Math Concepts

What are the different Techniques you can use on Abacus?


17 November 2020

Reading Time: 6 Minutes


Are you trying to learn Abacus but don't know where to begin with? 

In this article, you will learn the basic techniques of the abacus and how you can use them in your classroom.

Abacus can be used as a better alternative to the calculator and it will increase your knowledge of the basic operations of mathematics.

Abacus is an instrument to calculate or count by using sliding counters and rod.

The old version of the Abacus was a shallow tray consist of sand, and numbers could be erased easily when needed, but the modern abacus is made of wood or plastic.

It is a rectangular box consist of nine vertical rods strung with beads. A horizontal crossbar that is perpendicular to the vertical rods divides them into unequal parts.

The beads above the horizontal crossbar are called Heaven beads, and the beads down the bar called earth beads. 

Abacus Blogs
How to use an Abacus Discover Addition and Subtraction using Spike Abacus
Abacus Anatomy & Construction Abacus History
Abacus Level I Abacus Level II
Abacus Counting Abacus Techniques
Abacus Addition Abacus Subtraction
Abacus Multiplication Abacus Division
Negative Numbers in Abacus Abacus Basics


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What are the different Techniques you can use on Abacus?


A Brief Journey Of Abacus through time

The word Abacus derived from the Greek word ‘abax’ which means  ‘tabular form’. It was said to be invented from ancient Babylon in between 300 to 500 bc. Abacus was the first counting machine.

Earlier it was fingers, stones, or any various kinds of natural material.

It was widely in use in different countries from the Middle East to Japan, China, Russia as well as Europe.

When the Hindu number system introduced zero and also the Arbi number system came into use, the use of the abacus diminished and it became limited to counting the Place value of numbers only.

Though the Abacus originated in Babylon, it had traveled a long way from the Middle East to Japan and China.

When it traveled from one country to another it transited also. In China, it is called Suanpan. In Suanpan it has ⅖ decks.

The famous Japanese mathematician Seki Kawa replaced ⅖ decks with ¼ decks and it is called Soroban. The modern-day abacus which we use today is the Soraban type of abacus. 

How to count numbers on Abacus?

In general, all abacus work in a similar fashion. 

Abacus Counting Image

In order to count on the abacus, slide all beads to the outer edge of their columns, so no beads are touching the center bar.

Use each column of the abacus to represent one digit in the number being calculated. The right-most column in a zero decimal number is the ones column, the next column to the left is the tens column, and so on. 

Move one bead up from the bottom column to the median bar for the current digit to mark one, two beads to mark two, and so on up to four.

Move all four beads in the lower section down, and move a bead from the top of the same column to the median to represent five.

Move beads from the bottom up, while keeping the five at the median, to represent six through nine.

Move all beads in a row away from the median, then slide one bead in the row to its left to the median to carry over a number.

To move the beads up or down only the thumb and index finger is used. The thumbs moved the earth beads (beads in the lower part of the beam) upwards towards the beam. The index finger moves the earth beads down from

the beam and the heaven beads (beads in the upper part of the beam) and down.

Earth beads up      

Earth beads up Abacus image       

Earth beads down    

Earth beads down in Abacus     

Heaven beads down         

Heaven beads down in Abacus image

Heaven beads up

Heavens beads up in Abacus

 Different techniques on Abacus

Arrange the Abacus: The beads of the abacus will be in their original position; that means no beads will touch the reckoning bar and showing the number zero.

Abacus techniques: Resetting Abacus to zero

Assign each vertical rod the place name: The rightmost rod named as Ones followed by tens, hundreds, and so on.

We can assign a decimal place also. If we want to represent a decimal number such as 10.5 then the rightmost column will be the tenth place, earlier it was one’s place and followed by the place of the whole numbers such as ones and tens.

Ones and tens digit representation on Abacus

We always have to start counting from the bottom deck. Number one should be represented by moving one bead of one’s place towards the horizontal reckoning bar.

Similar way, by moving the beads towards the reckoning bar; we can make any number.

Representing number 1 and 2 on Abacus

As the bottom row has only four beads to make a number more than 4, we have to move back the bottom deck’s bead to its original position and bring down the heaven bead towards the reckoning bar.

To make 6 with the heaven beads need one earth bead touching the reckoning bar.

Adding and subtracting

To add a number, let’s take 1234 with another number, we need to make the number 1234 first by moving the beads according to their place.

Now we have to start adding from the left that is the highest place, in this case, it is the thousand place, and have to add 1 and 5. And gradually to the lower places.

Since the tens place has carried over(3+7=10) so have to add one bead at a hundred’s place and moving the tens’ bead to its original place making the value zero.  The same way has to add one’s place also.

Adding and subtracting Option A image

Now have to read from the left side, 1234+5678= 6912

 Example image 1

Subtraction is the reverse process of Addition. We have to make the greater number first by moving the beads in the same way. And have to borrow instead of carrying over.

Option b example image

The subtraction will be 932-867=65

Multiplication and division 

To do multiplication we have to assign the numbers from the left. Let’s take 34x12, so we have to assign the from left to right,       ”3” “4” “x” “1” “2” “=”  “product” and for the x and = sign have to leave the rods in zero position. 

Multiplication of two numbers in abacus

To multiply the numbers, we have to multiply the first column with the first column of the other number and again the 1st column to the second column of the other number.

To multiply image

To divide, let’s take 34 by 2, we have to take 2 in the left-most column and have to keep two columns blank or as zero and then 34. 

1 2
Option 1 image Option 2 image
3 4
Option 3 image Option 4 image


Though Abacus is now replaced by electronic calculators and computers, as a mathematical teaching tool, its role is still undeniable.

You might ask what is the need of learning the abacus when we have such advanced technology these days.

The significance of Abacus has increased as we have come to rely on modern technology so much that we tend to rely less on our brains for arithmetic calculations or analytical reasoning.

Tools like the abacus play a very vital role in developing cognitive skills and stimulate brain development at a very early age.

It is an excellent tool for removing the fear of numbers in children. This stimulates brain development at an early age and more importantly is an aid for removing the fear of numbers in children.

Abacus is very useful and important for blind people as well, which is known as Cranmer Abacus.

Cranmer Abacus for Blind people

Below are some blogs related to Abacus that will develop your understanding further:

Abacus Blogs
Abacus Anatomy & Construction Abacus History
Abacus Level I Abacus Level II
Abacus Counting Abacus Techniques
Abacus Addition Abacus Subtraction
Abacus Multiplication Abacus Division
Negative Numbers in Abacus Abacus Basics

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an Abacus?

An Abacus is a manual aid for calculating which consists of beads that can be moved up and down on a series of sticks or strings within a usually wooden frame. The Abacus itself doesn't calculate; it's merely a device for helping a human being calculate by remembering what has been counted.

Where was the Abacus invented?

The type of Abacus most commonly used today was invented in China around the 2nd century B.C. However, Abacus-like devices are first attested from ancient Mesopotamia around 2700 B.C.!

Where was Abacus first used?

The Abacus (plural abaci or abacuses), also called a counting frame, is a calculating tool used in the ancient Near East, Europe, China, and Russia, centuries before the adoption of the written Arabic numeral system. The exact origin of the Abacus is still unknown.

What are the advantages of learning how to use an Abacus?

Mathematical skills lay a secure foundation for higher classes. 
Abacus education improves the skills of

  • Visualization (photographic memory)
  • Concentration 
  • Listening Skills
  • Memory, Speed
  • Accuracy
  • Creativity
  • Self Confidence
  • Self-Reliance resulting in Whole Brain Development

Is it good for children to use an abacus?

Yes, an abacus is an excellent tool for teaching children basic math. The different senses involved in using an abacus, like sight and touch, can also reinforce the lessons 

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