how to practice magic cartoon boy practicing

How to Practice Magic, or Anything

There’s lots of worry and uncertainty these days. But one thing’s for sure during lockdown life: we have lots more time than usual to practice whatever it is that floats our boats. It could be a hobby or something more serious. Now more than ever we have time to do whatever we make time for. Here are five tips I’ve learned help me while practicing magic. Some may seem strange but try them out as people have told me they work for practicing any skill or hobby, not just magic. So whether you’re pracitising Mandarin, belly dancing, painting portraits, writing poems or playing the ukulele… here you have The Art of Lockdown Hobby Practice.

1. Zoom Between the Micro and the Macro

Let’s start with the weird one. This trippy visualisation will really help your practice. Imagine you’re in outer space looking down at the Earth. You see the big picture of how all the land and water masses fit together. Now start flying down towards home on Earth (let’s ignore the fact that you’d become charcoal dust as you re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere). Anyways, good! you’re still flying down until …. now you’re close enough to see just the outline of your country. Next you’re close enough to see the shape of your city. Then you just see your neighbourhood with people as small as ants moving on your street. And finally you land on your feet outside your house…

That’s the metaphor we’ll put to your practice. It helps to spend time walking around seeing the details of your street step-by-step. Then it’s good to zoom up into space and study the bigger picture. In the case of learning an instrument ‘walking on your street’ would mean to carefully study a few chords to understand how they are formed. Then ‘flying up over your country’ would be to try that whole page of music to see how that page relates to the next. Then the ‘full Earth view’ is to play the whole piece. You decide for yourself whatever your ‘street view’ and what the ‘Earth view’ is at any time. I’ve always learned best when I zoom around micro to macro and back like that at will.

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2. Take small & MIxed Bites

Small bites. This one’s easy. Especially if you like tea breaks. Make sure you do a little bit of concentrated effort. Then take a rest. Then do it again. Research has shown that our brains do amazing jobs at practising for us, even when we’re actually not practising. When we’re resting, our brains consolidate and solidify the new things we’ve learned.

Mixed bites. Also easy, and less well-known. It’s called ‘interleaving’ and has been proven to be much more effective than classic ways of training. Here’s the jist. Every skill has different ‘sub-skills’ to it. Mastery of the sub-skills combine to make mastery of the skill as a whole. Let’s call these sub-skills A, B and C. For a tennis player, sub-skill examples would be forehand (A), backhand (B) and volley (C). The classic way would be to work on each sub-skill in blocks like AAABBBCCC. Whereas interleaving would be ABCABCABC, switching from one sub-skill to another. Here’s a fascinating in-depth article about interleaving in The Scientific American.

3. Don’t be Sisyphus

To summarise the Greek myth of Sisyphus: he was a cheeky dude who got condemned to rolling a bolder up a hill for the rest of, well, eternity. So many people stop practicing whatever it is they ‘should’ be practising because they get fed up. They take it all too seriously. Maybe they’re not being flexible enough with practice to put the first two tips above to work for them. Before they know it, it’s become a chore.

Painting about lockdown hobby persistence and practice

So, yeah. Don’t be Sisyphus. Enjoy the moment and all the discoveries you’re making in your practice and have fun. If you respond to having a carrot dangling in front of you, visualise the day when you’ll have mastered whatever it is you’re working on today. But most importantly, enjoy and appreciate today exactly for what it is. Simple as that.

4. Practice makes…

…IMPROVEMENT. Don’t aim for ‘perfect’ because it doesn’t exist. There’s always another door to on the horizon to get to. Always aim to go a little further today than you’re comfortable with. Push that comfort zone a bit then maybe practice something you know slightly better. When you keep mixing up work on something familiar with work on something new, it keeps you agile and growing. This brings us to the last point in lockdown hobby practice mastery…

5. Don’t strum carelessly

The composer Robert Schumann published Advice to Young Musicians in 1848. With a little imagination you could apply most of his advice to any skill you want to practise. As part of the treasure chest of advice he gives, he offers this little gem…

He wrote “Don’t ever strum carelessly… always play as if a great master were listening to you.” This jumped out at me because it’s so easy to sink into a sort of meditative mode while you practice. I mean that zone where you kind of go through the motions but aren’t really present. I think that’s what Schumann was referring to. You can get more out of less practice if you make sure you stay switched on. Ask questions. Observe. Strive. Do anything but carelessly strum.

And to build on that principle, especially if I hit a stumbling block, it can be useful to ask “what would (insert your mentor’s / teacher’s / hero’s name here) say?” Magically, that can often snap you out of your rut and give an outside point of view that gets you over the hurdle.

So there we have our lockdown hobby practice tips. Some concepts kind of overlap so by practising one you’ll naturally do a little bit of the next. See what you think about them and I’d love to hear back about what your experiences are. Happy practising and have fun! – CH

“The hard must become habit.
The habit must become easy.
The easy must become beautiful.”

– Magician Doug Henning

Post script: While this is called ‘Lockdown hobby practice’ I hope everyone will carry on reaping the benefits long after this surreal and challenging cloud has passed!

Thanks for coming along. Say hello and drop me a note in the comments below and I hope to see you again after a few more turns in the trail.


Painting: Sisyphus by Franz von Stuck (1920)

2 thoughts on “How to Practice Magic, or Anything”

  1. Great tips, Christopher. If I’d ever applied them to the ukulele when I started I might even be able to play it halfway decently by now! Oops, can’t stop, time to practice…

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