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Introduction

This page dedicates to the so-called Symbolic Method, a universal notation for card tricks. Based on a categorization of the technical elements employed in card magic it allows to describe their technical backbone in a most concise manner. It is to card magic what notes are to music.

From here on it‘s all crap they‘ll say, not relevant at all to cardmagic. It‘s why this site isn‘t called magic dot com, yeah.

The "Método Simbólico", as it is originally named, was designed by Juan Tamariz, who published it in 1978. Mostly ignored, silently forgotten, and uncontradictedly declared as too specific, difficult, theoretical and obsolete, it may be considered the maestro's most fundamental, most practical, highly intuitive and visionary contribution to card magic, ranking among the most intellectual and groundbraking ever delivered to the inner circle.

The concept of a notation, as opposed to the use of words, has been introduced and established in many artistic disciplines such as music, dance, choreography. In all these places notation is unquestioned and fundamentally anchored as it allows for fast workflows and efficient studies. The underlying idea is a strict separation of the artistic and technical elements, the latter ones which are addressed by symbolic notation. This approach is also applicable to card magic.

The artistic jacket of a performance aside, card tricks can be primarily described as a sequence of position checks and actions. Secondary elements, adding context, involve patter (statements, questions, responses), structural elements (eg. set-up, phases, loops), dramatical elements (eg. pause, effect) and compositional elements (eg. in-transit, synchronized, intersecting actions). Notation is the best way to reveal all this in a most accurate, consistent and transparent manner, visually and holistic. As if x-raying the card trick while it evolves, its technical backbone gets drafted, step by step. Dissected and layed out in this way, the student is in a best position to elaborate over all aspects of the performance - approaching tricks in this manner literally opens up new perspectives to the students. Traditional formats, books and videos, serve as the primary source to introduce the trick, to discuss sleight details and, in a more or less tideous manner, to explain the trick's backbone. Notation serves for the practical work in the same way notes serve the musician during the daily rehearsals.
 

The symbolic approach

Three ideas are applied:

1. Trick sequences are formulated by means of symbols for position checks (eg. the sequence of cards in the piles) and symbols for actions (eg., turn card, take a break, do a double lift, etc.)

2. The symbols are parametrized for additional context: the card's suit and value, it's position in a deck (eg. a break below the 3rd from top), whether a position is face-up or face-down, or whether an action delivers a card in either face-up or face-down condition (eg. deal a card in face-up or face-down manner).

3. Some amazingly powerful rules apply:

- on position checks, dots/circles on the left signal a face-down condition, dots/circles on the right signal a face-up condition.

- on actions, arrows pointing up signal an action that delivers a card in a face-down (ie. in an back-up) condition, and vice versa.

An example

All this allows for efficient visual formulations, illustrated on the following simple example, which may represent a typical trick sequence embedded into a larger routine. An ace of hearts, followed by a king of spades is located topmost on a face-down deck. Ace and King are reversed (a). A double turnover is executed (1), followed by a push-off (2) of the now top card which is dealt (3) face-down to the table. The ace remains on top of the deck, while the king is tabled instead (b). This description encloses two position checks, a) and b), and three actions, 1),2), and 3). In notation, top-downwards:

Item Symbol Comment

a)

An ace of hearts, followed by a king of spades is located topmost on a face-down deck. Ace and King are reversed.

1

A double turnover is executed...

2

... followed by a push-off of the now top card...

a*)

 

3

...which is dealt face-down to the table.

b)

The ace remains on top of the deck, while the king is tabled instead.

The above serves to give a first idea. Even though the symbolic vocabulary has not been disclosed yet, the reader may spot the radically different approach.

Taken further, that is, rearranged to a horizontal lay-out and framed, the symbols shown below represent the same sequence with additional details to specify the performer's patter; that the turnover and the pushoff are synchronized actions; and where the card was dealt to (to the upper right table segment). Also, some boxes for closely related actions and position checks were combined vertically. Read each row from left to right before moving downwards.

Only the relevant information is rendered.

Symbolic Overview

What follows is a list of the most frequently used symbols.
Item

Symbol

Comment

1

Position Checks

 

1.1

single card, face-down

1.2

single card, face-up

1.3

an ace of spades, face-down

1.4

double face card, AC is face-up, and 2H is face-down

1.4

double backer, blUe back showing-up, and Red back showing-down

1.5

a pile of cards

1.6

a sequence of cards (aces) on top of a deck, all face-down

1.7 a sequence of cards, face-down aces on a face-up deck
1.8

a sequence of cards, all face-down except face-up ace of diamonds

1.9

same as above, in 1.8, but with break below the aces

2

Deck, generic symbol

 

2.1

a deck, face-down

2.2

a deck, face-up

2.3

a deck, face-down

2.4

a deck, face-up

3

Turns

 

3.1

turning a single card  face-down (back-up)

3.2

turning a single card  face-up (back-down)

3.3

turning a deck face-down (back-up)

3.4

turning a deck face-up (back-down)

3.5

double turnover, ending face-down

3.6

triple turnover, ending face-down

3.7

quadruple turnover, ending face-down

4

Breaks, Arrangements

 

4.1

taking a break below 3rd from top

4.2

taking a break above 3rd from bottom

4.3

combining right hand pile over the left hand pile

4.4

splitting the deck, taking top part into right, and bottom part into the left (hand)

5

Deals, Takes, Push-offs

 

5.1 deal face-down (back-up)
5.2 deal face-up (back-down)
5.3

lifting one card (face-down)

5.4

double-lifting two cards (face-down)

5.5 single card push-off
5.6 double push-off

 

5.7

stud dealing a card, so it ends face-up (back-down)

5.8

stud dealing a card, so it ends face-down (back-up)

5.9

forcing a card, here: the KH

5.10

selecting a card

5.11

returning a card

5.12

counting n cards without reversing the order

5.13

counting n cards reversing the order

5.14

buckle the bottom three cards

6.

Cuts

 

6.1

straight cut

6.2

false cut

6.3

a pass

6.4

a half pass

6

Controls

 

6.6

controlling a card, controlling the chosen card to 2nd from top

6.7

glimpsing, here:  the 2nd card from above, and the 2nd card from below

7

Hidden Maneuvers

 

7.1

squaring the deck

7.2

switch in AH, and switch out 2C

7.3a

palming once card in left hand

7.3b

palming once card in right hand

7.4

culling, here: the Kings

7.5a

crimping at lower left corner

7.5b

crimping at lower right corner

7.6

out jogging a card, here: the chosen card

7.7a

inserting a card, here: below the 4th from top

7.7b

tilting a card, here: below the 2nd from the top

8

Open maneuvers

 
8.1

spreading a deck face-down

8.2

fanning a deck face-down

9

Detailed Counts

numbers indicate the original positions;

dashes mark the separate counts or beats

asterisks mark hidden cards

the arrow indicates the order in which cards are sequenced from the top after the count. The positions within each beat are always sequenced from left-to-right. Of course, cards can only be sequenced once, even if the were counted twice.

 

 

9.1

 

Jordan count

count 5 as 4; the 4th card is hidden at the 3nd beat; the arrow indicates that the final order is: 1,2,3,4,5

 

9.2

 

Elmsley count

count 4 as 4; the 3rd card is hidden at the 2nd beat; the arrow indicates that the final order is: 1,4,2,3

9.3a Rhythm count - the left hand card falls last

count 4 as 4; cards actually shown are 2, 4 and 2, 4 again; the arrow indicates that the final order is: 4,2,3,1

9.3b Rhythm count - the right hand card falls last

count 4 as 4; cards actually shown are 2, 4 and 2, 4 again;the arrow indicates that the final order is: 2,4,3,1

9.4a Ascanio count

count 5 as 4; 3rd card is hidden; the arrow indicates that the final order is: 1,2,3,4,5

9.4b Ascanio count - the double is replaced on top

count 5 as 4; 3rd card is hidden; the arrow indicates that the final order is: 2,3,1,4,5

9.5 Standard reverse count (to table)

count 5 as 4; 4th card is hidden at 3rd beat; the arrow indicates that the final order is: 5,3,4,2,1

10

Shuffles

 

10.1

Out faro

10.2

In faro

10.3

riffle shuffle, left pile goes first

10.4

strip out

10.5

push through

10.6

Shank/Zarrow shuffle

10.7

ovrhand shuffle

10.8

running cards

10.9

milking cards

10.10

OLRAM subtlety

 

Objects

 

11.1

table

11.2

pen

11.3

case

11.4

coin

11.5

left hand

11.6

right hand

11.7

spectator

11.8

magician

11.9

Pockets

 

11.10

left outer breast pocket, 5D in outer right breast pocket

11.11

left jacket pocket, AH in right jacket pocket

11.12

left jacket pocket, 3S in right jacket pocket

11.13

left inner jacket pocket, right inner jacket pocket

12

Miscellaneous

 

12.1

watch

12.2

say

12.3

think

13

Generic

 
13.1 a generic move or action in verbose form
13.2 Ascii art for the rare case illustration is needed, more of a joke :)
13.3 patter
14

Drama and Compositional overlays

 
14.1 Effect
14.2 Acción: initial
14.3 Acción: in-transit
14.4 Acción: final
14.5 Fidget
14.6 Affirmation
14.7 synchronized
14.8 intersecting
15

place, coordinates overlays

 
15.1 upper left table segment
15.2 center table segment
15.3 lower right table segment
16

Structure

 
16.1 pause
16.2 open loop
16.3 close loop
16.4 end

Tamariz' original publication, see the references listed below, compiles more symbols, and also a most concise and consistent system to express various layers of details (the detailed finger positions, the details of counts, the details of sleights, the details of the body posture etc.). His underlying idea was that tricks can exclusively and completely be described by notation. While that was an extreme approach, the reduced set of symbols listed here rather allows for an intermediate approach that suggests to take advantage of the best of both worlds: A synnergy of both the traditional formats and notation where each excels. Notation is suggested rather as a short hand and quick style summary delivering the macroscopic layer of tricks without too much focus on the details of finger positions and the mechanics of the sleights.

Symbolic Method in Praxis

Tamariz originally devised the method as a shorthand script for pencil and paper. This way it serves to annotate books and publications, and to take notes during lectures, during creative sessions, and to pin down ideas. Only a few attempts are needed to achieve accurate and concise results.

Additionally, the symbolic method is available in digital format on iPhone. Documents can be finetuned, extended, if needed printed to paper,  shared by email etc. The digital application uses vector graphics for the symbols and allows the student to configure the number of rows and columns on the screen, to set the colours and font sizes to allow for the best possible rendering. Documents are encryptet in xml file format. The iPhone app, ideally on iPads, serves to manage an entire repertoire, making it available for the daily dedication to the tricks and ideas. Symbolic Method is available on the Appstore, here.

Samples

A set of example documents, renderedd to PDF but also available to be imported directly into Symbolic Method, are given in the App's area of this website, here.

Authorization and Credits

Item

Description

Year

1

Credit: Juan Tamariz for the original formulation of the symbolic notation for card tricks

ca. 1975

2

Authorization: to publish, lecture, and commercially offer the electronic version of the symbolic notation through handshake agreement with the maestro, olé!

2005

References

Nr.

Author

Title

Year

Editorial

1

Juan Tamariz

Método Simbólico Vol. I

1978

Escuela Mágica de Madrid

2

Juan Tamariz

Método Simbólico Vol. II

1978

Escuela Mágica de Madrid

3

Juan Tamariz

El Nuevo Método Simbólico

ca. 1985

Editorial Frakson

4

Juan Tamariz

Sonata 1991

Editorial Frakson

Links

 

 

© Ralph Cos [last updated August 2017]