Common misconceptions about siteswap

It is very common for people to say that 'siteswap is limited' or that 'siteswap can't handle this or that'. This is not true, siteswap can handle everything. Limitations only come into play when juggler's start making false assumptions. As you read through this list you will see that most of the statements are true of vanilla siteswap which has a large set of strict assumptions that impose limits to make the patterns easier for people to understand. These limits do not have to be put in place at all.

The number dictates the height of the throw. A 3 is this high, a 4 is this high...etc.

Nope, the number only states how many beats pass until the ball is touched next. If you juggle really slowly (a low number of throws per minute) a 5 could be thrown several metres into the air, or if you juggle really fast (lots of throws per minute) a 5 can be thrown under head height.

3, 522, 72222 & 9222222 are all different but perfectly valid ways of notating a three ball cascade, & each one could be juggled with the throws made to the same height.

In fact...

The numbers represent throws

Nope, the number doesn't even have to be a throw at all. A ball placed on your head or left on a table for 5 beats is still a 5 despite not really travelling anywhere. Similarly if juggling with two hands any even number could just be held in the palm of the hand while all subsequent throws are made with the fingertips, for example grab 4 balls & try 633 with the 6s as holds (a lot easier than it sounds).

With clubs a 3 is thrown as a single, 4s & 5s are thrown as doubles...

Nope, seeing Toby Walker juggle is an excellent counter example to this statement. He can juggle five clubs on singles, then doubles, then triples, then quads & then flats without making the pattern change height or tempo once, every throw is still a 5.

A 2 is a hold

Nope, a 2 just states that the ball is next touched two beats later so (assuming we are using two hands) could be held, thrown or placed somewhere & picked up again.

Odd numbers are always cascade throws from one hand to the other, even numbers are always fountain throws that come back to the same hand

Firstly the numbers aren't necessarily throws at all. Secondly this statement is only true if we assume that we are using two hands & that we throw from each hand alternately. We could be using any number of hands & we could be using any throwing sequence we like, both factors can alter the type of throw a number represents (if it even represents a throw at all).

If two or more props land in the same hand at the same time the pattern is invalid

Nope. All it means is that you will need to catch two balls in the same hand at the same time. While this is pretty difficult to do it is certainly not impossible & is a technique known as a squeeze catch because you effectively squeeze the props together at the point of the catch.

People perceive that siteswap falls over because of what happens after a squeeze catch. As an example: a juggler throws 331 throwing from both hands alternately starting with the right. At the end of the sequence the left hand is holding two balls & is due to throw next, if the juggler wants to throw one ball to the right hand so that it will land 3 beats later most people will just add another 3 - 3+3+1+3=7, & 7/4=error.

This is a mistake in the way siteswap is used to notate the pattern, & not a flaw with siteswap itself. At that point in time the left hand is holding two balls so to show that we are only throwing one of the two balls we would need to use multiplex notation to get 331[32] - 3+3+1+3+2=12 & 12/4=3 (note that we divide by 4 not 5, the two balls 'thrown' as a multiplex is one throw) hurrah!

Alternatively this example pattern could also be considered as 531 with the 5 being thrown in the air for 3 beats & held in the hand for 2 beats, because as we all know the numbers don't necessarily represent a throw.

The only time a pattern is invalid (unjuggleable) is when the pattern dictates that you need to make a throw but the hand is not holding a prop (or enough props in the case of multiplex throws).

Siteswap can only deal with two hands

Nope, only vanilla siteswap states that we use two hands. Generally though siteswap lays down no rules about how many hands are used to juggle a pattern at all.

Think about the pattern 3. The only thing siteswap states about a 3 is that the ball will be thrown or placed somewhere & then touched 3 beats later in the pattern.

If we only use one hand then the ball will be thrown straight up in the air, while it is in the air our single hand will touch two more balls one on each beat before the first ball lands again on the third beat - Three balls in one hand. The line below shows three balls marked a, b & c thrown by the right hand:

RHa, RHb, RHc, RHa, RHb, RHc

In terms of vanilla siteswap a 3 is a Cascade with two hands throwing alternately. The next line shows balls a, b & c being thrown from each hand alternately.

RHa, LHb, RHc, LHa, RHb, LHc, RHa, LHb, RHc...

We could use three hands in the sequence hand1, hand2, hand3... notice that in the following example each hand only ever touches one ball. So when juggling with three hands & throwing in order a three could be a throw, hold or placement that comes back to the same hand.

H1a, H2b, H3c, H1a, H2b, H3c, H1a, H2b, H3c...

We could use four hands, one ball is held in hands 1 - 3 while hand 4 starts off empty, then each hand makes a throw in sequence. In which case the hand whose turn it is to throw next always throws to the empty hand. The three club runaround where two people share a three club cascade which stays in one place while the jugglers continually walk around each other in circles behind it is a very common example of this pattern.

H1a, H2b, H3c, H4a, H1b, H2c, H3a, H4b, H1c...

Siteswap can't notate really simple things like bouncing a ball off of your knee

Nope twice. Remember: siteswap does not dictate how high a ball is thrown, where it goes or even if it is thrown at all. So in vanilla siteswap bouncing a ball off of your knee could be written as 333522333... the 5 represents the ball that is bounced off of the knee taking an extra two beats of time to do so while the other two balls are held (or thrown) one in each hand. Of course from a notational point of view, despite being perfectly accurate this is not very useful because it fails to highlight the main point of the trick which is the fact that a ball is bounced off of a knee.

Alternatively we can stick with the siteswap pattern 3 but we alter the throwing sequence by inserting a 'knee' to get: LH, RH, LH, Knee, RH, LH, RH... then around the point where the knee enters the sequence two of the 3s change from being throws to holds while the other one becomes the knee bounce. The line below shows three balls marked a, b & c being put through this throwing sequence.

RHa, LHb, RHc, LHa, RHb (hold), LHc (hold), Kneea, RHb, LHc, RHa, LHb, RHc, LHa...

Things get interesting when we alter the throw sequence. For example let's take a simple siteswap like 531 & map it to the throwing sequence LH,LH, RH, RH. The superscripts show the weight of each 'throw' followed by which ball is being thrown a,b or c :

LH5a, LH3b, RH1c, RH5c, LH3b, LH1a, RH5a, RH3b, LH1c, LH5c, RH3b, RH1a...

In terms of vanilla siteswap this pattern is roughly equivalent to 804207501 (roughly because the types of throw are equivalent but not the rhythm). Sticking with two hands but changing the throwing sequence offers us nothing new in that it won't come up with any patterns that can't be just as easily described (roughly) using vanilla siteswap. However, I think it is a worthwhile exercise to do because it forces you to think outside of the limitations imposed by the rules of vanilla siteswap.

In siteswap all throws are made in a regular rhythm

They are? How boring.

It is true that when you juggle any number of balls & make all throws to the same height then the throwing rhythm should be regular, but again this doesn't have to be the case. Take three balls & juggle a cascade but throw each ball to a different height, say ball 1 up to chest height, ball 2 up to eye level & ball 3 two metres in the air. Listen to the rhythm of the catches 123....123....123.... Each ball is still thrown & caught every three beats so the throws are still 3s. Now try juggling 441 to that same rhythm.

Another more common example of this that most people reading this will already be able to do is Mills Mess. When you juggle this pattern do you have a nice even rhythm or is it 123.123.123? Mills mess is made up of three distinct types of throw which can be comfortably grouped together distorting the even rhythm of the regular 3 ball cascade.

If you just alter the rhythm of your juggling, 5520 & 3 are identical.