How to Juggle: the 3-ball Cascade

Someone recently requested an Instructable on how to juggle, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to put up my first instructable.

This is a basic 3-ball cascade, the most basic 3-ball juggling pattern there is. If there is enough interest, I might post further patterns and tricks as people request them. You can also buy all kinds of juggling books which will guide you through these, but those cost money and most of us here are cheapskates. At least, I know I am.

I decided to use animated gifs on this to get the point across clearly and without distraction. All animations in this instructable were created using the Pivot stick-figure animator

Here's what you'll need:

1. 3 objects - preferably bean bags, but anything fairly spherical would work. I would recommend something with minimal bounce or roll, as you'll probably be doing a lot of chasing when you first start. For some good, sturdy, cheap bean bags, check out these.
2. A little space - Don't try to learn this in a phone booth. Chances are that you'll have smallish spherical objects bouncing off of walls at some point in this process, so you should move away from your grandmother's knick-knack shelves before proceeding.
3. Comfortable clothes - likewise, constrictive clothing will make your arm movements less fluid.
4. Some time - I learned to juggle 4 balls between classes at community college. I would hurry to my next class then stand in the hall juggling for 7 minutes before taking my seat.

Step 1: The Toss

This is the simplest step from the observational stand point, but it is very important developmentally. You want to practice tossing a single ball back and forth from hand to hand, making sure that your tosses are even.

Ideally, the tosses should fly in such a way that your hands will make small, circular movements as you toss and catch.

Plant your feet about hip width apart so you have plenty of movement potential. This is a good habit to get in, since some juggling tricks require a reasonable amount of bending, so you want to work on staying balanced.

In most cases, your shoulders should be relaxed, and your elbows about waist height, and bent about 90 degrees in the resting position. If your hands are rising above the height of your chest, you're probably putting a little too much effort into it.

As you toss, keep your eyes fixed on a single spot directly in front of you, and relax your focus. Try to keep the ball in your peripheral vision as it moves. This will become increasingly important as you add more balls later.

For the purposes of three balls, each toss should probably not go above your head height (for now).

Keep practicing this until you can go back and forth 30 times without dropping.

Step 2: The Half Jug

Now, we add a second ball.

Starting with one ball in each hand, you're basically going to make them trade places.

1. Start with your dominant hand.
2. Throw a nice, gentle arc just like you used to do with just one ball.
3. As the first ball reaches its apex (about eye-level), throw the second ball from your non-dominant hand, under the first ball
4. Catch the first ball with that same hand (non-dominant)
5. Catch the second ball with your dominant hand.

Repeat these steps until you begin to feel fairly comfortable with the process. Once you can do this with some ease, try starting with your non-dominant hand. You'll need to be able to do this from either hand.

As you work on this, try to keep the spacing between your throws even. You should throw the second ball as the first ball reaches its apex, and you should catch the first ball as the second ball reaches its apex.

Also, work on keeping your eyes centered and using your peripheral vision to watch the balls fly. You'll find that this gets easier to do as you have multiple objects, but you still want to avoid tracking too much with your eyes.

Step 3: The Jug

Now you're ready to move on to all three balls, but we're going to start small.

1. Start with two balls in your dominant hand, and one in your non-dominant hand.
2. Holding on to one of the balls, throw the other one from your dominant to your non-dominant hand.
3. As the first ball reaches its apex, throw the second ball from your non-dominant to your dominant hand.
4. Catch the first ball in your non-dominant hand.
5. At about the same time (when the second ball is at its apex) throw the third ball from your dominant hand to your non-dominant hand.
6. Catch the second ball in your dominant hand.
7. Catch the third ball in your non-dominant hand.

You should now have two balls in your non-dominant hand, and one in your dominant hand, the exact opposite of where you started. If not, you did something wrong.

The best way to proceed from here would be to Start with your non-dominant hand and repeat the above procedures (in reverse) to end up exactly back where you started. You can just pass one ball back to your dominant hand and start over, however you want to make sure you get a feel for doing the jug with both hands.

As you work on this step, you'll probably start to run into problems with 'bad' throws. This is normal. It's just your brain's way of saying that it isn't comfortable keeping track of so many things at once. Here are some pointers that will help keep you on track:
1. Stop when it gets frustrating: The less fun you're having, the less you're going to enjoy juggling, and the less you're going to want to keep learning.
2. If you have to, revert a couple of steps. Now that you're seeing the effects of misguided throws, it's easier to appreciate just tossing one ball back and forth and getting your throws down pat.
3. "A touch is as good as a catch": Okay, so this isn't quite true, but in the preliminary steps, being able to touch a ball at least means that it's in the vicinity of your hand, which is better than otherwise.

Step 4: Juggling

Now that you have mastered the Jug - starting with both hands - you're ready to start juggling.

1. Start with 2 balls in one hand and 1 in the other (at this point, it shouldn't make much difference which is which).
2. Throw a ball from the hand with two balls to the other.
3. When it reaches its apex, throw a second ball and catch the first.
4. Repeat

  • Start small. You can already do three throws and three catches (a Jug). For starters, move up to 4 throws and 4 catches. Once you can do that, move up to 5, 6, etc. Once you can do 6 or 7, you're probably ready to just go until you stop.
  • Be kind to your back! The default response to a drop is to bend down and pick it up, but if you squat instead, two things will happen: 1) your back will be much happier, and 2) your legs will get super buff. 1 squat per drop, times, say, 50 drops per practice session = killer legs! Seriously, next time you watch a pro juggler, check out his legs.
  • Avoid Joggling! Joggling is a fairly common occurence among beginner jugglers. It occurs when the juggling is at the point where the juggler can keep the objects in the air for a decent amount of time, but every once in a while one of the balls gets some forward momentum instead of just going side to side. What usually results is a second bad throw, as the catching hand moves forward to release and catch, which leads to a third bad throw, which eventually leads to the juggler chasing his balls down the hallway.

Here's a really good way to teach yourself not to Joggle:
1. Find a large, bare wall.
2. Stand facing the wall with your elbows at your sides and your forearms extended. Your knuckles should just barely not touch the wall (maybe an inch of clearance).
3. Juggle
As you juggle in this position, you will occasionally bounce a bad throw off of the wall. This is okay, and can make a good trick if you can make it look good. What it will help do is keep your hands from flying forward to retrieve a bad throw, and releasing bad throws themselves. As an additional bonus, any time you reach for a bad throw, you get a nice rap on your knuckles, which serves as instant negative feedback for your brain when you goof up!

Step 5: Have Fun!

Now that you're a pro juggler (at least at the 3-ball cascade) you can start playing around.

What happens if you throw that ball behind your back? Or between your legs?

Don't be afraid to experiment!

Show off to your friends and co-workers!

Just make sure that whatever you're juggling isn't going to endanger the immediate surroundings (plants, knick-knacks, pets, children, etc).



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    33 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    When learning, it can be useful to use silk scarves or tissues instead of balls - no chasing because they can't roll away, and they float, so you have more time to catch them, and focus on your technique.

    2 replies
    Llama Nerdseschmemma

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    You know, I have had many people recommend this, and I have never been able to do the scarf juggling thing. I find the technique and timing so very different from juggling anything with inertia. I always feel like I'm having to move my arms way to much to get the scarves to go anywhere, whereas with normal juggling you want to minimize the movement of your arms and put more of the motion in your wrists.

    That being said, if using scarves helps you to get the pattern down, or in any other way helps you in your pursuit of juggling prowess, then by all means knock yourself out!

    Also, it's entirely possible I never properly learned how to juggle scarves :)

    eschmemmaLlama Nerds

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Good point about moving your arms a lot more - I learnt with scarves originally and never managed with anything else - maybe that's my problem. Cheers!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Pivot and juggling! :-) Here's one I made.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I basically taught myself how to juggle three balls (started with tennis balls) and this would have helped a lot!

    However recently, I got a set of five juggling balls and I just can't figure out how it works. :( Could someone post an instructable breaking five-ball juggling down into easy steps? Thanks.

    1 reply
    Llama Nerdsjamiec53

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I'll have to see if I can work out time to write this. I know the theory, it's really just a matter of practicing and practicing and practicing, ad nauseum, until your throws are really consistent. 


    10 years ago on Introduction

    behind your back or between your legs? I saw a guy in the circus-like show Saltimbonco do that!

    1 reply
    Llama Nerdsdaninja

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    The nice thing about the 3-ball cascade is how easy it is to vary. Under throws, over throws, under the leg, behind the back, etc. are all easy to work in with fairly little practice. 


    11 years ago on Introduction

    yesterday I was doing a cascade when all of a sudden I started showering, without even knowing I could do that

    1 reply
    Llama Nerdsdamasta

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Sweet! I remember taking severa days to learn to make that switch and back. I was running spotlight for a community college stage production at the time, so I had some good free time to practice. Even now I can only go counter-clockwise (heh, almost left the 'L' out of that word) with any proficiency.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    should i post a instructable on basic tricks w/3 balls? btw good instructable


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Got it! Though the picture doesn't prove it, I can now juggle. Yes! Nice instructions!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the info! I had a huge problem with 'Joggling' but it has gotten much better since I have started using the wall trick. My knuckles are a little sore, but absolutely worth it!

    2 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    It looks like pivot Peter sent me the beta of version 3 Just mail him