How to read a number on the soroban
0. Let's learn with an example
What is the number displayed on the little soroban below ?
First, we notice there are 4 vertical rods. So the number has 4 digits.
2. Activated beads
Let's look at the first rod from the left
We have greyed out unactivated beads to ease the reading of activated beads. Activated beads are the ones that have been moved toward the beam, separating the soroban by its half.
Only activated beads are taken into account.
3. First rod and earth beads
Each bead below the beam (called earth beads) count for one.
So we have 3 (earth activated) beads here and the first digit is three (3).
4. Heaven bead
Here, we have a top (also called heaven) bead that is activated. Activated heaven beads count for five (5).
5. Second rod
One activated heaven bead plus one activated earth bead is 5 plus 1 which gives 6.
6. Third rod
We have no activated bead, so the digit is zero (0).
7. Fourth rod
We have one heaven bead and three earth activated beads; 5+3 = 8. So the last digit is 8.
And finally, the number is 3608.