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[Articles Home]  [Add Article]  

12 Tips

James Miccolis (N2EY) on May 24, 2010
View comments about this article!

One of the most common questions I encounter from hams nowadays is “how do you learn Morse Code?” It's clear that they need more than a simple answer such as “Practice, practice, practice!”

Dr. George Sheehan frequently said that "Each of us is an experiment of one". He meant that while there are general rules to learning new things, each of us has to experiment to find out what works best for him or her. For most things, there is no single "best" way for everyone.

That said, here are 12 tips to learning Morse Code:

1) It used to be that there were two main reasons for radio amateurs to learn Morse Code. The first was to actually use it on the air, while the second was to pass the license tests. The second reason has disappeared in the USA and several other countries.

So it's important to understand what your goal really is: to become a Radio Operator who is skilled in Morse Code. That means learning a set of skills, not just the one or two skills needed to pass a one-time test.

That skillset cannot be learned by reading a book, watching a video, using other modes to talk about them on the air, or participating in online forums. While those things help, they are not the core. The needed skillset can only be learned by doing, and it takes time, practice, and an active involvement on your part.

2) Set up a place to study Morse Code. This doesn't mean it's the only place you study code, just that it's optimized for learning it. A good solid desk or table with no distractions, lots of room to write, good lighting, and a good chair. Source(s) of code (computer, HF receiver, tapes, CDs, etc.), key and oscillator. Headphones are a good idea. I recommend starting out with a straight key, you may decide to go straight to paddles and a keyer. Regardless of what key you decide to use, it needs a good solid base and needs to be adjusted properly.

3) Avoid gimmicks such as CodeQuick and printed charts with dots and dashes on them. Often such systems were designed to help a person learn just enough code to pass the 5 wpm test, but resulted in bad habits that had to be unlearned for practical operating. Morse Code as used on radio is sounds, not printing on a chart or little phrases.

Learning to receive consists of nothing more than learning to associate a certain sound pattern with a certain letter or number. There are only about 41 of them to learn. If you could learn to recognize 41 words in a foreign language, you can almost certainly learn Morse Code.

4) Set aside at least a half-hour EVERY DAY for code practice. Can be a couple of ten- or fifteen minute sessions, but they should add up to at least a half hour every day. That means every single day, not just weekends, holidays, etc. If you can do more than a half-hour some days, great! Do it! But more on one day does not give you an excuse for the next day.

Yes, you may miss a day here and there, because life happens. The trick is to keep such missed days to the absolute minimum.

5) If you can enlist a buddy to learn the code with, or find a class, do it! But do NOT use the class or the buddy as an excuse to miss practice or slow down your learning. The buddy and/or class are a supplement to your study, not the center of it.

6) Download and read "The Art And Skill of Radiotelegraphy". It's free and available from several websites. “Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy” is also good. Search out other code-oriented websites, articles, etc. and read what they have to say. But always remember they're not a substitute for practice.

7) Practice both sending and receiving each and every day. Most of your practice time should be spent receiving, but the two help each other. Practice receiving by writing it down and by copying "in your head". I find a pencil and block printing works best for me.

8) A combination of the Koch method and Farnsworth spacing is probably optimum for most people. Read up on them, understand and use them – but remember they are tools, not magic. They can make learning the code easier but they will not make it automatic.

9) Discontinue ANYTHING that impairs your ability to concentrate, focus, and learn new stuff. Only doctor-prescribed medications are exempt from this rule; beer is not exempt. Eat right, get enough sleep and enough physical exercise.

10) Put away your microphones, stay off the voice radios - all of them. Besides the automated Morse Code generators, listen to hams actually using code on the air. Copy down what they send. Have Morse Code playing in the background while you do other things (but don’t count that as practice time). Learn how hams actually use code. When you get to the point where you can send and receive code, even slowly, get on the air and start making QSOs. Get involved in CW contesting, rag chewing, DX chasing, etc. Remember that you are learning Morse Code to be a Radio Operator, not just to pass a test.

11) If your HF rig doesn't have a sharp filter (400-500 Hz), get one and install it. Read the manual about how to use the rig on CW, often the default settings are optimized for SSB. Best operation usually requires turning off the AGC, turning the RF gain down and the AF gain up. The S-meter and AGC won't work under those conditions but that's no big loss; they’re not essentials.

12) Keep at it. There may be times when it seems as if you are making no progress, and times when you make rapid progress. What matters is that you keep practicing every day. Nobody was born knowing the skills you're trying to learn.

---

A bit of work? Sure it is, but well worth it, because all those steps make learning the code easier. And the work is trivial compared to what you can do with the skills once they're learned.

But a person has to be willing to do what's required. And they have to actually do those things.

73 es GL de Jim, N2EY

Member Comments:
This article has expired. No more comments may be added.
 
12 Tips  
by K0IC on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Part of this is genetic. I can not copy five characters behind with CW due to short-term memory problems. The best way to enjoy CW is to do so. I have to write everything down or use a CW copy program on my computer which might not be as good unless I am listening to electronic generated CW.
 
12 Tips  
by KD7MTI on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Another great article.

What works for me:
1) Getting on the air -- minimum one contact per day
2) Listening to random CW generated by my vx3 or vx8

My advice to anyone who wants to be a serious cw operator is to operate cw. And to constantly work on
head copy (don't write everything down).

You what's great about random character generators? There's always another character!

I try to do random code groups, head copy only, at 30 to 40 wpm. Now, I can comfortably head copy 20 wpm.

My goal is 40 wpm -- next year?

73
Robert kd7mti/4z5sw

 
RE: 12 Tips  
by KU5Q on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks Jim for a great article.

90% of those things you mention I use. Almost every day. I try hard not to miss a day. I do notice for myself the improvements are not linear. Another thing I notice is that when I reach a plateau, or even a point where I get worse instead of improve, if I put it down for a day, when I pick it up the next day, I will improve, even if it's just a little. (Sometime it's a lot). I was stuck at 13wpm for a while, and suddenly increased to twenty. Now, I'm at 25wpm! Every improvement feels great and takes away any discouragement. This is baffling to my feeble, simple mind, but I'm always happy every time there's an improvement. But yes....I never used the Code Quick program, or any visual aids. Sound only. Now instead of listening to any voice radio in the vehicle on the way to work, I listen to CW on CD recordings I've made for myself and try to copy as much in my head as I can, and that is getting easier and easier.

I know probably few share my enthusiasm for the "the code", or obsession for learning it.

I love CW, and again appreciate your article on it.

Many thanks! You are a good man and a asset to ham radio!

Hope to work you soon!!
 
12 Tips  
by FORMER_K0PD on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
When i was learning CW a older Ham friend of mine told me since i drove a lot that every time a car or truck passed me to read the letters and numbers from there license plates in code to my self. It really helped me but their is still nothing that will replace the use it use it use it. Which i've gotten lazy and need to practice using it again.
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by K0BG on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I hate to nit pic, but CW is not Morse code! It stands for Carrier Wave, and although it has morphed into a new meaning, it is technically incorrect.

Although some might disagree, once you learn Morse code correctly (!), even after several years of idleness, you can still get the hang of it in just a few minutes. It's sort of like riding a bicycle; do we ever forget how to?

Alan, KØBG
www.k0bg.com
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by NB3R on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I'm taking a code class offered by my radio club. There are 12 students in the class and we meet once a week for 1/2 and hour (before the club's General class). We learn 10 characters each week (on our 3rd week).

The instructor made it clear that if you don't practice you will be wasting your time attending the class. Homework and peer pressure motivate me to practice.

I get frustrated at times but I enjoy learning the code.

 
RE: 12 Tips  
by KG6WLS on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
"I hate to nit pic, but CW is not Morse code! It stands for Carrier Wave, and although it has morphed into a new meaning, it is technically incorrect."

With all due respect, and without argument, I also thought that CW meant Continuous Wave?

--... ...--

 
RE: 12 Tips  
by N8UW on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
K0BG:

"...

Although some might disagree, once you learn Morse code correctly (!), even after several years of idleness, you can still get the hang of it in just a few minutes. It's sort of like riding a bicycle; do we ever forget how to?

"

I was an Army intercept op '75 to '78, did no code until 2002. Picked up copy right at where I left off. So, 22 years later I still had it.

My problem is learning to send. I do OK at about 15 with a straight key, but I can copy 20+ and I cannot get the hang of the iambic paddles. I don't want to go computer yet. I just need to practice.

I've found listening to folks on the bands going zippity quick is also helpful, I'm starting to recognize words. Learning what amounted to random characters decades ago, I also have difficulty recognizing words over about 7-8 letters long. I really suggest listening to QSOs and stuff like W1AW code practice to start getting head copy. I've also found going a lot slower does no harm, so work us QRS guys, too!

Sometimes, I get into a QSO where the other end is sending 18 or so and letting me pound 13 on my straight key, the only things I have to pencil are RST, name, etc. the rest is like an armchair conversation. I want to take that up to 20+. But, if I really want it, I need to practice sending every day, thanks for your post.

--Chuck
 
12 Tips  
by KJ6ETL on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Nah this doesn’t sound like fun at all.

I used Code Quick and it was pleasant to use and got me and my buddies way above 12WPM in 3 months.
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by W5ESE on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent post; Jim!

I also suggest building or buying a code practice oscillator.

For years, the ARRL Handbook had a simple 555 circuit that
works really well and is easy to build.

At one time, most amateur radio clubs had morse code classes
as part of their license training, but these have largely disappeared,
so most folks aspiring to learn morse are stuck finding their way
on their own, which is a pity. Fortunately, there is training
software available today which is lightyears better than anything
available years ago.

And remember the Zig Ziglar quote:

“Confidence is going after Moby Dick in a rowboat and taking the
tartar sauce with you.”

Visualize yourself succeeding, and you will.

73
Scott W5ESE
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by KC2MJT on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I agree with PA1ZZ.

And, Codequick got me on the bands and using CW. Before I knew it I was above 12 wpm. Sure, I plateaued for a while, but I don't blame CodeQuick. Getting to 20wpm just meant more time in real QSOs. The faster you work living breathing ops, the faster you learn.

And, that last statement just opened a door a whole new thread.

KC2MJT
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by AL7MM on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I'd recommend a keyer kit, like the K1EL. It can be used as a code practice oscillator, as well as becoming part of your station equipment, with support for iambic keys, memory modes, etc.

73,
Mike, KL7MJ
 
12 Tips  
by AJ4MJ on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Great article Jim!

Too bad we can't make reading this article a prerequisite for posting in the "CW" forum. I'm glad that there is so much interest in learning, but there is only so much that can be said about it - all of what is in Jim's article. The rest is a matter of practice.

Like the old Nike commercials said: "Just Do It"! :-)
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by WB2WIK on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Pretty good tips.

The one about a partner to work with is, in my experience, probably the best one.

I learned code pretty quickly without having a dedicated work/study area at all: I found a friend interested in learning also and we just "sent" code to each other by "mouthing" it as we walked to school, and as we walked back -- about an hour each day, total.

Dididit dit dit dah didididit didah dah dididahdahdidit ("See that?") I would send just saying the "dits" and "dahs" out loud, like a language.

Dave would "send" back to me that way, too.

Learning code without any pencils or papers forces you to just retain it in hour head, so by the time we both got our licenses and got on the air, neither of us needed any paper to copy code just fine.

It's also "free." :-)

But it does take a partner.
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by W9PMZ on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
from thefreedictionary.com:
CW
(Electronics) Radio
abbreviation for continuous waves
n
1. (Electronics & Computer Science / Telecommunications)
a. an informal term for Morse code
b. (as modifier) his CW speed is 30 words per minute
2. (Military / Firearms, Gunnery, Ordnance & Artillery)
abbreviation for chemical weapons or chemical warfare

from wikpedia.com
A continuous wave or continuous waveform (CW) is an electromagnetic wave of constant amplitude and frequency; and in mathematical analysis, of infinite duration. Continuous wave is also the name given to an early method of radio transmission, in which a carrier wave is switched on and off. Information is carried in the varying duration of the on and off periods of the signal, for example by Morse code in early radio. In early wireless telegraphy radio transmission, CW waves were also known as "undamped waves", to distinguish this method from damped wave transmission

to me carrier wave makes more sense when one is talking about voice AM.

73,
carl - w9pmz
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by G0OTT on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Read books, magazines, posters and car reg plates out loud, also good for timming when sending with a straight key( you can and will get some strange look's )
Biggest problem I found was anticipation and missing a letter and dwelling on it, you miss loads more.
I still get sucked into that one.
Dont sniff at 10db s/n advantage :)
Most of all enjoy and use it ,get at least one qso under your belt a day.

Regards Darren
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by K0EWS on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Most of the tips here are pretty good. I'd say get on and use it. However, I have issue with the following:

<<<9) Discontinue ANYTHING that impairs your ability to concentrate, focus, and learn new stuff. Only doctor-prescribed medications are exempt from this rule; beer is not exempt. Eat right, get enough sleep and enough physical exercise.>>>

I like to drink a beer or two when I'm doing Morse on the air. It actually is a great way to relax. Most of the time in my own experience, difficulty copying came from trying too hard, or trying to write everything down. A beer or two later, and you relax a bit, and the code seems to come easier. I'd say that if you really know your code, you'll know it when you've had a beer, are tired, or are doing something else and it's on in the background. When you've got to that point, you really do know it.

I'd recommend more frequent, short sessions. The more times you visit and re-visit something, the better you get. Most of all, get on the air, and use it.
And, if you must drink a beer while on the air, use the keyboard! ;)
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by KU5Q on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
by K0BG on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I hate to nit pic, but CW is not Morse code! It stands for Carrier Wave, and although it has morphed into a new meaning, it is technically incorrect.

Although some might disagree, once you learn Morse code correctly (!), even after several years of idleness, you can still get the hang of it in just a few minutes. It's sort of like riding a bicycle; do we ever forget how to?

Alan, KØBG
www.k0bg.com

=========================================================

There you go again. Go troll somewhere else. Most people don't care what you think anyway.

Take some lessons from KL7AJ on writing a real technical article. Yours suck.
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by AF4XK on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I learned with CodeQuick after unsuccessfully attempting two prior times. I think there is a place for codequick. If a person is really struggling the traditional way after a reasonable amount of time trying and is ready to give up then codequick to the rescue. i currently am at about 20wmp solid copy and can bump 30 wpm for contest exchanges.
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by AB9NZ on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I just don't get the slamming of Code Quick. Doc Wheeler's program worked great for me. Look at the piles of glowing reviews here on E-Ham, yet whenever advise is given for learning Morse, the experience and reviews of actual users is disregarded and Code Quick is lumped with looking at a chart or sending with semaphores. Lots of people try to learn with records or a free program, get discouraged, and quit. Code Quick has put thousands of hams on the air. Code Quick is an aural "Farnsworthy" way to learn the code. I found the system to be just like having my own personal Morse teacher.
Live the code, love the code, become immersed in Morse. 73 de Tom, AB9NZ, Mount Prospect, Il.
 
12 Tips  
by K7LA on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the article.
 
12 Tips  
by KC3JV on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
CW is a skill. Some people are better than others. Generally musically inclined people at better at CW. Yes almost anyone can learn CW but it is a skill only worth developing if you are good at it. This nostalgia that HAMs have about CW is understandable but in my opinion misguided. Let's face it PSK31 can copy a signal that that is in the noise. If you want to learn CW go ahead and enjoy it. But during an emergency I would rather rely on PSK31 to get the information through.

Mark KC3JV
 
12 Tips  
by K9CTB on May 24, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Very good, Jim!!! Excellent explanation about how to "do it right". I especially like the references to listening to real CW on the air. Try to copy as much as you can, and listen to the technique and protocol.

I wish I had done more of that when I was studying the code for the first time.

Thanks for the great perspective.

73,
K9CTB
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by N4CQR on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Apparently not.


[K0BG on May 24, 2010 I hate to nit pic,.....]
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by K0BG on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Gee Mr. Perry, why don't you tell me how you really feel?

Alan, KØBG
www.k0bg.com
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by K0FF on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
K0BG said: " hate to nit pic, but CW is not Morse code! It stands for Carrier Wave, and although it has morphed into a new meaning, it is technically incorrect.
"

Actually CW stands for Continuous Cave.
Carrier Wave is that part of an AM signal that is sent along with the sidebands to mix in the detector at the receive end in order to obtain audio. A couple of smart fellows named Art Collins and General Lemay figured why waste power in the transmit signal sending along a carrier and extras un needed sideband, thus they pushed single sideband- SSB, which hams eventually although reluctantly adopted. Anyone remember us early sidebanders being called "Donald Duck" and "SlopBucket" by the die hard AM'ers? Not to worry, all the early Ham SSB transceivers only had the bottom 3 bands, 75, 40, 20, leaving 15 and 10 free for Advanced Modulation (AM) There was the Collins that covered all 5 bands, The KWM-2, but you had to be rich to get one of those. Anyone remember the KWM-1? Really a smooth SSB transceiver, it covered only 20, 15 and 10M, SSB.

N2EY asked: "On the ham bands, what's wrong with "name"?"

Well, nothing at all. Except it's not ham-tradition.

My comments:

CW is great. CW is fun. I am terrible at CW. Always was, always will be. CW is ham tradition so I do the best I can with it.
The real reason that I love 160 and VHF, and especially EME ( Moon bounce) is that the CW used there is generally real slow.

I am a Radioman, a.k.a. Technician and darned proud of it,both at hobby and at work. No that is not my license class, it is a description of what I really enjoy doing- electronic benchwork on radio transmitters and receivers, and trans-receivers ( commercial radios were not transceivers, they were trans-receivers)
Once I was a (C) Technician class license and a Novice both at the same time Two different call letters: WA0LGW and WN0LGM. I used the Novice call on HF and 2M, the Tech call on 6M and all above 2M.

For the kind of Ham I was, I would have been fine keeping a (C) Tech for the rest of my life, but I wanted to get on 10 M and that took a General. At that time General was a high as you could go in terms of band privileges.
There was an "Extra" license, but it was an honorarium, has same privileges as General, that's all.

In about 1968, the Advanced came in, and the FCC took privileges away fro Generals to do it, so I got an Advanced even though I felt ripped off.

Sometime later I got eh Extra, but that was to get a preferred call ( much like the modern day Vanity Call)

In all over the years I sat for a lot of FCC radio license tests
Novice
Tech
General
Advanced
Extra
Third Phone
Second Phone
First Phone*( to renew a First, you had to have Commercial Radio experience and have you ticket endorsed on the back! Eventually all the 'Phone licenses were deleted, mainly de to the fact that hardly anyone could pass the FCC test. When I sat for my Radar, there were 300 testers there that day, mostly from Tech Schools, the Proctor told me that about 10 would EVER pass!)
Radar Endorsement
Second Telegraph ( to sit for First Telegram, you had to have had shipboard experience)





Geo>K0FF
 
Learn to spell  
by W0EP on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!

I would add another tip that is probably obvious to those who actually know and use Morse code.

13: learn to spell out words.

I have a hard time in some QSOs because I want to tell people that I studied a r c h i t e c t u r e in school or my job now is d a t a b a s e a d m i n i s t r a t o r.

So I practice spelling things out either in my head or out loud.

I think the spelling-out problem is actually worse with slower code speeds. By the time I get to the second 't' in architecture I have forgotten what I wanted to say.

 
RE: Learn to spell  
by K0BG on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I stand corrected Geo, as you're of course correct about CW.

Alan, KØBG
www.k0bg.com
 
12 Tips  
by N0AH on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I learned the old fashion way....5 wpm, then 13 wpm, then 20 wpm............not a good way-

Now, 15 years later, I am teaching my 9 year old daughter, W0ANT, the learn common morse code words, while working on letters and numbers for call signs, all at 20 WPM plus-

When DX'ing or contesting, she makes sure she gets the call of the other operator, then is sending certain phrases at 20-25 WPM knowing the typical response is coming back- Goofing around, she actually can send her call sign at the highest speed set on the Pro III's keyer- But for typical contest exchange speeds, she is working on making sure her spacing is proper between letters at about 20-25 WPM and this skill has taken awhile- So far, she has about a year into it-

But she still is only decoding what she hears at around 10 WPM when ops want to rag chew using long hand vs DX or shortened Q codes. It is very nice for ops who like to discuss specifics on the air, but we are in it for the contesting and DX'ing.

Thus, learning a more limited vocabulary to be able to send and/or receive quicker for this purpose allows us to concentrate on speed......something to consider-

She has the MFJ pocket morse code tutor and practices in sets of three characters now, sent at 25 WPM.

As she learns more and more at the higher speeds, she can always go back and rag chew about the weather-

Not knocking QRS ops, but setting a goal to send and receive at certain speeds can be part of what you want to do when you want to learn CW in the hobby- I know a lot of long time hams who go 5-40 plus WPM and can talk all day with friends across the world in long converstations. Now that is an amazing skill-

Very nice article- thx for the post-
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by KQ2P on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
YUP! Nothing wrong with a 807 or two to mellow you out. helps with your spelling as well ! TREES GUYS
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by N3HAM on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
The ARRL code practice tapes and listening to W1AW for 15 minutes a day if I had the chance, did it for me. Proud to say my first HF QSO was 40m CW. HF Mobile CW, hey there is a way to learn to copy in your head especially while shifting gears and toll stops, hi.
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by N2EY on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
AJ4MJ writes: "Great article Jim!"

Thanks for the kind words - you and all the others.

AJ4MJ: "Too bad we can't make reading this article a prerequisite for posting in the "CW" forum."

One thing that can be done is to link to articles, regardless of their age. Even if the comments are closed, the articles remain in the eham archive.

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by N2EY on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
K0EWS writes: "However, I have issue with the following:

<<<9) Discontinue ANYTHING that impairs your ability to concentrate, focus, and learn new stuff. Only doctor-prescribed medications are exempt from this rule; beer is not exempt. Eat right, get enough sleep and enough physical exercise.>>>

I like to drink a beer or two when I'm doing Morse on the air. It actually is a great way to relax."

Of course. But the tips are about *learning* Morse Code, aimed at the person who hasn't developed the skills yet. Not at the person who already knows it.

Note too that it says "impairs your ability to concentrate, focus, and learn new stuff." For the vast majority of humans, alcohol in any form does exactly that.

However, there's also the Clavin theory:

Clavin: "A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. When the herd is hunted, the slow and weak at the back are killed first. The speed and health of the herd keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members."

Clavin: "In the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as its slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. Naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first.

Clavin: "In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers."

K0EWS: "Most of the time in my own experience, difficulty copying came from trying too hard, or trying to write everything down. A beer or two later, and you relax a bit, and the code seems to come easier."

Key words there are "seems to".

K0EWS: "I'd say that if you really know your code, you'll know it when you've had a beer, are tired, or are doing something else and it's on in the background. When you've got to that point, you really do know it."

Of course. But first someone has to get to that point.

K0EWS: "if you must drink a beer while on the air, use the keyboard! ;)"

Thanks for proving my point.

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by N2EY on May 25, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
KC3JV writes: "CW is a skill."

Actually, it's a whole set of skills.

KC3JV: "Some people are better than others. Generally musically inclined people at better at CW."

Yes, people have different talents. I have seen no clear evidence that "musically inclined" people are better at Morse Code, however.

KC3JV: "Yes almost anyone can learn CW but it is a skill only worth developing if you are good at it."

But how is anyone to know if they are good at it until they develop the skills?

KC3JV: "This nostalgia that HAMs have about CW is understandable but in my opinion misguided."

Why is it misguided?

Morse Code isn't about "nostalgia". It's a popular mode in ham radio right now, today. And it's a lot of fun once a person learns the skills to a useful level.

KC3JV: "Let's face it PSK31 can copy a signal that that is in the noise."

That depends on the nature of the noise.

KC3JV: "If you want to learn CW go ahead and enjoy it. But during an emergency I would rather rely on PSK31 to get the information through."

How much amateur emergency traffic is handled by PSK31?

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by N4KC on May 26, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Jim, a few more to add to your excellent tips:

-- Do NOT learn "dots" and "dashes." Learn sounds, like "dits" and dahs."

-- Copy faster than what is comfortable. Like exercise, pushing yourself a bit only makes you stronger.

-- As mentioned by someone else, practice every day, just as you would if learning to play the piano or to speak a foreign languge. A once-a-week lesson is a waste of time.

-- Don't convince yourself that you are just one of those people who "cannot learn the code." There is no such thing...unless you talk yourself into such an imaginary affliction.

-- And finally, learn Morse code because you want to, not because you have to or we CW nuts shamed you into it. I did an article about the reasons you may want to learn it:

http://www.eham.net/articles/19366

However, if you don't think it is worth the time and effort, don't even try. You are not likely to be successful. And there are plenty of other things to do in the hobby.

Dah dah di di dit Di di di dah dah!

Don Keith N4KC
www.n4kc.com
www.donkeith.com
www.n4kc.blogspot.com


 
RE: 12 Tips  
by QRZDXR2 on May 26, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
K0BG
I hate to nit pic, but CW is not Morse code! It stands for Carrier Wave, and although it has morphed into a new meaning, it is technically incorrect.

Although some might disagree, once you learn Morse code correctly (!), even after several years of idleness, you can still get the hang of it in just a few minutes. It's sort of like riding a bicycle; do we ever forget how to?

-------------------------------------------------------

No I disagree... as I have gone away from cw several times and each time I come back it seems that I need to work my way up to speed once again. You may never forget how to ride the bike but... just how fast...

I also think that as you age cw is great to keep the mind active.. not only do you have to interpert but also have some sort of memory to remember what the guy said without writing it down...

Today I use the computer to copy with.. instead of a using the typewriter or pencil/pen... it saves on the paper... and can keep the copy so you can recall the conversation saved by call sign, date and time... it keeps the other station guessing how you can remember all that...

As to using the comptuer for sending or recieving.. nada... sending has always been a OK thing to do but recieving by ear is a lot better especally when the QRM or noise makes digging down into the signal impossable using the computer to copy with.

happy dx'n
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by N2EY on May 27, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
K0FF: "A couple of smart fellows named Art Collins and General Lemay figured why waste power in the transmit signal sending along a carrier and extras un needed sideband, thus they pushed single sideband- SSB, which hams eventually although reluctantly adopted."

Actually, SSB was described theoretically before 1920 and used commercially by AT&T for the first transatlantic telephone, which went into service in 1927. (First experimental transmissions in 1923). A handful of amateurs were on SSB in the 1930s, most notably Ray Moore, W6DEI.

Amateur use of SSB really began to take off in the late 1940s.

Art Collins and Gen. LeMay were both hams, btw. Collins was W0CXX, I don't know LeMay's call.

K0FF: "Anyone remember the KWM-1? Really a smooth SSB transceiver, it covered only 20, 15 and 10M, SSB."

Not many were made. Remember the Cosmophone?

N2EY asked: "On the ham bands, what's wrong with "name"?"

K0FF: "Well, nothing at all. Except it's not ham-tradition."

The meaning of words sometimes changes over time.

I've been a ham since 1967 and heard "name" a lot more than "handle".

K0FF: "Once I was a (C) Technician class license and a Novice both at the same time Two different call letters: WA0LGW and WN0LGM. I used the Novice call on HF and 2M, the Tech call on 6M and all above 2M."

I had the same situation except I wasn't a (C) Technician. I got mine at the FCC office. Summer 1968.

K0FF: "At that time General was a high as you could go in terms of band privileges.
There was an "Extra" license, but it was an honorarium, has same privileges as General, that's all.

In about 1968, the Advanced came in, and the FCC took privileges away fro Generals to do it, so I got an Advanced even though I felt ripped off."

What happened is that they reopened the Advanced to new issues in 1967, and differentiated the privileges of Generals, Advanceds and Extras in November 1968 and 1969. I had full privileges as an Advanced for a few weeks in the fall of 1968, then lost them.

Why did you feel ripped off?

Back then I remember some hams saying that "incentive licensing" would be the death of ham radio in the USA. They said our rigs would become worthless and our numbers would go down. That was back when there were about 250,000 US hams.

Yet all through the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s the number of US hams grew steadily. Today we are over 690,000.


K0FF: "Sometime later I got eh Extra, but that was to get a preferred call ( much like the modern day Vanity Call)"

I got the Extra in 1970, after the mandatory 2 year wait. Got it because I wanted full privileges, and because I didn't think the FCC would make full privileges easier to get in the future. It was also cheaper than a 25 kHz calibrator.

73 de Jim, N2EY

 
RE: 12 Tips  
by W9OY on May 27, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
My tips would be to:

Avoid any system that promotes counting dits and dahs and then using some kind of mental look up table to convert to a letter. This kind of system will limit you to a top speed of 12 wpm or so. You are much better off just hearing the code sequence and then knowing what it means as opposed to some kind of translation. If you find yourself counting STOP and purposely head down another path

Use a paddle instead of a strait key. Strait keys tend to reinforce counting dits and dahs not only with sound but with actual physical action. I learned with a strait key and then later a paddle and a paddle is clearly superior. I'm sure people will loose their minds over this recommendation out of some loyalty to how they did it, but the paddle and keyer method will likely be how you spend most of your life generating CW so you may as well get used to it. You can always become a strait key aficionado AFTER you know the code. To that end I also recommend a single lever paddle instead of a an iambic paddle. Single lever paddles have less movements and less complicated movements than iambic paddles and hence less change of making errors when sending. the idea that iambic is somehow less work is nonsense. If you make just a couple extra errors any "less work" is entirely eliminated. If you get worn out sending CW at at 20 wpm with a keyer and either kind of paddle, you're a weenie anyway.

Aim for 20+ wpm as your goal It is at about 20 wpm that code starts to be truly conversational. Also aim for head copy instead of writing things down

Understand this will be a long term undertaking to become an expert. Any time you spend doing CW will be to the good of learning CW. If you falter in your study just start again. It will be easier the second time and the third time etc. If you focus on the fact that any encounter is for the good you may be less frustrated.

I'm plus minus about drinking except alcohol interferes with the making of long term memory. The neurobiology that is the actual formation of the physical and chemical processes in your brain of long term memory occurs over about half an hour, and alcohol directly interferes with the process in the part of your brain called the amygdala. The experience is common when people drink they often can't remember or quite remember what happened during the course of imbibing. Its less about killing brain cells than it is about killing the memories

CW is a blast

73 W9OY
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by K9MHZ on May 29, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Jim wrote...."Art Collins and Gen. LeMay were both hams, btw. Collins was W0CXX, I don't know LeMay's call."


There's a really good book (although its editing can't be described as "really good")....Arthur Collins, Radio Wizard, by Ben Stearns. Anyway, he does a very respectable job of describing the Collins/LeMay connection and the development of gear for SAC to use for command and control. Looks like Arthur Collins did a fair amount of flying with SAC during those years to research and then later to demo the SSB gear to the SAC sirs at the time.

I can distinctly remember all of the Giant Talk gear on our planes (1980's) was Collins made, and the Command Posts looked like a current meeting of the Collins Collector's Association.

Different time back in the day of Le May.....he could buy what he wanted....bombers, tankers, comm gear, you name it. In fact, he was considered most responsible for Boeing's decision to switch from tandem cockpits to side-by-side seating in bombers, which had a huge influence in later cockpit layouts. After being shown the XB-52, I think it went like "I'll buy a fleet of them if you get rid of that damn tandem cockpit...."


Thread creep, I know....apologies.

Cheers,

Brad, K9MHZ

 
RE: 12 Tips  
by KJ4SLP on May 30, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Great motivators for me were food, beer, and rent. Back in the dark ages, a friend told me about great jobs that could be had as land-based "marine telegraphers." Those jobs paid about three times as much as typical college student summer work. The entrance requirement was to send/receive a minimum of 25 wpm. I was a naive kid and no one told me this was hard to do so I just ordered a CPO and got up to speed in about six weeks With my new-found skills in hand, I got the job, only to find out that most of the messages I handled were in Norwegian! That was a skill builder because I could not rely on word recognition. To make a long story short, it was a job that fairly quickly got boring but which paid quite well. The only downside was that, making a lot more money than my buddies, I too often got stuck with the beer tab...

After 50+ years as a dedicated SWL DXer, I finally got my general license earlier this year. I found that it took me only about a month to get back up to 25 wpm despite not having touched a key in four decades. I agree with the writer who spoke of learning to ride a bike: Once you learn, you never really forget. But I only worked up my speed to see if I could still do it. I do not use cw and probably never will again unless there is an emergency of some kind. For me--and I speak only for myself, so no flames, please--using cw in the world of ssb is like firing up a Stanley Steamer while letting your Toyota Prius sit in the garage. Perhaps because cw was a work skill for me, I do not quite understand why people find it more fun than voice. But I'm also quick to say that I fully support those who find it a pleasant way to communicate, and I appreciate that it can punch through the crud when voice gets lost in the noise floor.

A final comment about electronic keyers. They certainly have cleaned up some pretty sloppy fists. On the other hand, in the straight key days, we could often recognize each other by our individual sending styles. My Norwegian colleagues always accused me of sending with a Yankee accent and I once worked with a guy who stammered in Morse just as one might stammer when speaking aloud.

Key on, guys!
 
My Tipp is...  
by DL3ZM on June 2, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
My Tipp for learning CW is : Having Fun.
That helps me to learn CW even in the age of 43 years.
 
Code Quick 2000  
by HFHAM2 on June 3, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
You shouldn't have rubbished Code Quick as it's gotten a great many people to learn morse code who otherwise would have given up trying.

I'm guessing you never used it, in which case, you're just passing on heresay. Code Quick is nothing like using charts or de-coding wheels etc.

I used nothing but Code Quick 2000 and on-air QSOs and passed my 5, then 13, then 20 wpm tests.
 
RE: Code Quick 2000  
by N2EY on June 4, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Maybe it has helped some folks.

But take a look at what KG4DFC says, over in the CW forum:

http://www.eham.net/ehamforum/smf/index.php/topic,68892.0.html

He writes:

"I first tried to learn Morse Code using a sound alike software program. I must admit that it did teach me to recognize the letters and numbers. Behind the scenes however it was also creating a stumbling block for my copy ability. Hearing the sound alike and not a single character rendered my ability to copy a QSO useless. I am still trying to undo this habit."

I've heard similar stories many, many times. In each one, the sound-alike methods ("Dog did it" worked to get the person started, and to pass the tests, but acted as a barrier to real Morse Code operation. That's why I don't think they're a good idea.

YMMV.

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
12 Tips  
by KB4LGM on June 4, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Thought I would drop my half a cent in. I found the best wasy to learn code was if you hear a -.-. your hearing the sound of the leter C. Not breaking it down by dits and dahs. Or in a musical analogy the second line in a musical staff is G. If, for example on a guitar you place your finger on the third fret of the 6th sting that is a G note. In the same way --. in morse code is G. If your confused, I was the first time some one explained it to me the same way.I hope this helps someone. Thanks
 
RE: Code Quick 2000  
by HFHAM2 on June 6, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
In answer to N2EY's comment of June 4, 2010.

Yes, there may be something to what you said about the Code Quick method being a possible impairment to increasing one's speed, however, as I have proven (in passing my 20 wpm test), it's not insurmountable.

That said, I stand by my initial statement that Code Quick has gotten a great many people using morse code who otherwise *wouldn't* be using it as this is the *only* method that worked for them.

I would guess that different methods work best for different people, but Code Quick 2000 seems to work for a great many and if it brings more hams to CW who otherwise would be on SSB or digi-modes, them I'm all for it.
 
RE: Code Quick 2000  
by N2EY on June 7, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
To HFHAM2:

I'm glad Code Quick worked for you.

How many is "a great many" that it has also worked for?

In my experience, it doesn't work as well as other methods, when it comes to learning the code beyond the level of passing a 5 wpm test.

The only scientific way to know for sure would be to take two large groups of people who don't know code, but want to learn, and teach half using Code Quick and half using the methods I recommended, on the same schedules, and see which group does better.

One of the biggest code problems I have seen hams have is that they reach "plateaus" at relatively low speeds, where they can't seem to go faster. One common one was 8 to 10 wpm, which was below the old 13 wpm test and caused much trouble.

Usually the cause of these plateaus was that the person had acquired "bad habits" which had to be unlearned to go faster. In every case these bad habits involved inserting extra steps in the process, such as "counting dits" or visualizing dots and dashes.

That's why I'm not a big fan of Code Quick.

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by NI0C on June 8, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article and follow-up comments, Jim.

One thing I'd like to emphasize is that every CW operator is a student of Morse code; that is, there is always room for improvement that comes from on the air practice. I also use the rufzXP program for speed work and short-term memory enhancement.

73,
Chuck NI0C
 
RE: Code Quick 2000  
by HFHAM2 on June 10, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
To N2EY who said:

How many is "a great many" that it has also worked for?

Check out their testimonials page which was choc-a-bloc full of "hundreds of testimonials" when I got my ticket in 1998. I can only assume that the number of people who've successfully used Code Quick products since then is legion.

http://www.cq2k.com/index.html
 
RE: Code Quick 2000  
by N2EY on June 11, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
HFHAM2 writes: "Check out their testimonials page which was choc-a-bloc full of "hundreds of testimonials" when I got my ticket in 1998. I can only assume that the number of people who've successfully used Code Quick products since then is legion."

I took a look and found, at most, dozens of testimonials, not hundreds.

I noted that in almost all cases the person had already tried other methods, which usually weren't specified.

So I remain skeptical. Perhaps the best course is to give methods such as Farnsworth/Koch a fair try first. There are many shareware trainers such as G4FON which can be used.

Whether someone uses Code Quick or another method, the other 11 tips apply. No method will work if someone doesn't practice.

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
12 Tips  
by N9AMI on June 17, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Really? CodeQuick? I learned 22 wpm with that program and operate cw just fine.
 
12 Tips  
by K4YZ on June 17, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
Greetings Jim, N2EY and eHam Denizens...

I would concur with all of Jim's points except one..."practice sending and receiving every day..."

I have to strongly DIS-courage anyone from putting their hands on a key until they have at least a rudimentary mastery of the basic alphabet.

In one of those "I shudda listened to my dad" moments, I found myself having a hard time getting my speed up. Oh, I could send, and send well...even fast...but I couldn't receive what was sent to me because I had spent so much time "teaching" myself the letters by sending them first.

My Old Man was a Navy Quartermaster, and was proficient in radio Morse, light, and semaphore. He taught me from a 1950's era Navy text, and in it was the same admonition to get the ears working first, THEN get on the key.

I eventually hit both 13, then 20 WPM, and can carry my own to about 30 now, but I had to struggle at first. I hope I can encourage someone else who may be climbing the ladder below me to avoid that bump in the road.

73 and hope to catch some of you on 40M or 30M CW sometime.

Steve, K4YZ
 
12 Tips  
by KC5CQD on June 20, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
I average about 25 to 30 wpm and the way I learned was A:) Listening to W1AW code runs B:) Listening to other op's CW conversations on the air and C:) Just getting on the air and operating and usually picking contacts that were operating just above my capability.

The first rule of learning CW is simply this; You have to like it! If you don't care for it or outright hate it, you'll never be much good at it. And there's nothing wrong with that. It ain't everyone's cup-o-tea.
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by K4DPK on June 20, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
There have been a great many good tips on here in addition to your original twelve, Jim. Good job!

The thing that helped me most was learning to think in CW.

How to do that? Well, whenever my mind wasn’t occupied with something else, if I saw a sign, a license plate or billboard, I’d run it through my head as fast as I could in CW. That takes a very short while to master, and it is the single thing that helped me most.

You can do it “on the go” without an oscillator, a key or a decision which method you’re going to use.

BTW, I’ve always thought they should have called it DW, for Discontinuous Wave.

Phil C. Sr.
k4dpk
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by N2EY on June 21, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
K4YZ writes: "I would concur with all of Jim's points except one..."practice sending and receiving every day..."

I have to strongly DIS-courage anyone from putting their hands on a key until they have at least a rudimentary mastery of the basic alphabet."

Hello Steve,

I think the best way for most folks is to practice both sending and receiving.

I included tip 7) because I've encountered more than a few hams who spent *all* their time learning to receive! This was more common back when there were tests for Morse Code, but they only tested receiving.

The point was that while they only tested receiving, learning to send helps most people learn to receive (if they don't overdo it). And to be a Morse Code operator, you need to be able to do both.

However, as you say, receiving should get the majority of the time:

Note the second sentence:

7) Practice both sending and receiving each and every day. Most of your practice time should be spent receiving, but the two help each other.

Perhaps it would be clearer if I'd specified that for most people about 90% of practice time should be spent on receiving.

K4YZ: "In one of those "I shudda listened to my dad" moments, I found myself having a hard time getting my speed up. Oh, I could send, and send well...even fast...but I couldn't receive what was sent to me because I had spent so much time "teaching" myself the letters by sending them first.

My Old Man was a Navy Quartermaster, and was proficient in radio Morse, light, and semaphore. He taught me from a 1950's era Navy text, and in it was the same admonition to get the ears working first, THEN get on the key."

I had a similar problem because I had a code practice oscillator setup before I had a receiver.

73 de Jim, N2EY
 
RE: 12 Tips  
by N2EY on June 21, 2010 Mail this to a friend!
K4DPK writes: "There have been a great many good tips on here in addition to your original twelve, Jim. Good job!"

Thanks, Phil.

Perhaps I'll take all these ideas and rewrite the article to include the best of them.

K4DPK: "The thing that helped me most was learning to think in CW.

How to do that? Well, whenever my mind wasn’t occupied with something else, if I saw a sign, a license plate or billboard, I’d run it through my head as fast as I could in CW. That takes a very short while to master, and it is the single thing that helped me most."

I did that too. Helped my sending a lot, but not receiving.

Your mention of "thinking in CW" reminded me of something I began doing after a few years of using Morse Code.

I realized that at least some of the time I wasn't translating Morse into letters or even words any more. I'd hear something in Morse Code and *know* what it meant directly.

It started with simple things, such as hearing my call and not having to think about it. Pretty soon I could understand a lot of what was sent directly.

I also found that I just "knew" how to send what I was thinking without conscious effort.

Some may dismiss these claims, but they're real, just the same.

73 de Jim, N2EY


 
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