Practising in the privacy of your home is at the root of mastering your magic. In addition to a close-up mat, there is one very important tool required not only to practise magic but gain much-needed confidence in performing.
After all, the attitude of a magician is as important as the techniques themselves in creating the illusions of magic. Really, there is no dividing line between the body language a magician conveys and the body actions used to manipulate the props. With mirror practice we can check both our language and actions: not only, is the sleight invisible, but is our body telegraphing something it shouldn’t?
Three pieces of advice for practising:
1. Practise in front of a mirror
By seeing yourself executing a move incorrectly, you will self-correct in real time until your move becomes totally invisible.
2. Practise in front of a mirror
By seeing what the audience sees, you will learn what are the good angles and the bad ones. Not only will this train you how to position yourself when performing, it will also will give you a tremendous amount of confidence. Indeed, students frequently point out their lack of confidence when performing. When asked, it very often turns out that they don’t practise in front of a mirror.
3. Practise in front of a mirror
This will force you to look away from your hands while practising. Staring at the hands is a common error when practising and performing. Make sure, however, that you do not blink at the crucial moment when practising in a mirror; this is an unconscious habit that is easy to fall into.
Yes, the three pieces of advice are the same, but I hope this will convey some of the importance of mirror practice.
Setting up a mirror
As simple as it may sound, students ask exactly how to set up a mirror for practice. The answer, as always, is it depends on what kind of mirrors you have available.
For table work, if you have a removable, wall-mounted mirror which is full-length then you can prop it up against your practice table, leaning over the table at the top so the angle you see is the angle a spectator would be looking from. A stack of books with a small mirror propped up can work well. Some magicians go so far as to buy a three-panel dressing-table mirror, so as to view angles from left, right and front simultaneously.
For stand-up magic, leave the full-length mirror on the wall, but if possible also try removing it and leaning it backwards at the top to give you the view of people lower than your own height or who may be seated while you perform for them standing.
Can I use a self-facing camera?
You can, but a mirror will usually be larger and there is no split-second time delay or ‘drag’ between your actions and what you see.
Conflicting advice about mirror practice
Some magicians say you should always use a mirror, some say don’t bother; both are incorrect. A mirror is used for two things: first, trialing your sleights (i.e., experimenting with how to do them) so that you eventually execute them without exposing the action in the mirror. Once you have reached this level with any sleight or effect, you can dispense with the mirror for the time-being. After all, you must learn to perform without the mirror, lest it becomes a crutch. Second, we intermittently do mirror checks on our moves and effects to ensure our technique hasn’t strayed from its optimum execution. A quick check in the bathroom mirror can come in handy!
So the mirror is not just a useful tool for improving our magic: it is an indispensable one, without which one cannot ever become a truly effective magician. Like the arm-bands of the child learning to swim, we practise with a close-up pad and mirror so that we can then perform without these appurtenances.