic in order to deliver into your spectators’ minds is showmanship at its core. There is a brilliant book called Showmanship for Magicians by Dariel Fitzkee that deals with the topic at a much deeper level also check out his trilogy of books, they are dated however still have valuable knowledge for the performing magician.

Thank you for reading this blog if you have enjoyed the read then please follow me at www.magicianscorner.co.uk or check out my podcast at www.magiciansadvice.com


Phil Taylor Magician

Carol Cooper

Carol Cooper

Married to Antony, Mum to our children. Full time working in media for over 20 years, part time writer and assistant to Antony, which I guess makes me a magicians assistant :-)


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