Mirror Practice

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One the most commonly utilized tools for practicing magic is our good old friend, the mirror. The mirror sees all, silently watching, and reflecting back upon us: judging us and praising us. Whatever we put before it, it presents back a reversed, perfect picture of our skill! Or does it?

Sometimes the mirror lies. But the problem I believe is not the tool… rather the user.

Here are four Mirror pitfalls that can deceive us while practicing our visual wonders:

1. The mirror reflects the performer’s view point, not what the audience sees. There has been trend in recent sleight of hand where the move has become the magic. In other words, sleights that were once designed to be used in the invisible moments now have blatantly become the magic moment. 

Using quick movements, such as snapping motions and adding elastic threads to props, rapid fire sleights have become the actual effects! Stunning vanishes and appearances of small objects are all the rage.  (The classic Retention Vanish of a coin can be seen as a precursor example of this. Or in card magic, think of the Snap Change.) 

We are creating extra visual, live special effects with our moves. Trésor is a documentary of sorts, full of easy to perform moves like this. I believe we are evolving our performance in response to the CGI we see in the movies.

All of this is exciting for Magic in my opinion, but our friend the mirror is much older than these flashy moves. Mirror does not know these new sleights that often require different angles. (That was said tongue in cheek, I’m afraid it’s the performer who does not know the angles.) A magician can make perfect moves through the looking glass, which will reflect back the pure genius fruits of his creativity. But to a live audience that is sitting at the wrong angle, the secret to a genius effect can stick out like a brightly colored birthday card placed in the sympathy section. Beware! 

Solution: Take a step back from the mirror, see if the move looks good from a broader angle. Use multiple mirrors to see different viewpoints.

2. The mirror gives instant feedback, not delayed feedback. The mirror is only good in the exact instant of the move. You may replay the way the move looked in your mind, but you may also misremember and lie to yourself.

Solution: Try practicing in slow motion and stopping at key points. Make a visual sweep around every angle and look at every hand position to see if it looks clean and natural. Fix each issue. Don’t forget to speed your performance back up to a normal, unsuspicious pace. You should never change pace, slower or faster, to execute a secret move in performance!

3. The mirror is only as good as your eyes. It never blinks, you do. So if you blink or tend to get tense before a sleight, you could blur your vision just enough to make something bad look acceptable. Funny as it may seem, it is even possible to train yourself to blink at the right time to make something look great! If you do this, consider also training your different audiences to blink in synchronization for you to hit the move each time… haha!

Solution: Use a clean mirror. Seriously, smudges detract light and hide errors. And know your body. If you feel tension building around a sleight, train yourself to relax. Please note, you must be relaxed during the whole performance, unnaturally relaxing just before a move could create a different tell. I believe, more than practicing being relaxed, practice being confident. 

4. The mirror teaches us to look at our hands, not our audience. You can always tell a young magician who doesn’t perform much for real people. They stare at their hands intently while they perform. Maybe because they practice while staring at their hands. Eye contact is natural and creates misdirection away from the secret. Hand staring is unnatural in almost any profession, it conveys nervousness, and it directs people toward the secrets in sleight of hand.

Solution: Your practice must move beyond the mirror. You will not have a silver backed pane of glass in front of you when you get out to perform. So, once you get the move down, leave the mirror and practice in front of empty chairs or stuffed animals in chairs sitting at the correct eye level of a real audience. Practice the interaction. And then of course, move on to live performances for real feedback and growth!

An obvious solution to many of these pitfalls is the use of the video camera. Recording our practice gives us an audience perspective! Almost all of us have recording capabilities on our cell phones nowadays. 

Video recording your practice is wonderful, but it’s laborious to rewatch, time consuming, and has it’s other faults, too. We’ll discuss all pros and cons of that soon enough! But don’t loose sight of the importance of classic mirror practice. Correct mirror practice moves quickly and can give you the necessary reps to get that muscle memory in shape! Don’t overlook the mirror.

Do you have any other mirror practice pitfalls or stories to share?


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  • Travis

    With every routine I practice in the mirror I make sure to turn my body at key moments to see where/when I flash so when that part is coming and someone is standing in that area I can pivot. Also try moving your mirror to different heights and angles.

  • Steve Sims

    Excellent article, particularly in reference to using multiple mirrors for the advantage of observing from different angles. Great!

  • Andrew Baer

    As a kid I would do my initial practice in front of a mirror. When I felt comfortable I would then ask my younger brother to see if he could, “figure out how it worked,” which of course was something he would never hesitate to do.

    While I do not do this myself as I am not a professional, I would imagine that the use of two or three video cameras placed to cover all angles necessary that will be present in the venue where the effect is to be performed is the way to go. As they say, the camera never blinks. Small video cameras are inexpensive enough, especially for this dedicated purpose,

    This also offers some protection in a situation where it is known that the show will be videotaped. You can either use software or tape at a high frame rate to see if slow motion is capable of revealing sleights, etc. I recall seeing one video of a Chinese Mask Change magician that was able to catch the change. However, I do not think this has ever been successful with Bian Lian who I will bet has done just what I suggested and perhaps more to ensure that the camera never is able to reveal the change.

  • Jonathan Todd

    All valid points. I have used a 3 mirror system for decades. One center, one left and one right at about 40 degree angles. Moving back and moving forward helps with understanding distance to perfection for angles for groups up to about 140 degrees. That said, I use an iphone more than anything these days. You need a stand so you can angle it. There is a program called MIRROR which CORRECTS the reflection to proper Left/Right. It’s free with ads and a couple of bucks to delete the ads. No lag time. Start with it front, then position left but perform front – and then right and you can see all. Finally – it took me forever to find and use the Mac program PHOTO BOOTH which allows you to see like a mirror and also record and play back easily. Hope this is hel[pful!

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