I have a score for a guitar music here, which has these strange hollow circles between notes; also before the first note:

circles in a misic sheet

They don't look like notes, and playing them makes the music ugly, so they have some other function.

What do they mean?

4 Answers 4


They indicate open-string notes (E,A,D,G,B,E); note that they are in the same position of the numbers that indicate which fingers to use to fret the notes.

  • Dave is correct, usually this is indicated by a the number 0 rather then a circle.
    – amalgamate
    Dec 2, 2014 at 21:05
  • I actually thought about them as the letter "o" for "open"; so the circle style confused me.
    – anatolyg
    Dec 3, 2014 at 9:23
  • 1
    Interestingly (or not :-) ), this "o" is placed above the note in stringed-instrument sheet music. Looks like it wouldn't fit there in guitar scores. Dec 3, 2014 at 16:31

This is a badly notated 'open string', this should be a zero instead of a circle because it makes it hard to differentiate between open strings and open harmonics.


On guitar, there are often several places to play the same note. For example, the top E could be fretted on the 3rd string, 9th fret, 2nd string, 5th fret or open top string.The circle, as stated in the previous answer, indicates that the composer wants that E played on an open top string.The circle by the bottom E says the same thing, although I can't think of another way to play that note! As it's probably a study for a beginner, the composer has just been helpful.As the font is different, think 'open' rather than 0 fret, but it's the same difference.

  • Do these markings tell us anything about how to play the B in the second bar? Does the absence of "o" markings in e.g. second triplet mean "play it like earlier", "play it differently" or "I felt helpful for a while but now I feel lazy"? I think all the triplets should be played similarly; asking just in case I missed something obvious.
    – anatolyg
    Dec 3, 2014 at 17:17
  • 1
    "I've told you once, just do them the same." I'd hold down an open Am for 1st bar, open E for second, and E7 for the third bar, same fingers for all the triplets in each bar.The 'simile' means use the same right hand digits, as in thumb(p),index(i) and middle(m).
    – Tim
    Dec 3, 2014 at 17:55

In writing for the violin family, a small circle also means harmonic, which is produced by lightly touching the string enough to stop it vibrating but not enough to play the note. Sometimes the string is stopped lower down as well, in order to play a different range of harmonics.

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