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Learning CW

from W0FEN on December 16, 2017
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Every CW learning course I have had the pleasure of looking at starts off with the single character letters and then adds complexity. This would seem to be a logical progression.

Everyone always says DO NOT learn by counting Dits and Dahs. They all say to learn by listening to the sound of the letters. But starting simple leads directly to the counting process.

It is my contention that the instructors do not give the student enough credit. That to learn CW by listening to the sound the student needs to learn the letters/characters that have a rhythm as the FIRST characters. The rhythm or sound is first learned. From this the first characters would be F, L, Q, C, V, B, Y. Later adding BT, 73, SK, and then numbers. The simpler letters would then be sprinkled in.

I don't know of anyone who has set up a CW learning course with this method. If someone does, please name it after me such as FEN method.

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Learning CW Reply
by K7NSW on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Learning CW is like lifting weights. The more you do the stronger you get. Sorry - no easy way or "silver bullet". Hypnosis and magic do not work either. A speaker under your pillow at night - good luck. Here is the way you do it: pick any method and work it awhile. It is like learning to drink scotch - you have to work at it. Then, sooner than later, plug a straight key into your rig and jump in. Join a CW club like Straight Key Century Club - there are others. Keep at it - it will happen. Then try the paddles or some other such thing. KSMIF - keep it simple make it fun. Do you play the piano? How long did it take you to do that? Why should learning CW be any different?
Learning CW Reply
by NN2X on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I learned back in 1970's....and later again early 1980 (For 20 WPM)

My method...Yep, learned first the code via each letter, there was a few groups...It took maybe 2 weeks to get around 5 to 7 WPM,,,

Back then we used tapes, I kept learning from the same material, so what would happen I would what was coming.

The tapes would get you to 10 WPM, maybe 12 WPM, but to get past that hurdle, I needed something else.

(This took about 4 weeks to get to 12 WPM)

I listened to W1AW and believe it or not, that was the best training. W1AW would transmit 5 WPM, 7 WPM, 10, and right on up to 30 WPM (Maybe 50WPM) (From a QST Page). But that got me right up to 20 WPM..

(To get to 13 WPM, took about 8 Weeks)

However, the Tapes taught you the format that would be on the test. That gave in about 2 to 3 word per minute advantage.

In reality I was at 17 - 18 WPM, but knowing the format of the test (QTH, RST Report, and Name), you could anticipate what was coming, and that got me to 20WPM, even though my real speed was 17 - 18 WPM

(To get to 20 WPM / Took 10 to 12 weeks)

FYI every day I would study about 30 Minutes

Having said that, once I pass the 20 WPM, I have not used the code since 1980's . All SSB, or today the digital modes...

C U all on the bands

It's Simple --- But You Need To WORK At It! Reply
by VE3CUI on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
By far the best way to learn code, IMHO, is that little fifty-cent booklet published for DECADES by the ARRL called "LEARNING THE RADIO TELEGRAPH CODE"…

Follow its step-by-step instructions, STICK TO IT, and you'll be amazed at your capacity to absorb CW.

Like someone said before --- aptly --- there is NO "silver bullet" in the process, no short-cuts, no nothing…just your dint of dedication & some work.
RE: It's Simple --- But You Need To WORK At It! Reply
by N2EY on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
There isn't one single best way. I've posted this before, in various places, but to save searching, here goes:

Way back in the 1960s it took me about two months to go from zero to about 7 wpm. I did it by listening to other hams on the air - no tapes, records or computer. There are better ways now and you can probably get to 5 wpm or so in a month to 6 weeks, if you practice every day.

In a few months after getting my Novice I was ready for 13 wpm, and in about a year, 20 wpm. And that was just the beginning.

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. This is particularly true when it comes to learning skills.

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 an Amateur 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. This is what makes learning skills so different from "book learning" - and why some folks find it so hard to learn skills. You have to be actively involved - it doesn't happen passively.

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. They may work for some people, but, in general, I advise against them.

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 to miss the next day.

Some folks learn better if they do several short sessions, some learn better if they do it all at once. You have to find out what works best for you.

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; you may be better with a ballpoint, felt tip, etc. Or even a keyboard.

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; usually 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 all that useful on CW anyway.

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.

Good luck!

73 de Jim, N2EY
Learning CW Reply
by W4KYR on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Copying by ear:
When someone talks to you, do you write down every letter or character and then read it all back so you can comprehend what they are saying? Of course not (Unless of course we are writing down something real critical like directions in most cases. And even then we'll only write the important exits, turns, street names and distances)

The above illustrates what I'm saying...We only write down the most important parts. We never write down the whole conversation, only parts of it. The same thing occurs when you copy More Code by ear. Only their call letters, their name and their location are only really important.

The rest need not be written down unless you are also writing contest number exchanges or something real critical. ( the way we all do even if we are taking down information in a regular vocal conversation).


When we first learned to talk and understand as a child, did we learn it by letter or character? Of course not. We first learned to talk and understand the SOUND of the word years BEFORE we learned how to spell it. We learned by sounds, words and phrases first and THEN we learned how to spell it...

Some of us might speak a another language, did we first learn how to spell each word and then learned how to say it? Of course not...We learned to say the word (and understand it's meaning). Why should Morse code be any different?

What if someone sent you the word "meter" a quite few times at 25 wpm until you thoroughly understood it. Now what if someone mixed that same word "meter" in random 25 wpm words about 10 times in a period of say 5 minutes. Do you think that there would be a good chance that you would be able to pick out "meter" just about every time after awhile? Probably

What is the 'secret' to be able copy by ear?



Notice that in this particular QSO the only things missing above are the call letters, name, location, rig, antenna and location

Do you think you can there is a chance you could learn to recognize and understand the above characters and abbreviations (by sound) at 25 wpm in an afternoon? Sure...why not. Do you think you could pick them out if someone send them mixed in with a bunch of random words at 25 wpm. There would be a good chance that you could. OK so whats the reasoning behind this?

If you were to hear just short snippets of your top 100 songs of all time , would you be able to pick some of them out? Probably What about picking them out pretty quickly? Chances are that you might.

Then wouldn't it make sense that the secret to copy Morse code by ear at 25 wpm (or any other wpm) is by simply recognizing by the most common sound reoccurring sounds of what occurs in a typical QSO and take it from there? After all, you are not really concentrating ... are you? You are merely listening

To Sum it Up:
If this method is not comfortable for you, then use some other method. If you want to learn words and phrases by sound then you might want to employ this method or take some ideas from it.

If you don't want to learn at 25 wpm, there is no need to. But at higher speeds, certain characters and words stand out better at higher speeds. The minimum I would suggest learning at is 20 wpm. If you prefer to learn by some more traditional method. Then I suggest Jerry Ziliak's KB6MT code course...

Here is an excellent video (not mine) of the most common English words at 25 wpm. (He also has the same videos for other Words per minute). I highly suggest you watch it along with learning the most common CW QSO words and phrases as well at 25 wpm too...Good Luck

"100 most common English words in Morse Code @25wpm"

by HamRadioQRP on YouTube
Learning CW Reply
by W8WZ on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I don’t have anything really original to share about learning CW but here are some of my experiences with it.

Back in the day (by which I mean before the internet and when we all had to learn cw for our license tests) I learned CW like most other people I knew. We simply looked at the paper with the print out of the dots and dashes, sent them on a code practice oscillator until we could send them without having to look at the paper. Then we would listen to Code wherever we could find it - on W1AW if you had a receiver, on records or tapes if you didn’t. By the time you learned the code using that method you were at 5 WPM for your novice test. You learned the sound of the characters at a slow speed.

Then you would use the code on the air as a novice and your speed would improve from using it. Now you could listen to W1AW for sure, and you really wanted to get to the magic 13 WPM number so you could be a general, where they used to say life began. To get to 13 one used code tapes and records and on the air practice. The thing is at above about 10 WPM you cant really count the characters all that well. So now you had to RE LEARN the entire code - this time just learning sounds - and what speed sounds did we all learn? Why 13 WPM of course! After we re learned code by listening to the sound of each character at 13 WPM we would become generals. Many/most hams now stopped using CW except for the occasional QSO with a novice, or on SKN or to work a really rare DX station or to demonstrate an old rig or something.

Some of us wanted to be Extras though - and we had to now learn CW at 20WPM. Gosh darn it - CW at 20 WPM sounds different than CW at 13 WPM so we had to RE-LEARN how all of the letters and characters sounded all over again. Now you had the problem of - can you actually WRITE 20WPM on your note pad? Some guys can and others cant. If you couldn’t then you needed to head copy the code well enough to pass your test by writing it out after, or answering the questions - depending on what the test was like when you took it. Some guys took typewriters (mils) to their testing sessions - I did this .

I used CW regularly for 23 years - but never got above 20-22 WPM until just a few years ago when I signed up for the CW OPS Level 3 CW Academy. There I learned to head copy code and not write it down, that liberated me to improve my code speed to faster than my writing speed. I also learned to hear some whole words and build my CW vocabulary so I can hear some common whole words as single sounds. Now I can work a contest or DX station (simple exchange of call signs and RST) up to about 44 WPM. I can rag chew between 25-35 WPM (Depending on the operating conditions, fist, and how I’m feeling that day - some days I’m better than others). And, I can copy NTS written traffic at 20 - 25 WPM. Why so much slower on traffic? Well, there I must copy each letter individually and not listen for whole words - that slows down. Also much of the message is not made up of real words but rather Mixed groups and groups of numbers such as in an address

A good CW operator will have three different “maximum speeds”
His highest for simple things that he knows - getting a callsign, RST, Name, Rig, QTH, Weather here is, age is, etc. our Cw vocabulary allows us to have these QSOs by hearing entire words. Some CW ops have very large CW vocabularies, others of us, just the most commonly used words. The next speed is the speed that the operator can copy common english language words that he still has to listen letter by letter for. An extended QSO about your son’s baseball team’s performance last season would have words that few CW operators have learned as whole words, therefore they will have to listen letter by letter and thus slow their speed a bit. And the slowest speed - that is RARELY if ever abouve 25 WPM for anyone - is random letter/number groups. This is what the military used when they sent CW. An operator cannot miss a single character and if he makes a mistake he won’t know it, so he cant afford to make any. Thus this is his slowest speed. For instance, if I am in a plain text QSO and I copy “I just bought a new F-RD Fuion” I can figure out that the operator sent “FORD Fusion” even though I missed a couple letters - no fill needed, I can continue. However, when copying random letter/number groups I cant do that - so my speed must slow down. That is one reason that the military ops in WW2 used straight keys so much, they were really not going abouve 20-25 WPM in sending random code groups that had to be deciphered by hand. Some guys did use bugs, but most didnt. If you listen to recordings of the era you. Hear 20-25 WPM as the most common speed then.
The commercial ops for Western Union and others - and there were MANY commercial applications of CW could go a lot FASTER than that because they were sending plain text. When I got into the hobby those were the old timers in the bottom of each band operating 40 WPM or more with their bugs. Very few of them left now.

All that to say - There are better ways to learn the code than the way we did it. Learn the code from the sound of it at high speed to start with. 25 WPM is a good speed to learn the sound at. Just slow the spacing down until you can remember it. That way you only have to learn the sound of the code one time - instead of re-learning it each time you want to increase your speed. This is the method used by CW Ops in our. CW academy program and I think it is the best way and better than how I did it. Today you can use apps, and webpages and computer software to learn the code. You can customize these tools to send at the speed you want to learn at, not the speed that W1AW is broadcasting now, or that your Code Tape had on it. That said - the most important thing is to do what works for you and get on the air and use it as soon as you can. Every ham in the US has CW privileges on 40 meters - use them.

If you don’t feel confident enough to do it on your own - find a friend who will sit next to you and copy along on a note pad incase you freeze up you can look at what he wrote down. Don’t be afraid to be slow - all good ops will QRS for you - none of us were born doing high speed CW. We want to help new ops and are excited when a new person is on CW.

I hope you find as much joy and relaxation in working CW as I do. It is one of my greatest pleasures. 73 Carl W8WZ. CW OPS # 1660
Learning CW Reply
by W0FEN on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
NONE of the replies has commented on my theory!
RE: Learning CW Reply
by K8QV on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
<<< "SO FAR--
NONE of the replies has commented on my theory!" >>>

ALL characters have a distinct rhythm just as all spoken words/letters have a distinct sound. I learned E, I, S, H, 5, 4, and so on. Learned half a dozen or so at a time, added newest group to the previous after learned thoroughly. There is no secret, it's nothing more than learning fewer than 50 vocabulary words in a foreign language. I honestly don't see why so many these days have such a problem learning to recognize the sounds of a few dozen characters.
RE: Learning CW Reply
by N9AOP on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Maybe so. When I learned CW 40 or so years ago, the instructor sat at the front of the class with a bug and sent the letters at about 15 WPM. We learned to associate the letter with the sound. He didn't go quite like your method but there was a random mixture of different length characters. Of the 20 in the class, we all passed the 5WPM test. He then said to do like learning to ride a bike. Ride the thing. We got on the air and after a month, 50% were doing 13 WPM.
Other classes where the instructor was sending at less than 10WPM did not fare as well.
RE: Learning CW Reply
by N7ZDR on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I learned by listening to the Gorden West tapes many many years ago. I could copy fine up to about 12 WPM but I felt like I was just kind of stuck with no end in site. I had a old Tandy computer, which back then all we had was DOS--- That's it---- if you wanted something we needed to make is ourselves. I built the code telling it to spit out a set number of whole words common among hams. I set this to run at 30 WPM. After about 1 year I could copy between 25-35 WPM in my head while driving down the road. I knew I was onto something different here. I was now able to copy up 45 WPM hearing only the words.
Now for the bad part---- Still to this day I struggle to copy anything below about 25 WPM. This is because what you are hearing now starts to turn back into letters. Anything above 25 is fast enough to sound like entire words. If I were to go back and do it all over again, I am not sure what I would do because each method results in a different ending----
Good Luck in which ever method you choose!

RE: Learning CW Reply
by K4DPK on December 16, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
When Uncle George learned I was interested in short wave, and I learned that his having been in the Signal Corps meant he held the key to what I was hearing on that old Zenith in Granny’s bedroom, it was “Katie, bar the door !”.

The first thing he did was stop me from calling ‘em dots and dashes….then, A became didah, B dadididit, and so on.

There was no machine, no tape or record player—for the most part, not even a radio. The use of any of that would have meant my practice would be tied to a location, a device and an activity.

I had code running through my head as fast as I could send it, every waking minute of the day. Walking to school, every street sign, license plate, house number, and names of people and places were all part of my mental morse machine. I sent them aloud when I could, silently when I could not.

In this way, I could spend nearly full-time in my effort to learn Morse. Whenever I did listen to code, either on the radio or from a home-made buzzer contraption with my uncle tapping the characters, it was immediately translatable because of the similarity of the didah to the tones.

Whatever method of learning one uses, the student must first understand that the single essential, absolutely irreplaceable necessity in learning the code, is commitment.

Once you have that, it’s easy.

Phil C. Sr.
k4dpk 1955
Learning CW Reply
by K9PLG on December 17, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
FEN - I like your approach - it seems logical to me... I learned code back in 1969 from LP records (or vinyl as they call it now hihi). I also was in the school band, so to me it was simply unique rhythms for each character/prosign.. Once I trained my head to associate those rhythms with their corresponding characters, all I had to do was get my speed up.. Early training in music helps a whole lot I think.. which teaches you to memorize things like unique rhythms.. My dad could not carry a tune in a bushel basket and never could grasp the code.. but he knew the radio theory very well.. he never got licensed but I did so he set me up with a great novice station for the day - a DX60 / Drake R4B / and a 50 foot tower with a 80/40/15m trapped dipole hung from it. Made 1,000s of contacts with an old vibroplex bug and had a blast... (ps got that bug with original case for $25 @ my first hamfest - try getting a deal like that now hihi).. 73
Learning CW Reply
by K7NSW on December 17, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
on eHam there is currently a STRAY that says you are not a real ham if you do not know and operate CW. This attitude is offensive. Elitism is a damaging influence in any club or group. I am not at all impressed by these guys who call themselves REAL AMATEUR EXTRA licensees because they passed the 20 wpm code test when it was required. Next in line are the guys who chase DX and/or participate in the various DX contests. These guys call themselves "The Deserving". Then there are the guys who claim you are not a real ham unless you have built some of your equipment from scratch. Of course we must not leave out the snobs who have the short "original calls". It seems there are people who are desperate to "be somebody". They try to achieve status by tearing down other people. Very sad. So who is a "real ham"? Anyone who passes the test. That is good enough for me. We are all in this together.
Learning CW Reply
by K5ML on December 17, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Another endorsement here for the ARRL book, "Learning the Radio Telegraph Code." I seem to remember it advocating learning the rhythm of each letter and I did. I bought a buzzer with a straight key both mounted on a piece of plastic and began sending. They got my code speed up enough to pass the Novice license before even owning a shortwave receiver.

When the school year was over, my parents bought me a Hallicrafters S-38D receiver and I started copying code on the 40-meter novice band. In a week I was up to 10 WPM. About a month later my novice license came in the mail, some friends lent me a transmitter and I got on the air. I was having so much fun making contacts that I never paid attention to what my code speed was. However, when I took my General Class exam in the FCC office in November, the 13 wpm code test seemed pretty easy. I also passed the written exam thanks to "The ARRL License Manual." My experience was that the best way to get your code speed up is to relax, get on the air, make contacts and have fun. The code speed will take care of itself with time and practice.
Learning CW Reply
by W4FID on December 17, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I had the usual code practice oscillators and a WWII paper tape machine to get me "launched" at 5 WPM. At that time you had a 1 year license. Upgrade or you're out. I was told "get on 80 meters -- not 40". All my buddies were on 40 talking about working states a few hundred miles away. I was working guys a few suburbs away. But 80 was less crowded and more stable -- less QSB/QRM. So I was having real QSOs while they were having quickie and repeated basic QSO exchanges. My code speed and my ability to copy text increased much more and faster than theirs. I also translated road signs and billboards in my head. They go by fairly quickly and are a built in "pusher" for speed. I was the only one of dozens of buddies in high school who went to downtown Chicago and passed my general on the first try. Today, 57+ years later and 71 years old even though I am only an occasional CW operator I can work 10 or 12 WPM with a straight key or bug or keyer when I do and can pick up repeater IDs no problem.
Learning CW Reply
by N0AH on December 17, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Learning at a minimum of 20WPM is critical because learning higher speeds later involves forgetting the old way you process the character vs the reality of how they are sent- I teach my students at 28WPM and they do much better than this 5 wpm waste of time-
Learning CW Reply
by KC3KBE on December 17, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

your idea seems to have a bit common with that of the folks at Howard Cunningham, WA9VRU, talks about learning via sound recognition and postponed discrimination.

its the postponed recognition part that is similar to your recommendation of learning the longer characters first. Ward Cunningham takes it a bit further and recommends learning the longest first and then learning the characters that are "part" of the longest character.

In his words "Postponed discrimination requires that longer characters be introduced to the student before shorter characters with the same element sequence. For example, C is introduced before K, which is introduced before A and T. This forces a student to listen to the entire letter before making any decision."

So his Morse training program ( starts with Q and 7, followed by the two "shortened" versions of Q and 7, which are G and Z. You dont learn T or E till the very end.

Seems a good idea to me.

73 Jonathan KC3KBE (at lesson 29 of 40 on currently)
RE: It's Simple --- But You Need To WORK At It! Reply
by K4LSX on December 18, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
#10 is the best "put the microphone in the drawer". The reason it seems that it was easier long ago is that there were no microphones in the drawer, or anywhere else!
Learning CW Reply
by WD0EGC on December 18, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I am re-learning the code after 30 years of inactivity. I just have my smart phone download the QOTD (quote of the day) podcast, and listen to that every day. I download at a speed I can comfortably copy, and a speed that is a bit beyond my reach. I've gone from nothing to about 12 wpm in a few months. And, the quotes are interesting in and of themselves.
Learning CW Reply
by KD8IIC on December 18, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
First of ll, no one learns CW. We learn Morse, We op CW.
RE: Learning CW Reply
by N4KC on December 18, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

First and last tip for learning Morse code:

Quit telling yourself you can't! I hear so many say they just can't learn the code, that they are tone deaf or can't tell a dit from a dah, or have some kind of weird brain manifestation that prevents him or her from learning 26 letters, ten numbers, and five pro-signs.

Not true! Anybody...ANYBODY...can learn the code and be able to copy it proficiently at better than 20 WPM. The biggest impediment is convincing yourself that you, for some unknown reason, can't.

If you don't want to learn Morse, then don't. That's perfectly all right. But do not use the excuse that you are unable to do so.

Simply learn letters and numbers by sound, not by dots and dashes. Once you know each character, practice. Practice by copying or by making contacts. Every op I have ever heard will slow down if you ask, or will send at the same speed you do. Send at 40 WPM and some guys will happily match that, though.

Learning code is a choice. If you don't want to, FB, OM. And you are none the lesser for it. You don't have to apologize or put down those who do. To each his own. But if you want to, there are some good reasons to do so. See:

Even with FT-8 and other exciting new modes, CW continues to grow in popularity since it ceased to be a dreaded requirement. The recent CQWW CW contest set new records for participation. Just wait for the CW pile-ups for the Bouvet DXpedition. Or listen in anytime to the QRP and slow-speed watering holes. Plenty of interesting folks to meet and di-dah with.

Enjoy whatever aspect of the hobby you wish. But you CAN learn the code...if you want to.


Don N4KC
Author of more than thirty books,
including four on getting the most
from the hobby of amateur radio

RE: Learning CW Reply
by K4LSX on December 18, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
AMEN N4KC re the excuses!

long, long ago I saw guys in the Navy that never heard of Morse Code that were sent to radio school to be aircrew radio ops...they were already out of aviation electronics school...then off to a fleet radio school and after a few weeks they came back to the squadron copying 15 - 20 wpm, no problem.

some years later, still in the KN0W CODE days a few of us ran a series of Novice classes followed by General classes, most times 40-50 students in each group. I have no memory of anyone dropping out because " the code was too hard to learn".

it was all about desire, motivation, commitment, having a defined goal, or some such stuff as that...oh, along with the willingness to work.

Learning CW Reply
by KB2DHG on December 19, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I used a free down load called "Just Learn Morse Code" it is great.
But my friends the best thing to do is practice at least 10 minutes 2 or 3 times a day. Listen to W1AW slow Code secessions and soon you will be pounding brass... I love CW...
RE: Learning CW Reply
by W4KVW on December 19, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Well I HATE CW but before the Code Requirement was dropped I wanted my Upgrade to General Class.I had a friend who gave me an old Code Quick course with the flash cards.I also borrowed a keyer that used a single 9 volt battery so I could practice sending each character & the last evening I was finishing up & the 9 volt batter died.I studied 8 evenings for 2 hours per evening & then studied the written General Class test questions for an hour those 8 evenings & then went & took both test.I did 45 characters straight copy on the 5 wpm code & I Aced the written test as well.I believe that Code Quick works but I do NOT use code at all & never planned upon using it because it gives me a terrible headache & I hate an headache.I can't even copy my own call on CW any longer since I have not used it after taking the test March 12,2005.I always preferred Phone contacts & that's what I do on all bands.To me this is what CW is to me.CW = Completely Worthless.Unwanted NOISE to me.

RE: Learning CW Reply
by KB6QXM on December 21, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
If it wasn't for the "inclusion" crowd, we would not be having this conversation. Either you learned code or you found another hobby.

In the days before the whiners, there was a license class called a Novice. Not the revised Novice class, but a serious "probationary" license. You had to send and receive 5 WPM in front of a FCC examiner. You received a 1-year non-renewable license. No VFO. Just crystal-controlled CW on 80, 40 and 15. 75watts DC-input maximum power. You had 1 year to upgrade your license or you found another hobby. No whining that you cannot distinguish between a dit or a dah or do not like CW.

That is the way it used to be before the "inclusion" crowd or the pressure to get the numbers up( for various reasons)

You learned CW many ways or even by having just a receiver, W1AW, but you made no excuses, you just did it, no matter what it took.

RE: Learning CW Reply
by STRAIGHTKEY on December 22, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
KB6QXM, it's people like you who push people away from amateur radio. CW is an optional mode for operators who decide they want to try it. Deal with it.
RE: Learning CW Reply
by VK2MS on December 22, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Hi I'm more for KB6QXM, the option brought a lowerclass licence well it should do. When the VHF groups figured they were something way above the HF guys in more than megacycles how dare anyone tell them they must learn morse code...why they were 'special' what do we have..another licence generated because they considered they were 'above it all'.

That mentality is still about but in my view HF is the underpinning of the tradition of ham Radio and as with any special group, require significant hurdles to overcome. Perhaps adjusting a morse key was just beyond the ability for "Z" calls, a few components and a 954/955 was easier...and I loved those acorn tubes...

Now we have buy your own station, armchair, repeaters,Star, morse keyboards, 'digital' code readers and a movement racing away away from what Amateur Radio 'was'.... a unique club for men and women of skill, building, experimenting discovering and respect. There are no 'homebrew' Kenwoods, NRC's or Icoms etc, as with Heathkit but one can still buy kits and even though commonly IC's with a few discrete components they are in the Ham mentality. Some homebrew is notably better than commercial sets.

Remember the 'junk box' sets one could build and mod'ing 348's and so on....I admire immensely the seemingly mostly-Americans who seek and rebuild early Ham stations into utterly magnificent restoration. They have a love of tradition and I guess, the challenge. One can still build and use regen sets and use them sensibly. Opportunity still is around.

In'the old days' Ham radio was not to be used for 3rd party messages, was to be used respectfully and within the regulations and operators handbook guidelines. It wasn't there to monopolise the ether with High-Power, dx was exciting but so were local contacts, talk about the antenna, trying different tubes, Hams respected each other generally as they knew one needed a good degree of electronics knowledge to earn a licence.

Today with people claiming 'rights' to licences the 'prove yourself' electronics requirement has gone West.

On stories told to me about grannies in their eighties passing Morse exams. I'd say there is no one without a seriously disabling affliction who cannot learn morse...even blind people can learn to read Braille,why?..

Because they want to learn, enjoy other minds and I reckon they could learn morse pretty quickly....surely an everyday person without any such an affliction can learn morse. It is 26 letters and 10 numbers...and one can send and receive without having to know all the short cuts. I can tell you how my uncle killed in a Marauder crash on take-off as killed so many, in 1942 learned code, and I have used it to learn language.In a nutchell, in shortening of distances as the skill grows you spell something in your vision, bus, train road, and as with Kata, spelling normally, very slowly and flat-out build the brain-skill. Operators know it's easier to read 20wpm than 10. Instant recognition comes from what I wrote above.

What we have increasingly in Ham radio are numerous sooks claiming its all too hard, don't tell me what to do, I have RIGHTS you know, quoting passages from the constitution or the bible, to excuse their 'lawful' demands. Ok, well put them up with the Z calls.

I'd say take us back to the 1950's requirement for electronic knowledge examination and competent CW and if we end up with 10% of what numbers we have it will still be more than a CB-special or a telephone substitute. Think more of quality than numbers? and educate your politicians? to hold to bandspace guaranteed forever for that special group...who were prolific in wartime victory.

Forget about easy options; We are Hams...a pride should step in between ourselves and 'easy licensing' and bring back CW as compulsory and re-examinable. There are some brilliant Hams about but, we should ALL be brilliant some just 'more brilliant' and be there to aid each other in building onto our skills. It happened for many decades and can happen again.
_ _ . . . . . . - - Voila
RE: Learning CW Reply
by N4KC on December 23, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

Once again, I have a challenge for those of you who long for the good old days when would-be hams had to jump through what you remember to be draconian hoops in order to get a license. And especially those of you who seem to be inundated with whining and complaining from a generation which you paint with a very broad brush...even if most of us do not hear such at all.

Demonstrate that you can copy CW at 20 WPM. Go online and take one of the free sample exams and report back your score, good or bad.

And yet again I will remind you that many are interested in our hobby for something besides building gear from scratch or pursuing any especially technical avenue. Or have no desire whatsoever to communicate using Mr. Morse's code.

I enjoy much of the technical side of the hobby. CW comprises more than half my operating time. But not everybody is interested in that stuff.



Don N4KC

RE: Learning CW Reply
by STRAIGHTKEY on December 23, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
VK2MS, you're welcome to take a time machine back to the 1950s. The rest of us are moving forward. The fact is CW is just a communications mode and there are many modes. To require proficiency in it now would merely be an arbitrary barrier that doesn't promote any sort of technical proficiency or advancement of the radio art. I'll take as licensees electrical engineering students capable of designing satellites who could care less about Morse code over a CW test passer who can't draw a transistor amplifier to save their life, any day.
RE: Learning CW Reply
by GM1FLQ on December 23, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
But not everybody feels that this fashionable "inclusive" make-up-the-numbers/quotas agenda is sensible. The virtue signalling Media, Film/Music Industry and Academia are continually preaching it to the masses - not unsurprisingly, many appear to be easily impressed/led & seemingly take it in like a hot dinner.

It is simply the view of others that these poor affected souls (in their knitted birkenstocks!) are somewhat deluded in thinking they are the custodians of the intellectual/moral high ground.


RE: Learning CW Reply
by GM1FLQ on December 23, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

"VK2MS, you're welcome to take a time machine back to the 1950s. The rest of us are moving forward."


RE: Learning CW Reply
by GM1FLQ on December 23, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

"I'll take as licensees electrical engineering students capable of designing satellites who could care less about Morse code over a CW test passer who can't draw a transistor amplifier to save their life, any day."

Absolutely......goes without saying all these students have extraordinary capabilities these days, according to the CVs they all invented/built the Large Hadron Collider in their bedroom when they were 12......

RE: Learning CW Reply
by K4DPK on December 23, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I have no wish to take part in the code/no-code fight. However, the argument as it is being stated by some presupposes that those who choose not to learn or use CW tend to be technically educated and/or proficient.

While I am sure this idealized condition does exist, there is another group that concerns me, and they are considerable in number. They are those who neither use nor are they interested in learning Morse Code, and are neither versed nor are they interested in learning any of the technical aspects of electronic communication. If you haven’t heard them, you simply haven’t listened.

Some of these can be occasionally heard in the Extra Class phone band, with a General or Technician license.

RE: Learning CW Reply
by STRAIGHTKEY on December 23, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
>Absolutely......goes without saying all these students have extraordinary capabilities these days, according to the CVs they all invented/built the Large Hadron Collider in their bedroom when they were 12......

And if one of them did indeed invent or build the Large Hadron Collider, but they didn't know CW, you'd bitch and moan because they didn't know CW. Therein lies the problem, old man.
RE: Learning CW Reply
by GM1FLQ on December 24, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

"And if one of them did indeed invent or build the Large Hadron Collider, but they didn't know CW, you'd bitch and moan because they didn't know CW. Therein lies the problem, old man."

Invariably you find, when put to a real job of work, many of them couldn't put a nut in a monkey's mouth - therein lies the problem......well, that and the facilitators of the "entitled."
RE: Learning CW Reply
by GM1FLQ on December 24, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

"bitch and moan"

Irony alert !!! ..........
RE: Learning CW Reply
by KB6QXM on December 24, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
It looks like Straightkey is in the UK or some Euro country. No one uses the term CV in the US for the most part. For the screen name Straightkey, you would think he would be PRO code
RE: Learning CW Reply
by GM1FLQ on December 24, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

"It looks like Straightkey is in the UK or some Euro country. No one uses the term CV in the US for the most part."

To be fair to him, I think he was just doing a "cut and paste" to quote me.

Learning CW Reply
by KA4LFP on December 26, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Here is the method my Elmer, Everest McDade W4DYW (SK) used to teach us all CW; he taught dozens, if not possibly hundreds of us code that way.
(One other person who can attest to this is Dan Henderson, N1ND of the ARRL)

He'd make up a printed sheet that was several columns of 5-character groups written like this:
I think he had a computer program to create them at one point - he'd make a copy for him to send from, and a second copy for the student to fill out.

I'll show just a couple of these, but imagine about 4-5 columns of groups across the page, each one being three lines.



So, you'll notice that there are NOT "easy letters first" -- as I recall, he did NOT start off with the simple letters.

He'd send each letter at 15-20 WPM, with FIVE word per minute spacing.
He'd send each row THREE times -- the first time, the student would SAY, and TOUCH each letter as he sent it.
The second time he sent that row, you'd WRITE in the blanks and SAY the letters, using the line above as a reference, and then the third time, you'd WRITE and SAY all five characters.

He'd write up about two pages of such - it'd be about 20-25 groups of 5-character groups, underlines, etc
on a page.

I believe he once said that if you did 15-20 pages like that, you'd have 5 WPM down in about 15 hours, or two weekends, ready to take the test.
I certainly was, in 1978 as a Novice.

The "trick" is that, with a 15 wpm inter-element sending speed and 5 wpm letter spacing you're starting right off by translating the whole letter sounds subconsciously
No counting dits, no starting with simple letters, no lookups, no memorization. It's all unconscious behaviour, nothing 'front mind' thinking - it's all like riding a bike -

One VERY important key is that the act of BOTH saying AND writing makes your brain use two different parts, so you're embedding the sounds and letters more subconsciously as you go.

You MUST DO do the say and write part -- that's a key part of what forces your mind NOT to have time to stop and intellectualize about each letter, and get you too involved in trying to count dits and dahs, and then you fall behind.

Also, it's nonsense words, so real words become that much easier.
Learning CW Reply
by N4SRN on December 26, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
W0FEN - yep, having "learned" Morse Code as a Boy Scout (along with WigWag and Smoke Signals - I kid you not), then coming back at age 59, only the longer "musical" letters did I remember as whole sounds rather than dits & dahs: F, V, C, L, B, (Q & Y still cause me grief). So yeah, to hear short "riffs" of Dits & Dahs like a Letter rather than bits & pieces, I think starting with such letters is a good idea. Add the short ones later, as they draw one to count/picture dits and dahs. "Morse Machine" does that to some extent, but isn't very flexible in the manifestations I've tried...

I like "Morse-It" IOS app (the bought version) as I can add "macros", which are text files with my personal text segments to play back and Head Copy. Like: 20xAlphabet (each letter 20-time to warm up, in CWOPS order), Most Common Digraphs and Trigraphs, Most Commonly Confused Digraphs, Most Common Two Letter Words, Most Common Three Letter Words, Common QSO Elements, Common Prosigns, Common Q-Codes, and my personal sets of what I mess up myself (like Q & Y).

Somebody build this MouseTrap, and Mice with Come!
RE: Learning CW Reply
by KB6QXM on December 27, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Farnsworth Morse code timing, hard work and discipline=learning the code. Just do it!

I said KNOW Code NOT No Code.


Learning CW Reply
by STRAIGHTKEY on January 3, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
>To be fair to him, I think he was just doing a "cut and paste" to quote me.

KB6QXM must come from a country that doesn't do quoting.
RE: Learning CW Reply
by STRAIGHTKEY on January 3, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
>I said KNOW Code NOT No Code

Oh, now I get it. Think of how many thousands of hams got "No" and "Know" confused and thought they weren't supposed to learn the code rather than learn it. SAD!
RE: Learning CW Reply
by STRAIGHTKEY on January 4, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
>For the screen name Straightkey, you would think he would be PRO code

I'm very pro-CW. I'm also very anti everyone-must-know-the-code. It's rather silly the way a lot of you see CW skill versus the much larger universe of amateur radio skill and knowledge. It's just stupid and it alienates new hams and those looking to get licensed.
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