The Physics of Ball Juggling. A short description of some of the physical properties of juggling patterns, including Shannon's juggling theorems. … read more

Juggling and Unicycling. Jochen's juggling activities. … read more

The Mathematical Theory of Juggling. Mathematical Theory of Juggling … read more

Ball Passing Patterns

By Jochen Voss, last updated 2012-02-18

This page collects many two-person passing patterns, performed by Alice and Bob. I hope you can understand my diagrams. In doubt you can try to find explanations on my page about the mathematical theory of juggling.

I only consider the part of the passing pattern which can be described by some kind of site-swap notation. The basic version for these patterns is to stand front-to-front and to do the indicated throws. But of course all of these patterns can be enhanced by doing throws under your leg, from behind your back, by doing a mills' mess while performing the pattern, or by standing back-to-back.


Common Passing Patterns

six-ball four-count

Without doubt this is the most popular passing pattern among jugglers. Once you can do a stable three-ball cascade this pattern should be no problem for you.

You should also practise to do the same pattern where all the passes are done by the left hand.


six-ball three-count

This is a little bit more tricky than four-count, because the pattern contains passes with both hands. A little bit surprising, but clearly visible in the diagram, is the fact that the passes are always done with the same two balls.


six-ball two-count

In this pattern every throw with the right hand is a pass. This feels a lot faster than four-count, but once you get the hang of it, the pattern should be no problem. You definitely should also practice the left-hand version of this!


five-ball ultimate

This pattern is just the five-ball one-count. Every throw is a pass, Alice and Bob throw alternatingly: first Alice's right hand, then Bob's right hand, then Alice's left hand, and then Bob's left hand. The routine is illustrated in the following diagram.

[5-ball ultimate]

I labelled the passes as 2.5 here! This is done, because Bob catches Alice's pass between her second and third throw after the pass, so it really takes a non-integer number of beats to arrive.

This trick uses four hands and has only five balls, so it should be trivial. But when you try it, you may find that it takes a little bit more concentration than you would expect. Also the situation is less symmetrical than the picture suggests. Alice is always throwing diagonal passes, her right hand does throws to Bob's Right hand, and her left hand throws to Bob's left hand. Bob in contrast is doing straight passes all the time, his right hand throws to Alice's left hand and his left hand throws to Alice's right hand.

In case that Alice starts doing the straight passes, Bob has to throw diagonal passes instead. Also he has to start with his left hand in this case. This might feel quite weird for him in the beginning. The following diagram illustrates this version of the pattern.

[5-ball ultimate, 2nd version]

Advanced Passing Patterns

six-ball one-count

Here every ball is thrown as pass. This pattern is a little bit tricky, because the balls you are supposed to catch tend to collide with the balls you have just thrown.


It is not easy to read this from the diagram, but the pattern consists of two separated sub-patterns: Alice's left hand is doing a three-ball cascade with Bob's right hand and Alice's right hand is doing another three-ball cascade with Bob's left hand. The balls never change sides. One of these sub-pattern is shown in the following diagram.


six-ball pass-pass-self

For the usual two-person, six-ball passing patterns, Alice and Bob can in theory decide for each throw whether they both throw a pass or both throw a self. In practice one agrees on a sequence of pass and self throws in advance, and repeats this sequence over and over again. One of the more interesting variations is created by the sequence pass-pass-self. The resulting pattern is illustrated in the following diagram.


This pattern is quite tricky to juggle because it combines several difficulties:

seven-ball two-count

In my opinion the seven-ball two-count is the most basic two-person passing pattern with seven balls. It is an asynchronous pattern: Bob starts one beat after Alice and thus Bob's left-handed throws happen at the same time as Alice's right-handed throws. The pattern feels similar to a four-ball half-shower, but it is easier, probably because it is only 3.5 balls per person.


seven-ball four-count

This is a synchronous pattern. The passes are thrown from the right hand and 5 beats later catched by the partner's left hand. Similar to some four-ball tricks (like the four-ball tennis 53444) you have to throw the fives quite high, and you should try to keep the threes as low as possible.


seven-ball ultimate

This is the seven-ball one-count. It is similar to the five-ball ultimate, but feels a lot faster. Because Bob catches Alice's throws between her third and forth throw after the pass, the following diagram labels all the passes as 3.5.

[7-ball ultimate]

The diagram shows the case where Alice starts throwing straight passes and Bob is returning diagonal passes. If Alice would throw diagonal passes instead, starting with her right hand, Bob had to start with a straight pass from his left hand instead. This effect is illustrated in the section on five-ball ultimate.

seven-ball pop-corn

This pattern has one of the jugglers doing a four-ball trick (four-ball half-shower), and the other one doing a three-ball cascade. Every sixth throw a ball is passed over, exchanging the roles of the two jugglers.

When learning this trick, it helps quite a lot if you can already do a stable four-ball half-shower. This is especially true if you try to do the left-handed version of this pattern.


Doing Tricks

Most of the passing patterns mentioned above contain enough time, so that you can weave some additional tricks into the pattern. The most basic method to do so, is to replace two consecutive throws, a self and a pass, with one single, higher pass and a 2. The pattern 33p would become 4p2 with this method. Because the pass is thrown a beat earlier it must be a 4 instead of a 3 now, so that it arrives at the correct time. And holding the following ball, this is the 2, provides a replacement for the ball, which is missing because we used it for the pass.

The following section illustrates how to do this for a six-ball four-count. But of course this method also works for three-count and two-count patterns.

six-ball four-count: early doubles

As described above Alice can replace one self and one pass from her pattern by a higher pass and a 2. This is illustrated in the following diagram: Alice's third pass is thrown as an early double. As you can see, Bob's pattern is not changed by this operation.

This trick is not difficult to do. Immediately after catching Bob's pass with her left hand, Alice passes it back to Bob's left hand via a high, diagonal pass. The resulting gap on her side gives enough time to get the pattern straight again.

[6-ball 4-count: early doubles]

six-ball four-count: late doubles

Another method of throwing doubles is to replace your pass and one of your partner's selfs with a high diagonal pass. The resulting throw is called a late double and is illustrated in the following diagram. Again the action is started by Alice. She throws a pass at the regular time, but higher and diagonally instead of straight. This is illustrated in the diagram: Alice's third pass is thrown as a late double.

This pattern requires a little bit of hindsight on Bob's side. He notices that no ball is arriving for his left hand, so he holds the ball there (this is the 2) instead of throwing his self. The late pass fills the resulting gap and everything is fine again.

[6-ball 4-count: late doubles]

six-ball four-count: triples

Throwing triples is another variation of the same idea: you can replace 333p on your side by 5p22. You throw a very high, straight pass. This buys you a lot of time. In the diagram this time is just used to hold two balls (the 22), but you could also use this time to pick up a dropped ball, or try to have a quick cup of coffee.

[6-ball 4-count: triples]

Once you have read all of the above, you should be able to find out how quadruples work. I will leave this as an exercise.

six-ball three-count: early doubles

In theory early doubles during three-count are very similar to early doubles during four-count. In practice doing early doubles during three-count can be quite confusing. In the following diagram Alice throws her third pass as an early double. This results in three consecutive passes from her left hand. The left hand follows the following sequence: the regular pass, the early (high, diagonal) pass, a self, another regular pass. Only then there follows a pass from the right hand. To learn this trick might require some concentration.

[6-ball 3-count: early doubles]

six-ball four-count: four-four-one

Another possible modification for a passing pattern is to leave the passes unchanged, but to replace your boring selfs by some more exciting patterns. Maybe the most easy way to do this is to replace the 333 from your six-ball four-count pattern by 441.

In the diagram Alice does this trick all the time, while Bob is a little bit afraid and sometimes does his selfs as 441 but sometimes as 333. As you can see both ways to do it work together well.

In practice this trick gives quite a nice effect: the two fours are just throws straight up. After you have done these you have your hands free. When the pass arrives at your left hand you just hand it over to your right hand, which passes it back again. Only after you did this the two fours fall down and you are back in the pattern.

[6-ball 4-count: 441]

Copyright © 2012, Jochen Voss. All content on this website (including text, pictures, and any other original works), unless otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.