(see also Boppo's "Numbers Notes" posting)
Learning curves are extremely different from person to person, and there is no 'normal' pace of learning that people should have or expect. Nevertheless, I'll give you my personal data. If enough people do this, you can see what the spread is like, but don't be discouraged if you find yourself way out on one side. Everybody can learn eventually! I would typically practice numbers between 0.5 and 1 hour a day. It took me about two weeks to go from being able to do three balls to the first time I got eight catches with four balls. (I have taught people who did it in about two hours!) About four weeks from four to five,maybe more like five weeks. Six weeks from five to SIX. About eight to ten weeks from SIX to seven. I would pause a little before going on towards the next higher number, i.e., I would not start working on 6 the same day I got ten catches with five for the first time, I would wait a little, until my five got a little better.
All the times above are for the actual time I spent working with a number. All in all, it took me about seven months to go from not being able to juggle to 14 catches with seven balls. After that, progress slowed down remarkably. It took a full year before I got 16 catches with eight. Oddly enough, it only took another eight months before I got 18 catches with nine balls. However, my top numbers are rather unreliable. Even though I got 14 with 7 after 7 months, I still, after another 4 years, can't run 7 as long as I want. My longest run ever is only in the low 50's, and I won't get into the 30's most days. Even six is unstable, with only one run above 100 catches. (Five does last for about 10 min. by now, so that seems to be OK.) Eight is unreliable to the point of not being doable most days, even though it's been three years since the first successful run. Nine is at the extreme upper limit of my ability, and I haven't manage to get 18+ catches more that 5 or 6 times, the last time being about 1.5 years ago. Still, I throw it every day, hoping that it'll come back. Occasionally, I still manage to get 18 THROWS, which gives me some hope that I'll still be able to do it. And, yes, I do on occasion (on very good days only) throw ten, just for the humor value. It makes me feel humble, and it makes eight seem so much easier. (11 catches is my record; I've managed the flash about three times...)
Numbers is a long, slow, twisty, thorny path, and it often leads you around in circles, but I've found that if you don't give up, it'll take you to some really rewarding views. One more thing: change your workout sometimes. Just like your muscles get accustomed to the same weight lifting routine, and actually start losing strength after a while, your juggling ability will stop improving, and might actually get worse if you do the same routine day after day after day. This happened to me about a year ago, I started losing all my numbers abilities, until I reached the point where six became hard to do on any given day. A thorough shakeup of my workout reversed that, and I am now in most respects ahead of where I were before this deterioration started.
Again, best of luck, and don't give up on numbers!
Best advice I can give you: Try throwing a high 5 cascade (12 feet or so) to get used to throwing accurately. Then try flashing the 5 at the same height. Figure out how to hold the fourth ball in your hand and get used to throwing the four balls in succession as quickly as possible. You now have the basic ability to do 7. With 7 balls, try to determine the minimum throw freq. necessary to maintain a 7 cascade. This will take some practice. Ironically, too much speed will make the pattern unstable. The closer you get to the right throw freq., the more stable your pattern will be. Another important thing to do is keep your pattern fairly narrow. You want your arms angled only slightly to the outside. A wide pattern is difficult to maintain for any length of time even though the margin for error is greater.
This actually brings me to a query: there seems to be an agreement amongst numbers jugglers that 9 represents a very great step beyond 8 and that it is (in the words of Sergei Ignatov): "an indication of the fixed limits of human possibility."
My question to the net is: Who out there is actually juggling 9+ balls (defined as, say 27+ catches)? Who out there is seriously *attempting* 9+ balls? Are you? Do you reliably know who is?
Used to be that people like Jim Strinka, Susan Kirby and Robert York were doing and/or attempting 9. Anthony Gatto certainly juggles 9. I'm told that Sean Gandini juggles 9. Who else?
Ignatov comes out of the Russian Circus school tradition with its analytical approach and its emphasis on kineseology. Hence his very careful attention to body posture, alignment, position of the hands, movement of the arms, etc. All those things which, when it comes to large numbers of objects, or very difficult tricks, are indispensable.Sergei (Ignatov) is one of the few people who speaks seriously about numbers juggling without mysticism or "just do it" platitudes. His lecture in St. Louis really helped me also.
In this regard I always remember a conversation I had with Hovey Burgess about his realizing how necessary precision was in numbers juggling after seeing Ignatov perform. A condensed account of this is reproduced in his book Circus Techniques where he writes:
"When I was learning five clubs, I thought it was natural for the throws to be sloppy -- after all , I was doing five clubs. However, when I saw Ignatov juggle five clubs, I realized that it is imperative for every club to be thrown to exactly the same height and at exactly the same angle. There is simply less margin for error with five clubs than with three."It seems that with increasing numbers this 'margin of error' is reduced to the almost infinitesimal.