To create magic, it’s important to remember that you should use whatever method is necessary; whatever method works best (of course, this often is context-specific, the performing environment playing a significant role). Personally, I was enamoured with sleight of hand as a teenager. I found pleasure in spending time working on difficult moves, arcane techniques and impractical sleights that seemed so potent and desirable at the time.
Then I started to perform.
I quickly learned that yes, sleight of hand is an exceptional tool for creating magic. However, there are other tools, and they’re also valuable. Early on, I had passed on the notion of using gaffs in my magic. Performing for people made me realize that gaffs have a role, an important one at that. As well, subtleties, psychological ploys, and the various discrepancies we use are equally important. For example, a trick which I ignored when I first read it was The Piano Trick (I first encountered it in Hugard and Braue’s ‘Royal Road to Card Magic’). It seemed so obvious and simplistic that I never gave it much thought. Some time afterward, I saw a magician perform this trick, where cards were placed between fingers, and an odd card travelled invisibly! There was no method—I watched like a hawk, and nothing funny took place. Just pure magic.
This was another revelation. Self-working magic isn’t all bad. It can be good. In fact, it can be downright incredible. You can create some of the most potent impossibilities without using any difficult sleight of hand.
I know The Piano Trick is sometimes looked at with disdain, being one of those self-working tricks that’s been around for over 100 years. But remember, it’s a trick interesting enough that guys like Jim Steinmeyer and Michael Weber have created their own versions of it.
What I’d like to share with you is the way I perform the Piano Trick. It’s nothing big, but I find it very effective. I first get someone willing to participate. I tell them that they’re going to learn how to do something impossible. It won’t be something huge (like floating a person or vanishing a tiger) but it will be impossible. I now simply perform the standard version of the trick for them, having them pay close attention to what I’m saying and doing, as they’re going to become the performer in a moment. This additional level of misdirection helps mask the working of the trick even further, for the participant is paying complete attention to what you’re doing, buying into everything you say.
Here’s a brief description of the Piano Trick:
Take 15 cards from the deck. Have your participant place their hands onto the table, palms flat against the table, fingers slightly curled and separated (Photo 1).
Place two cards between their left little and ring fingers, saying “two cards, a pair, even.” Place two more cards between their left ring and middle fingers, again saying “two cards, a pair, even.” Place two more cards between their left middle and index fingers, again saying “two cards, a pair, even.” Place two more cards between their left index finger and thumb, saying “two cards, a pair, always even.” Place two cards between their right little and ring fingers, saying “two cards, a pair, even.” Place two more cards between their right ring and middle fingers, again saying “two cards, a pair, even.” Place two more cards between their right middle and index fingers, saying “two cards, a pair, always even.” At this point, you have only one card left. Place this single card between their right index finger and thumb, saying “and a single, solitary, odd card; A card with no pair.”
At this point, grab the pair of cards from between their left little and ring fingers, and separate them one in each hand. dropthem onto the table about eight inches apart (Photo 2).
As you separate and drop them, say “two cards, a pair.” Grab the pair of cards from between their left ring and middle fingers, separate them, and drop them onto the two cards already on the table, saying “another pair.” Grab, separate, and drop another pair, saying “always, two cards, always even.” Continue grabbing, separating, and dropping pairs until you’re left with the single card. Pick this card up, holding it, say “and the single, solitary, odd card. This odd card can go into this pile, or this pile. The choice is yours.” Slide the odd card into whichever pile they choose. Now, point out that the odd card is in the pile they chose. Pretend to pull a card out of the packet they chose (actually grabbing nothing, but miming holding a card) and slide the ‘imaginary card’ into the other pile. Tell them “the odd card has just been moved to the other pile. Watch.”
Pick up the pile the odd card was placed into, and place the cards, one pair at a time, between the participant’s left fingers. There will be no odd card.
Pick up the pile the odd card was not placed into. Place the cards, one pair at a time, between the participant’s right fingers. After three pairs, you’ll come to a single, solitary, odd card. Place the single card into their right fingers, in the open space, and say “odd, isn’t it?” (Last line courtesy of Tom Baxter)
Wow. That wasn’t so brief. Oh well. Immediately after finishing, I take back the 15 cards from them, give them a quick shuffle, and hand them back over to the participant. I simply say “Your turn” and place my hands onto the table in the same position they did at the beginning. I now have them perform the Piano Trick on me, guiding them as much as they need me to. The only change is I still give them the choice of which pile gets the odd card. Other than that, they play the role of magician for the whole routine. When they finish, they will be astonished to find that the odd card has travelled. Congratulate them on picking it up so quickly, and remind them not to tell anyone how it’s done. This line will get a laugh as the participant has no idea how the trick worked, but since he was just the magician it makes sense to say that a magician never reveals his secrets.
I hope you do give this a try, I think you’ll be surprised with the reaction you get.