Although many objects work well for juggling - one of my favorites that I often recommend is hacky sacks - there are also balls such as in the photo made specifically for jugglers.
I am a professional-level juggler, and once had a job performing in shows during a summer at Knott’s Berry Farm, an amusement park in Southern California. In my shows I juggled flaming torches, machetes, clubs, five balls, and then torches one last time at the end, in front of hundreds of people.
I have taught many people to juggle three balls, as explained in the first InfoBarrel article I created in this series about learning to juggle. I’ve taught some to advance to juggling four, which is what this article is about.
The way you start toward juggling four balls is to first learn to juggle two in one hand. When you can do this with each hand, you will juggle four by doing two in each hand simultaneously. This means that the basic four-ball pattern involves objects staying in the same hands, not crossing over.
More advanced four-ball patterns and tricks include balls crossing over, although I couldn’t do this until I learned to juggle five balls first. Juggling five balls is also briefly discussed below, after the videos for learning four.
Along with my explanations below for how to learn four balls, I share two highly recommended videos that demonstrate how to do it.
To juggle two balls in one hand:
Your hands will be rotating inward and upward when you throw. When you juggle you will see your right hand rotate clockwise and your left hand rotate counterclockwise, with the plane of rotation perpendicular to the direction you’re facing.
See the videos below. Your right hand will cause the two balls to travel in a clockwise looping pattern, and your left hand will cause them to travel in a counterclockwise loop.
To try it, put one hand behind your back. Try it first with your dominant hand. You will throw a ball upward, from about the middle of your body, to a position outward from the center of the body. The ball should go a bit higher than your head. When it reaches its peak you throw the next ball.
To keep the pattern going, your hand and the two balls should keep traveling in the direction I described (right hand clockwise, left hand counterclockwise).
When you can do it fairly well with one hand (I’d recommend at least ten throws and catches), try the same thing with the other hand. When both hands can do it fairly well, you’re ready to try it with each hand at the same time.
#1 of 2 videos recommended for learning four
How to juggle two in one hand
From two to four:
You can either make the throws simultaneously, which I dislike because it feels silly, or alternate which hand is throwing (right – left – right – left). The alternating pattern makes what you’re doing look a lot more complex, although might be more difficult at first. The alternating pattern, also called asynchronous, is demonstrated in the video below.
Remember two balls will stay in each hand. To keep track, you can consider having two balls of one color in one hand, and two of another color in the other hand. That could help some people at first to see if they are mistakenly throwing any across to the other hand.
This is the basic four-ball pattern, and the basic pattern for six balls is similar except that you juggle three in each hand. Some jugglers can juggle eight or even ten in a similar manner, although this is extremely advanced. In the past when I practiced juggling six, the best I did was 43 catches before dropping any. But I don’t practice six anymore.
The five-ball pattern and other odd-numbered object totals (seven balls, nine balls) follow a similar pattern to three balls, crossing sides. I never got beyond nineteen catches with seven balls, and don’t practice seven anymore, but stick to five, which I can do comfortably with some tricks.
#2 of 2 videos recommended for learning four
How to juggle four balls
Juggling five balls
Juggling five balls starts with three in one hand (the hand you want to start with), and two in the other, and the balls will cross sides, as with three – although with two more objects, it’s a lot busier.
It took me a few weeks to juggle five balls well. From what I've seen it takes most people more like a year or two, and that’s if you’re already proficient at juggling three and four objects.
My sister has juggled for years and can juggle four balls, but has never gotten past flashing five balls, which is throwing all five and catching all five. It’s considerably more difficult than four balls, although once I could do it, I could do many tricks with four that I couldn’t before.
As mentioned above, the more objects juggled the more difficult it is, and it’s exponential. I’ve seen a juggler who could do nine balls fairly well, and it’s ridiculous that anyone could do that. I’ve also seen people juggle seven comfortably, like how I juggle five. Very difficult to reach this level, and it takes many hours of practice every week to get there.
Someone I knew, who could juggle seven balls well, was asked by a ten-year-old boy how he could learn to juggle seven also. The juggler replied, “Don’t, get a life.” What he meant is that it’s extremely difficult and has to be your #1 thing that you do all the time if you want to have a chance at accomplishing it.
Find others to juggle with
If you’re serious about learning five, I recommend searching YouTube for videos demonstrating how to do it, or if you haven’t already done so, finding out if there are any juggling groups that meet near you where you can learn from other jugglers.
I have been a member of the Orange Jugglers in Orange County, California for a long time and at their meetings is where I learned many things from jugglers better than myself. It’s also necessary to have another person if you ever want to learn to juggle clubs, and to pass them back and forth with other jugglers.
If you don’t have a jugglers groups near you, see if any of your friends are interested in learning with you.