A Beginner's Guide to Magic 

Note: Last updated August 2006. (some minor corrections Jan 2022 - fixed misspelling of Roberto Giobbi's name among a couple of other tweaks). This is a modified version of the beginner's guide that was originally hosted at Byran Dean's www.magictalk.com, which I helped write. That site has been gone for a long time, now, though, largely replaced by The Magic Cafe.

Book Recommendations
Video Recommendations
Trick Recommendations
Buying Magic 


If you are new to magic, or perhaps getting back into the practice after years of neglect, this page is designed to get you up and running. The Internet has really opened up the world of Magic to many more people, as you no longer need access to a local store anymore to learn how. With the influx of information, however, comes the great potential for throwing away a lot of money!

Where should you start in magic? Much will depend on what you want to do with your magic, and how much money and time you can budget towards it. Magic need not be expensive, but once you get the "bug", the costs (in both time and money) can certainly add up (just ask my wife!).

Good magic is much more than just tricks. Many beginner's books do little more than present a collection of secrets, with little information about how to perform the trick to make it truly magical and entertaining. Magic performed in this way becomes just a series of puzzles for the spectator to try and figure out. This challenging of the spectator is not the best way to present magic.

Rather, a good magic presentation entertains the spectator, and allows the spectator the opportunity to suspend their skepticism for at least a short while, much like when you watch a movie. Instead of challenging the spectators, you entertain and involve them.

That said, you still need a collection of tricks, or effects, to perform, so even those books that just present tricks can be useful in developing your magic education.

In general, you should start with a quality beginner's book or two, and perhaps a video. These will provide you with tricks you can perform with regular objects or that you can build yourself. The video will help you to see how good magic tricks appear when viewed from the audiences perspecive. The video could even be a "performance only" one. If you find that you enjoy performing magic and want to do more, you can follow the guidelines here to move on.

In many cases, you don't have to buy anything to get started in magic. Most public libraries will have many books and videos on magic that you should read. These books will give you a good introduction, and will help you decide if an investment in other resources is warranted. Often, the tricks presented in these books and videos use items you may already have in your home and that you can make yourself. Also, sometimes the effects you will find in library books are very good! Be sure to check both the adult and the children's section. Although many of the effects in children's books will seem to be too elementary, I have discovered quite a few gems mixed in.

While I am partial to books, videos are an excellent way to actually see magic performed. Magic videos are becoming more and more popular lately. You can buy beginner's tapes starting from $10, and the average "professional" tape costs around $30 each. There are now many videos available to download to your computer, as well.

Advantages to books include:

1. They don't wear out rapidly (Videos wear out, DVDs can be scratched; downloadable movies can be archived a fairly long time).
2. You can take a book almost anyplace. (downloadable movies could be viewed on portable players)
3. Most books provide more effects than you get on a standard video tape or DVD (less so with DVDs, though).
4. The written word is sometimes able to convey thoughts that don't come across in video.
5. Illustrations can provide views "hidden" from the eye through dotted lines and so forth.
6. You can access any effect instantly by turning the page; on video you have to fast forward or rewind (again, DVD format improves this, and downloadable movies can be paused and rewound as well to view detailed work)
7. You are less influenced by the writer/performer's personal style. In video, you are more likely to "parrot" or imitate the style of the performance you are watching. When developing a routine from a book, you are more forced to develop your own style.  

Advantages to videos include:

1. You can actually see a sleight or performance. In many cases, trying to figure out a sleight from the written word can be difficult.
2. You can learn from professionals how talk (patter), performance, music, and the actual trick, all work together to make an effect. Body language and performance don't come across well in books. Of course, if you only learn from poorly produced videos, this could be a detriment as well!
3. Many people learn better visually than through reading a book. 

As your interest in magic grows, you will likely find yourself collecting both books and videos.

Buying Tricks is a difficult area for the beginner, as you will find it is very easy to throw away lots of money on effects that don't perform as well as they sounded on that Internet site. Fortunately, many of the Internet shops (and local shops, as well!) offer good assistance in recommending or discouraging trick purchases, and there are many forums on the Internet where you can ask advice and read reviews before you shell our your hard earned cash. Please learn to make use of the experts (but not on their toll-free order lines!).

Book Recommendations:

There are many good places to start, the following are just a few. I have tried to include those books that provide more than just tricks, and that also provide good value in terms of money spent. I have tried to keep it limited to those book currently in print, but as this article was written in 2006, even some of the below may be harder to find, and there are likely several newer options, such as Joshua Jay's Magic - The Complete Course.

Bobo, J.B.: Modern Coin Magic. Although not for the absolute beginner, Bobo's is an excellent book if you like coin magic. This book is available in two versions, hardcover or paperback. The paperback is an older version that is missing some chapters from the hardcover. I recommend the hardcover if you can afford it.

Cassidy, John & Michael Stroud: Klutz Book of Magic. Includes tricks like Young Clips in Love (paper clips), Thread the Needle, The French Drop, Beam Down This Quarter Scotty, The Vanishing Salt Shaker, Siamese Twin Ropes, Ring Flip, Cut and Restored Rope, and more. Comes with a few props.

Fulves, Karl: Self Working Series. Karl has written an excellent series of books for the beginner that covers a lot of good magic. The volumes include Coin Magic, Rope Magic, Card Magic, and seveal others. These books can be found in larger book stores. They are filled with magic tricks, with the emphasis on tricks and not presentation, so they are not recommended as your only books. However, there is a lot of good impromptu type magic in these volumes.

Giobbi, Roberto: Card College Volumes 1-5. A complete course in Card Magic. Volume 1 alone includes: The Tools of Card Magic, Fundamental Techniques, Overhand Shuffle, Riffle Shuffle, False Cuts, Transfer Cuts, Card Controls, Card Forces, Glide, Double Lift, Hindu Shuffle, Flourishes, Spread Cull, Top Change, Key Card, and Auxiliary Sleights.

Hugard and Braue: Royal Road to Card Magic. This is a very good introduction to card magic. See DVD collection by R. Paul Wilson below for a visual approach to this book.

Pogue, David: Magic for Dummies. This entertaining book is full of both presentation and tricks, and was written with the beginner/amateur in mind. A lot of the material is of the impromptu, magic anywhere type, which makes magic fun.

Tarbell, Harlan: The Tarbell Course in Magic. This is an expensive but worthwhile 8 volume full course in magic originally written in the 1920's. Although some of the effects are dated, there is much in here worthy of study. I would start by getting Volumes 1 and 7. Volume 1 is a great introduction, and Volume 7 contains lots of good stuff along with a full index to the first 7 volumes. Volume 8 adds a lot of material that was left out of the original series.

Tarr, Bill: Now You See It Now You Don't. You may be able to find this in the library. It is an excellent introductory text to sleight of hand magic, and very well illustrated. 

Wilson, Mark: Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic. This is one of the best books for beginning and intermediate magic. There are effects in here that professionals use as well. Well illustrated, and includes a decent amount of presentation advice. You will learn cards, coins, and many miscellaneous object magic you can perform without having to shell out lots of money for props. Be sure to get the full size Complete Course in Magic, as there are also smaller versions of the book, such as Mark Wilson's Cyclopedia of Magic.

Video Recommendations:

General Magic:

Ammar, Michael: The Exciting World of Magic DVD. Co-written by Paul Harris. Also features insider advice on buying magic, joining clubs, attending conventions, subscribing to magazines, easy tricks vs. hard tricks, practice, the basic rules, and so forth. Includes: Things I Wish I Had Known; The Impossible Penetration; The Bouncing Ball; Floating Roll; Iron Poor Blood; The Coin Thru Table; Two in the Hand, One in the Pocket; Coin form the Roll; Sponge Magic!; Basic Rules and When To Break Them; Cut and Restored Twine; Easy Tricks vs. Hard Tricks; Linking Headbands; Rubber Band thru Thumb; The Rubber Sky Lift; Serial Killer; Out of This World; The Double Fan; The Swivilroo Cut; The Card Spring; FireTrap, and more.

Fun, Inc.:  Produces both the 25 Amazing Magic Tricks series and the Amazing Magic Tricks series of DVDs. These beginner DVD cover many of the basics of magic. As of Aug 2006, available titles include: 
25 Amazing Magic Tricks series: Svengali Deck; Stripper Deck; Thumb Tip; Cups and Balls; Linking Rings;
Amazing Magic Tricks With... series: Money; Sponge Balls; Cards; Rope; Everyday Objects; Scotch and Soda

Giobbi, Roberto: Card College E-Book Volumes 1 & 2. These are e-books designed to add video instruction to these excellent books on card magic. Volume 1 Includes 89 video clips along with the text of the first volume in this series. The volume 1 e-book version varies slightly from the English version of this book since it was derived from the German edition. www.lybrary.com

Greater Magic Video Library Teach-In Series: This series has been re-released in DVD format, and features many of the greats in magic performing magic classics. While not for the absolute beginner, these videos demonstrate what makes good magic, as well as teaching the building blocks in your own magic education.
Current volumes (Aug 2006) include: 1 - Cups & Balls; 2 - Linking Rings; 3 - Egg Bag; 4 - Torn and Restored Newspaper; 5 - Coin Classics Volume 1; 6 - Sensational Acts of Mystery Men; 7 - Chinese Sticks; 8 - Himber Rings; 9 - Coin Classics Volume 2; 10 Venerable Die Box; 11 - Homing Card; 12 - Six Card Repeat; 13 - Classic Chop Cup;

Sankey, Jay: Amazing Magic Tricks Anyone Can Do. 2 Volume DVD. Includes Torn & Restored dollar, vanishing a borrowed coin, stretching a rope, 4 Aces, and many more tricks with drinking straws, dice, cards, coins, rubber bands, and more. 

Thompson, Johnny: The Great Tomsoni & Co. Present Magic Made Easy. Starring Johnny Thompson and Michael Ammar. 20 effects, including Coin, Card, Rope and other effects.

Coin Magic:

Ammar, Michael: Complete Introduction to Coin Magic DVD. Michael Ammar is a great teacher and this video has gotten good reviews. The ability to view on DVD makes reviewing those moves over and over a breeze.

Card Magic:

Ammar, Michael: Amazing Secrets of Card Magic DVD: The Magical Reversal, The Finger Flinger, How to Play Piano, Definitions, Mind Power, Slop Shuffle, Fundamentals, The Fabulous Four 3s, Two Hearts That Beat as One, Top Ten List, You Do As I Do, My Lucky Nickel, The Magic Words, How to Control Cards (False Shuffles, False Cuts, Flourishes, Forcing a Card), Take & Shake, Tossing the Aces, Advice on Forcing, Good Advice, The Aces Triumph, Planning a Performance, The Power of Destiny.

Giobbi, Robert: Card College Volumes 1 & 2. See the e-book selection above.

Kaufman, Richard: Basic Basic Card Technique DVD. Originally produced in 1997, this DVD features Biddle Move, Bottom Palm, Braue Addition, Dealing Position, Double Lift, Double Undercut, Elmsley Count, False Cut, Faro Shuffle, Force, Glimpse, Hamman Count, Hindu Shuffle, Injog Control, Jordan Count, Multiple Shift, Overhand Shuffle, Peek, Pinkie Break, Secret Subtraction, Side Steal, Thumb Count, Top Change, Top Palm, Zarrow Shuffle, and much more.

Pearlman, Oz: Born to Perform Card Magic DVD. Includes Fundamentals: Mechanic's Grip; Biddle Grip; Breaks, Swing/Swivel cut, Double Lift, Top Palm; Controls: Classic Pass, Hindu Shuffle Pass,  Double Undercut, One Handed Top Palm, Elmsley Count, Spread Cull, Swing Swivel Cut; Forces: Hindu/Riffle; Flourishes, and 4 Routines: Ultimate Transpo, Two Card Monte, Biddle Trick, and Ambitious Card. 

Wilson, R Paul: Royal Road to Card Magic DVD Set. A complete course in card magic that takes the Royal Road to Card Magic book (see above) and updates with new effects, improved methods, and new advice.

Trick Recommendations:

Tricks are difficult to recommend simply because each person's tastes are different. You sometimes see advertised "Easy to Do, No Sleight of Hand Required". While some of these tricks may be satisfactory, I would expect that the reason you are at this website is because you want to do some sleight of hand. That said, I've tried to include below some of the easier effects that are not necessarily "self-working". 

Magic Sets: Most magic sets you find in the toy stores are of limited value. While many of the effects and principles involved are the same as you will find professionals use, the quality of the props is often not high enough even to perform seriously for friends. For the most part, you are better off buying the better tricks one by one. That said, there are a few sets out there that seem to offer some decent effects, such as:

Fantasma Toys Magic Sets: Sets are well done and come at a variety of price levels. Deluxe Magic Collection 1; Deluxe Magic Collection 2; Deluxe Legends of Magic; Secret Agent Executive Magic Case (with Aluminum briefcase!); and Deluxe World's Greatest Magic.

Melissa & Doug Magic Sets: Made from wood and designed for younger magicians, these magic kits are made to last and include some good effects. I've even seen them in Toys R Us stores. 

Tarbell Course In Magic Set Vol 1. Set includes Tarbell Vol 1 book as well as many of the props needed. I haven't seen the quality of the props, however.

Effects: The following is just a small sampling of inexpensive, fairly easy to do, effects suitable for the beginner to intermediate performer. Prices are approximate.

21 Cent Trick: Two nickels, a penny, and dime are placed in your hand. A nickel is removed and placed in your pocket. When your hand is opened, all the coins have vanished.

Al Goshman Sponges: The Al Goshman sponges are well made, and the basic instructions that come with the four ball set are actually quite good.

Cards: Several packs of Bicycle Cards in both red and blue backs are recommended. They can be obtained at most discount stores for a few dollars per pack. Use these with some of the above recommended books and videos.

Cups & Balls: A set of three Aluminum cups & balls can be found inexpensively. Metal cups are generally easier to handle than the plastic ones.

Color Vision: A block with different colors on each side is placed in a box with one color selected facing up while the magician's back is turned. The magician receives the box and brings the box to his forehead, where he is able to determine the color.

Electronic Rating Pen. A penny is shown and placed on the back of the spectator's fist. The spectator is asked what they rate from one to ten. The penny is tapped with a pen, and changes instantly into a dime!

Magic Coin Box: A coin is initialed and vanished. A box is produced sealed with rubber bands. Inside the box is another box, and inside that is a small bag. Inside the bag is found the vanished and marked coin.

Misled: A very good pencil through dollar effect.

Equal/Unequal Ropes / Professor's Nightmare: Three ropes of different lengths are shown. They all become the same length, and then are changed back to their original lengths.

Scotch & Soda: A US Half dollar and English Penny are shown. They are placed in the spectator's hand, and the half dollar is removed. When the hand is opened, the English Penny has changed into a quarter.

Stripper Deck and Svengali Deck: While generally sold as "beginner" trick decks, I don't recommend them. I think you will get more milage out of a standard deck and a good book of card tricks. The effects produced at the beginner level with these trick decks are too often obvious tricks.

Tenyo Products: most of the Tenyo products are highly mechanical and almost "self-working", yet of a decent quality. Their only downside is they often appear more as puzzles than pure magic effects.

Buying Magic:

If you have a local magic shop, you should try to purchase your magic here. Even though the prices may be slightly higher than mail order, you have the advantage of getting to know the shop workers. In the long run, they will be able to help you by letting you know what's good and what's not, and letting you see products before you buy them. Many effects sound much better than they appear! There are a few magic shops, however, that seem to charge very high prices, sometimes even higher than retail! It is good to know prices before you buy...

The list of shops on the Magic Links pages should give you a good starting point. While I can't vouch for them all, most have come recommended, and I have tried to mention those I have personally done good business with.