Music & Entertainment

Magic 101: What Is a French Drop? Learn Magic Coin Tricks to Try at Home

Written by MasterClass

May 24, 2019 • 6 min read

MasterClass Video Lessons

Penn & Teller Teach the Art of Magic

The fundamental discipline of magic is sleight of hand. Making an object vanish is the quintessential magic trick. Once you learn sleight of hand, there is an almost unlimited number of things you can do.

With small objects like balls or coins, the most common method used to effect a vanish is referred to as a false transfer. A false transfer is when you pretend to move an object (such as a small ball) from one hand into the other, but secretly retain it in the original hand. And the French drop is usually the first false transfer a magician learns.

Close

What Is a French Drop?

A French drop, or “Le Tourniquet” in French, is a classic sleight of hand method that magicians use to “vanish” small objects. You pick up a small ball and hold it in your closed hand. After you touch it with a magic wand or speak a magic word, you open your hand and the ball has vanished.

  • Magicians frequently execute the French drop in coin magic to disappear a quarter, but it works just as well with a small balled up piece of paper, toys, keys, and other everyday items.
  • The French drop is a vanish (making something disappear), but magicians often use the method in other kinds of tricks beyond vanishing acts, such as transformation (altering an object’s form or properties) and transportation (making an object appear to move from one place to another).

What Real Action Does a French Drop Mimic?

While it seems that this is a very simple sleight, there are many details to get right if it is going to be deceptive. So it will be broken down into distinct actions, so you can examine (and practice) each of these actions one at a time. First, let’s examine the real action that the French drop simulates.

Step One: Pick up the ball with the right fingers and hold it in your palm-up hand between the index finger and thumb. Make sure you take it with those fingers when you first pick it up, so that you do not have to readjust it in the hand when you first display it to the audience.

Woman's hand holing ball of tinfoil

Close

Step Two: The right hand moves toward the left hand. Your left fingers, which should look relaxed and naturally curled, reach over and take the ball from the right hand at the tips of the left fingers. Note that the left hand approaches from the left, with the back of the hand toward the audience, and the left thumb merely goes behind the ball to grasp it.

Woman's hands transferring tinfoil ball

Close

The right hand stops as the left hand closes into a loose fist around the ball and moves away to the left and turns palm up (see below—the ball is exposed for clarity). The left hand should not squeeze the ball too tightly.

Woman's hands with tinfoil ball in left hand

Close

Step Three: As the left hand takes the ball and moves away, the right hand turns inward slightly, relaxes, and drops at the wrist. The fingers are curled slightly, but the hand does not close into a fist. It is empty, and should look empty. The thumb and fingers stay separated, leaving an “empty space” where the ball just was a second ago. Notice that only one hand is moving at a time. The right hand moves toward the left hand. When the hands meet, the right hand stops, then the left hand takes the ball and moves to the left, continuing the movement the right hand started.

Do this action over and over. Pay close attention to what it feels like to take the ball into your left hand. All the details described above are very important. It is recommended you stand in front of a mirror and study what it really looks like (recording yourself and watching the video is helpful, too).

How Do You Perform a French Drop?

Exactly how a magician performs a French drop depends on the size and shape of the small object they are vanishing, but the basic steps are as follows:

Step one. Pick up the ball with the right fingers and hold it in your palm-up hand between the middle finger and thumb as you did above, with the back of the hand toward the audience. The right hand moves toward the left hand.

Woman holding tinfoil ball in hand

Close

Step two. (The Fake Take): You are going to pretend to take the ball into the left hand. When the hands come together, the right hand stops, and just as the left fingers cover the ball, let the ball fall into the right hand. Close the (empty) left hand into a fist, and move it to the left. Follow the left hand with your eyes. Your focus should be where the ball is supposed to be.

Woman's hands with tinfoil ball in right hand

Close

Step three. As soon as the left hand apparently takes the ball, turn the right hand slightly inward, and drop it at the wrist, relaxed, and apparently empty. Do not close the right hand around the ball.

Woman's hands curled with tinfoil ball

Close

Step four. Step Four (The Vanish): If you open your left hand, it will be seen empty, and the ball will have “vanished”. When learning this (or any sleight) alternate between doing the real action and the simulated or fake action, so that they look and feel the same. Go back and forth and execute the real action, then the fake action, over and over again.

One Big Mistake to Avoid When Executing the French Drop

This move is often done poorly by having the left hand approach from behind the right hand, with the palm of the left hand toward the audience and the left thumb inserted below the ball into the opening between the right thumb and index finger. This is not a natural way to take the ball, and will look suspicious to an audience—you’ve almost certainly seen magicians do it this way, but it is poor technique. Again, the right hand moves to meet the left hand, which has its palm toward you, and the left thumb goes behind the ball, not underneath it. Don’t do this!

Hand holding tinfoil ball wrapped around other hand

Close

Perfect Your French Drop: Add a Magic Wand

Out of context, a French drop won’t fool most spectators. To successfully deceive an audience, the magician has to justify their actions and add some magical flourish.

  • What’s your motivation? The French drop is only deceptive if it’s motivated. There needs to be a reason why you’re taking the object from your right hand into the left. Otherwise, it will be obvious that you’re only doing it because the trick requires it, and the audience will likely realize it’s in your other hand. Build motivation into your story.
  • Have a magic moment. To help sell the action, incorporate a “magic wand” prop into your French drop. (The wand can be anything you choose and sell to your audience as a magical instrument.) Not only does tapping your empty fist with a wand create a sellable, cause-and-effect “magic moment” to explain the object vanishing, but holding the wand in your right hand, which is secretly palming the object, also helps hide the fact that something else is in your hand. It is an excellent misdirection tool.
  • Don’t emphasize the transfer. The sleight happens while you are doing a mundane action—taking an object from one hand into the other. It should not be overly emphasized, framed, or hurried. It’s an unimportant action that no one should notice, and it happens in between more important actions, such as the initial display of the object, and the “magic moment.” Focus on and emphasize those moments and relaxation and act as if the moment when you are doing the sleight is nothing special.
  • Practice makes perfect: Making the French drop and transfer look seamless takes a lot of effort. Pay close attention to what it feels like to take the object into your left hand. Mimic the real action with the false transfer. It is recommended that you study yourself in the mirror and record yourself to ensure that your hands and wrists sell the exchange of weight with their movements without revealing the concealment.

Learn more magic tricks to try at home in Penn & Teller’s MasterClass.