Let’s talk about sleight of hand, shall we?

Sleight of hand (and that is the way it’s spelled – not slight) is a technique used in magic where a magician makes use of hand movements to manipulate small objects such as coins and cards.

Sleight of hand is a technique that magicians can use in order to produce a required effect.

Certainly, there are tricks that do not use sleights and some of them are quite good. However, knowing and being proficient at even just a few sleights can create miracles in the minds of the audience.

There are a lot of different opinions on exactly how various sleights can be categorized, but a commonly accepted philosophy holds that there are seven different methods used for sleight of hand magic tricks. Each of them, of course, can be broken down into sub-categories. They usually require lots of practice before a person can be effective enough in using them.

Palming is one of the most common sleights and one that almost everyone has heard of even if you’re not a magician. It refers to the action of concealing an object in an apparently empty hand.  Harder than it sounds to perform properly.

The steal is another sleight of hand method wherein a performer tries to obtain a needed object secretly. This can be a card, coin, sponge ball or pretty much anything that can fit in your hand. Sometimes with proper misdirection, even larger objects can be “stolen” secretly and introduced into play. Think about the stereotypical gambler sneaking an extra ace into a game.

In a way, the opposite of stealing is ditching. This refers to the act of secretly getting rid of  an object that the performer doesn’t need. One minute the magician has it, the next, it’s gone.

If we think about our gambler again, he would ditch whichever card he replaced with his ace.

Loading is a technique that is used to move an object secretly to where the magician wants it to be in order to reveal it later. Sneaking a rabbit into a hat in order to produce it later would be an example of loading.

Simulation is another sleight of hand technique that magicians use to give the audience the impressions that something has happened when in fact, nothing has. This relies heavily on showmanship and acting.

Earlier, I mentioned misdirection. This is an invaluable tool in the magician’s arsenal – one might say that it’s indispensible. This involves whatever it takes to lead the audience to look somewhere else while the magician executes a secret move. Misdirection allows a magician to divert attention away from something he’s doing that might obviously give away the trick to the audience. Books are written just on this subject.

Switching is another sleight of hand principle that is used to exchange an object secretly in place of another. There are hundreds of switching techniques out there, some relying on gimmicks to help the exchange.

Doing sleight of hand magic takes a lot of practice since hand and body movements are often employed to generate a certain effect. Even a few different techniques can provide the basis to hundreds or thousands of magic tricks.

Knowing some of these methods can mean the difference between a professional magician and a hobbyist.

There are loads of books in print that can help you learn sleights and other useful magic techniques. One of the best on the market is a book by Joshua Jay called Magic: The Complete Course. It’s available through Amazon and is very inexpensive. It also comes with a two-hour DVD to help the budding magician see the moves in real time as well as reading about them. Click on the title above for more info.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I edited that book, but I have edited books for other magicians and this is the one I principally recommend.


Copyright © Rod Doiron