What are the Different Types of Magic Tricks?

Michael Pollick

There are literally thousands of different magic tricks being performed daily, and many magicians work very hard to create new ones. While it would be a challenge to list all of these individual tricks, almost all of them share a few common mechanisms or techniques. By studying these basic forms of magic, one might be able to figure out how a major illusion or escape is accomplished. Many times, the secret to a trick is not in the mechanism or technique itself, but in the showmanship of the performer and his or her manipulation of the audience.

Psychic powers may play a role in some magic tricks.
Psychic powers may play a role in some magic tricks.

Some magic tricks are considered self-working. Anyone privy to the secret or the science behind the trick can perform it successfully every time. Passing a quarter through a dime-sized hole is one example of a self-working trick. The magician bends a piece of paper with a dime-sized hole in half, then places the quarter in the divided hole. By bending out both sides of the hole, the quarter should fall through without tearing the paper. Some tricks involving math or cards are also considered self-working, because the order of the cards or the numbers does not change.

Pulling a rabbit out of a hat involves concealment and sleight of hand.
Pulling a rabbit out of a hat involves concealment and sleight of hand.

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Others work through gimmicks. The objects used in some magic tricks are modified in some way to guarantee a successful outcome. A gimmicked card may have two different suits, depending on which half the magician chooses to reveal. A gimmicked coin may be rigged to bend in half and reassemble itself 'magically'.

Card trick are a popular form of magic entertainment.
Card trick are a popular form of magic entertainment.

Some magicians use fake thumbs or other appendages to hold vanished items. An elastic band or elaborate hook-and-string system may pull objects out of sight quickly. Objects broken through psychic powers may actually be struck by tension-filled springs loaded inside the table. These types of magic tricks rely on concealment and misdirection to work as planned.

Magic tricks performed close-up often rely on misdirection and superior manipulation skills. Magicians make coins appear to vanish through the use of controlled drops or throws. A skilled magician can place an object in one hand and use misdirection to convince the audience a transfer has occurred. Meanwhile, the magician has enough time to conceal the coin in his palm or pocket.

The same principle of misdirection and manipulation also powers many card tricks. A card may be shown to the audience, but it won't necessarily be the same unseen card placed back into the deck. Magic involving misdirection and manipulation often require months of practice before it can be performed in front of a live audience.

Another type of magic trick popular with audiences is the stage illusion. These are often performed on a grand scale, with beautiful assistants aiding the magician and elaborate light or music cues guiding the action. Illusions are essentially based on tricking the audience's sense of vision.

Mirrors held at precise angles to each other can conceal compartments under a table. One assistant may be seen entering a box, but two may actually form the visible head and feet. A blade may appear to penetrate an assistant's body, but the box actually contains much more room. Even the disappearance of an impossibly large item like a jet airplane relies on the audience's belief that the object is still in the same location.

Finally, some magic tricks rely on both gimmickry and real physical skills. Escapes and extreme stunts require a superior level of physical strength and flexibility. The legendary escape artist Harry Houdini relied just as much on hidden keys and gimmicked locks as he did on brute force. Escaping from a standard straightjacket, for example, requires knowledge of the various restraints and the ability to generate a sufficient amount of slack while being strapped inside by assistants. Hanging upside down actually aids the process, even though audiences may believe it's a major complication. Extreme magic tricks take the basic techniques of misdirection and illusion to a higher level of dramatic performance.

There have been several famous magicians in the past decades, such as Siegfried and Roy and David Copperfield.
There have been several famous magicians in the past decades, such as Siegfried and Roy and David Copperfield.

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Discussion Comments


I enjoy doing sleight of hand tricks and magic card tricks. I've been doing them since I was a little kid. I just learned slowly through reading about the trick, then practiced each trick a lot. You can just sit and practice in front of the TV or whatever, in order to make your hands learn the magic tricks so they can do it without hesitation. It's a good idea learn how to do things like roll a coin over your fingers as well, because little flourishes like that really impress an audience.

It also helps if you give your audience a few drinks first.


Magic tricks are so fascinating. I know the magic is supposed to come from not understanding the trick, but I always want to know how it works. I think I get a little bit of something extra from the understanding, although then it becomes hard not to tell everyone else how to see the trick!

I loved all those films that came out in the early naughties about magicians, although I think most of them claimed that there was some kind of real magic involved. That's nice wishful thinking but it takes something away from the people who work so hard to suspend your disbelief.

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