How to juggle

On this page I will explain how, even if you are very uncoordinated like I used to be, you can learn to juggle the basic pattern in a few hours or less, learn a bunch of tricks in a few weeks and become a fairly skilled juggler in a few months.

[If you speak French, a slightly more complete version of this page can now be found here.]

Juggling is a thousand-year-old art that was already practiced in ancient Egypt. It is an activity that, in addition to being extremely entertaining, greatly promotes coordination, concentration, self-esteem and the development of certain parts of the brain. I first learned to juggle more than a decade ago after turning 26. Although it always remained “just a hobby”, I have to admit that for a long while I was almost obsessed with the whole thing. If you have time to waste and you’re curious, here’s a sample of what I managed to do after about 5 years of regular practice. The level of skills I’ve reached is pretty damn good for a hobbyist who started late in life and never had a coach, but as you will quickly discover if you watch a few of the videos shown below, it’s really just a microscopic fraction of what is possible. The difference of skills required to be among the best in the world versus what it takes to impress the lay public is impossible to overstate. These days I don’t spend anywhere as much time juggling as I used to, but I still practice about once a week, I still love it and I’m still improving. I briefly considered stopping completely to better focus on other things, but I just love it too damn much. I could easily juggle for 3 hours a day every day if I had an infinite amount of time and energy.

In the past I’ve also spent an embarrassingly large amount of time watching tons of juggling videos. If you’re curious, here are some of the most insane and impressive and fun to watch:

  • Old video of Falco Scheffler juggling just 3 and 4 balls. If you enjoy this quick and hard to follow and understand type of 3-ball juggling, you will most likely enjoy this video and others by Tsubasa Murakami.
  • Beautiful and crazy impressive Were is Petter video.
  • Ofek Snir with crazy siteswaps and 360s.
  • What happens when 100s of jugglers come together for a week-long party.
  • He’s retired now, but Anthony Gatto is still widely considered to be the best juggler in history. Here’s something you might not know: doing something perfectly and consistently in a show is SO much more difficult than doing it once in practice.
  • Lauge Benjaminsen is definitely one of my favorite jugglers.
  • Alexander Koblikov doing what’s probably my personal favorite on-stage performance. Not easy at all to do all those tricks while being drunk on national tv!
  • Clubs passing performance by Daniel Ledel and Dominik Harrant. Don’t miss the last 4 minutes.
  • Curious to discover yet another type of juggling? Here’s bounce juggling, one unique form of contact juggling by Tony Duncan (the extremely bad filming in this video is 100% my fault), rings and “big balls” juggling by Pavel Evsukevich.
  • Here’s Ice Cream, a recent and inspiring and extremely creative video by Wes Peden. Wes is the type of juggler who’s constantly inventing a seemingly infinite amount of new tricks that no one had even imagined before.

Ok so if you’ve watched any of those videos, I hope it was entertaining and inspiring more than it was discouraging. To be honest: unless you’re young enough and highly motivated, chances are you’ll never reach a skill level that is near what those crazy people managed to pull off. I know I never will. But it doesn’t matter at all, or at least it shouldn’t. There are still millions of cool and fun tricks that you’re capable of learning. There’s no need to become insanely great in order to enjoy the marvellous activity that is juggling.

Contrary to what many people think, learning to juggle three balls is within everyone’s reach, regardless of your age or current level of dexterity. With proper instruction, many people can learn to perform at least a few throws in 20 minutes or in an hour or two. Otherwise, short practices spread over a few days should be sufficient. And while learning to juggle 5 objects takes months of dedicated practice, 3 and 4 balls, 3 clubs, 3 and 4 rings and dozens of tricks with each can be learned much more quickly than you imagine.

Ready to start?

First find some juggling balls. For now anything that isn’t too light or too small or too fragile should work. Apples or oranges can work fine if you’re only juggling right above your bed or couch, otherwise they will become disgusting after too many drops. You can take some tennis balls, use a knife to make a small opening, fill them up halfway with rice or sand and then put some strong enough ducktape all over. It used to be possible to buy a few at Toys-R-Us and at some other small shops that sell board games and card games, but I’m not sure if that’s still true today. If you something that will work well and you don’t want to bother making your own juggling balls, unfortu nately buying online might be your only option. I really like those costly “Norwik” (the “big” model), and I bought about a dozen of them a long time ago. Another very good alternative would be these. A cheaper (but still not cheap) alternative would be these. But anyway I’m not sure you should start investing now in anything if you don’t know yet whether or not you will want to keep juggling long term.

Once you’ve found something good enough, use this tutorial to master the basic 3-ball movement. The video can be useful even if you think you already know how to juggle well. And it can definitely be worth listening more than once. All the different instructions are important. Just being able to throw and catch isn’t enough.

A few hopefully helpful notes for those who might struggle with the basics: If you’re following the instructions carefully and correctly, usually it shouldn’t take too long before you manage to get at least a few throws. If that’s not the case, don’t feel bad! Just keep trying 10 to 20 minutes a day while putting all your energy and attention into what’s you’re trying to achieve. Go read some of the “basic principles” you’ll find down on this page and try to apply them seriously. Ask someone who knows how to juggle well to watch you and point out your mistakes. Perhaps watching some other tutorial might help. Perhaps you should have some fun learning to juggle 2 in one hand. That’s about similarly easy or difficult as juggling 3 with 2 hands. Practice both hands about equally. Perhaps spend some time alternating between the drills with 1, the drills with 2, the drills with 3, trying to juggle 2 with the right hand and trying to juggle 2 with the left hand and so on. If you see that you’re making some progress with one particular drill, spend some more time on it before switching to something else. Don’t get discouraged! I’m honestly about more than 99% sure that you can do this!

Once you’ve managed to juggle correctly for at least 6 throws, you can claim that you “know how to juggle” without lying. You’ll have to keep practicing for a while before it becomes easy, but you’ve already gone through the first important step. Congratulations!

But why stop there? As long as you don’t stop practicing the basic pattern, you can start learning new tricks shortly after you’ve managed to juggle 3 for a little while.

Here are some easy tricks:

  • Juggling 2 in one hand. You can even learn that before learning 3 in both hands if you want. Practice both hands.
  • If you have 5 juggling balls and someone to juggle with, this passing exercise is actually a little easier than juggling 3 by yourself.
  • If you skip to the end of this tutorial, the guy provides links to seven basic tips to learn next. I would learn the first 6 and save the 7th for later.
  • Under the arm throws.
  • Multiplexes.
  • If you have 6 juggling balls and someone to juggle with, here’s a simple passing pattern you can try. It’s really not that hard if both of you can juggle 3 well enough. The video is for club passing, but the same technique can of course also be used for passing juggling balls.
  • Once you can do 2 in one hand from both hands, you can start practicing 4. It takes a while to master, but just getting a few throws is really not that hard. If I can dare to slightly disagree with the tutorial, I would focus more on synchronous throws (also explained in the video) first. They are slightly harder than the asynchronous throws she’s teaching first, but I think they make it easier to see your mistakes and learn with a solid foundation.

Here are some basic principles that are always worth keeping in mind:

  • Don’t declare victory just because you manage to throw something and catch it without dropping. Yes that is a good first step, but you can and should learn to do it better, with more accuracy, more control, more consistency and more elegance. The accuracy of your throws is probably the most important thing to focus on.
  • As you can see in the different video tutorials above, most difficult tricks can be broken down into easier steps. I know those more basic steps aren’t quite as fun, but they’re important and you shouldn’t skip over them too quickly.
  • It’s usually not necessary to completely master one trick before moving on to the next, but the basic patterns (3-ball, 4-ball, 3-clubs) should never be neglected until they can be done consistently and almost perfectly, at different heights. Mastering them well (being able to do them with control, with some ease, dropping only rarely, while keeping a stable body position as described in the first tutorial) makes everything else 10 times easier. Just because you can do a trick without dropping doesn’t mean you did it correctly.
  • The frequency of your practices is more important than their duration. Practicing 30 hours over 5 days would probably be less effective than practicing half an hour a day for a month (15 hours total).
  • It’s usually not worth practicing the very same thing for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time. It’s usually better to spend 10 minutes on one thing, 10 minutes on another and so on.
  • Always or almost always finish on a relative success before stopping or moving on to the next trick or exercise. The point of this advice is partly to maintain your motivation in the long run. But most importantly, this well-executed last action is what you’re most likely to remember in what we might call your muscle memory. It’s what your brain will unconsciously replay over and over while you sleep. If that relative success isn’t achievable for now, either just move on without worrying about it, or find some easier version of the trick that you can do instead.
  • The weak hand (usually the left hand) should be practiced at least as much as the strong hand. Eventually the gap between the two will almost completely disappear.
  • If a trick seems much too difficult after several tries, you are probably not ready for it yet. It’s better to practice something else or to practice an easier version of the trick in question. The process won’t always be as quick and easy as you would wish, but there’s always a level where, if you practice correctly, you will continue to improve. I recommend spending most of your practice time perfecting medium difficulty level tricks, and maybe just 10% to 35% of your time on high difficulty (for you) tricks. Those who spend all their time practicing the harder stuff sometimes feel they are improving faster, but they limit their long-term potential.
  • While practicing, carefully monitor your energy level. Take short breaks as often as necessary. Difficult tricks require more mental and physical energy. The right time to try them out is after you’ve spent at least a little while warming up with easier exercises and – if you’re practicing for a long while – before you start to become tired.
  • When practicing a trick that you’ve already mastered, see if you can manage to notice and correct all the small imperfections that remain in your technique.

And now some intermediate level tricks. Btw you don’t have to learn them in that order.

  • Juggling 4 with more consistency. Perhaps even trying out easy tricks, like switching from synchronous to asynchronous and back (also taught in the video) and some easier forms of multiplexes.
  • If you enjoy wild cross-arms 3-ball patterns, try the weave, mills mess, windmill and factory.
  • To juggle 3 clubs, learn with either this video or this one. Not too costly juggling clubs can be found here. I like those, bought 8 for passing, but they’re quite costly. Those here cost much less (still a lot) and are almost as good.
  • Want to juggle 3-club with double spins? Here’s step 1 and step 2.
  • If you have 6 juggling clubs and someone to juggle with, here’s a simple passing pattern you can try. It’s fun and really not that hard if both of you can juggle 3 well enough.

You are now officially “good at juggling” and completely free to choose what you want to learn. You can search youtube for more instructional videos, copy what other jugglers are doing, or invent your own tricks. Hopefully, if Covid can become under control, you can show up at one of those awesome juggling clubs and juggling festivals and meet other enthusiasts.