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Author Topic: Learning CW, need advice  (Read 6298 times)
AC2EU
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« on: December 20, 2012, 04:21:15 PM »

Hello all,

I stayed out of ham radio because I didn't want to do CW as a novice requirement.
Finally the requirement was relaxed, so I took all three exams for my extra in 2010

I have explored many of the digital modes (my favorite is psk31). However I have come to realize the power of CW due to the stark simplicity of the equipment and it's ability to "cut through" for QSOs that may not otherwise be possible.

That being said, I have been listening to a "Koch trainer" and also a program called "just learn Morse code" for letter/ number drilling for about 7 months.  Although I know the code, when listening to actual QSOs i still have great difficulty getting the copy correct. In that 7 months I have only listened, but haven't attempted sending until recently. Ironically, I can send at 20 wpm if I have the text memorized such as the CQ sequence, etc. However, if I want to do real time conversation at that speed it's not happening. I can send the letters at the 20wpm rate, but there is waaaaaay too much space in between, since i am thinking about what i am saying, spelling, and recalling the code sequence, all simultaneously.

I'm amazed that guys can key this stuff at 20-30 wpm just off the top of their head!
Is it just a matter of more practice sending rather that listening? Any suggestions?
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N3JJT
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« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2012, 04:41:50 PM »

Hello Jim:  Welcome to CW, and the wanting to learn.  The best way to practice your sending, is to open the newspaper, or magazine, and start sending the text.  Send the text at a speed in which it is comfortable.  If you make a mistake, send a few dits, and redo the sending where you made the mistake. (Naturally not on the air,use your sidetone on your rig).
Number one rule:  Never send any faster than you can copy.  If you were to get on the air, and send CQ at 20 wpm, that will more than likely be the speed of the other station.  So, do not set yourself up for failure, and in turn lose interest.
If you do not have a local club that offers CW classes, then I would recommend taking one on CDs.  Supplement the course with other learning aids, such as Koch.  However, the best way to supplement would be to listen to on air QSOs, W1AW bulletins, and code practice.  By listening to on the air QSOs, you will hear allot of abbreviations, and the way most ops carry out a QSO.  The schedule for ARRL will be found on the ARRL website, or in the QST magazine, if you so get one.
If you have the desire to learn, it will happen.  Practice, Practice Practice!  Do not give up!  Do not worry about how fast others are going.  Just learn, and apply what you learn, and everything else will happen on its own.  You will not wake up tomorrow and jump into a QSO, it will take a little bit of time and dedication.  Be patient.
Your final goal will be to copy in your head.  Make notes for the log, but everything else should be a conversation.

Good Luck!  73..de Scott  N3JJT  Hope to hear you on the air.
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K8AXW
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« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2012, 09:03:07 PM »

2EU:  I also wish to welcome you to the wonderful world of CW.  You won't be sorry. 

Scott pretty well summed it up with his suggestions and observations.  As for practice, I would advise not to beat your head against the wall doing it..... doing maybe 1/2 hour at a time, but every day. 

W1AW and CDs are great ways to learn and as you do this, give a listen to slow CW on the bands.  This way you learn proper element length and spacing..... basically what code is supposed to sound like.  The on air listening will give you a real world example along with the QRM and QRN.

When I first tried to learn the code I also could send quite fast and to my ear the letter/number elements sounded perfect.  However, I couldn't copy word one!  My brother had the same experience. Don't try to make a contact until you can copy at least 5WPM.  Then send at that speed.  Once you get so you can copy then operating will help you increase your speed.  There is something inside that wants to speed things up.  Something like listening to a person speak very slowly.  It'll drive you crazy waiting for him to finish.  Same with the code.

Take your time and enjoy the trip. 
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AE5QB
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« Reply #3 on: December 21, 2012, 03:05:30 AM »

Rooky alert!  Take it for what it is worth.  I have been relearning code for the past 2 years and have good days and bad.  I take one step forward and two steps back sometimes.  As I see it, the code learning programs, while great, give you a false sense of accomplishment.  It is relatively easy to learn the characters which is what these programs primarily do.  But then comes the "real world," as they say, in which one must learn the lingo, the protocols, and all the bloody definitions.  That is not a complaint, just a frustrating reality.

I can copy 5 letter word groups near 20 words per minute.  But hold on, when I get online and try to copy QSO data, I slow down to about 12 or 13 words per minute.  As it should be.  It is much like learning to read.  Learning the alphabet is not too difficult.  The old Aye, Bee, See, Dee... song comes pretty quickly.  The challenge in reading is putting together the code groups, if you will, into meaningful language comprehension.  Many of my 7th graders still struggle with this.  They will read a math problem off the screen and when I take it down and ask them what they just read, they can't begin to tell me.

The same thing occurs with CW.  You learn all of the letters and numbers and a few punctuation marks and you feel like you have finally made it.  Then someone throws a pro sign into the conversation and you miss the next 5 words while your brain tries to figure it out.  Or someone throws in an abbreviation or what I call CW Ebonics like wid, es, hpe cuagn, and your brain is trying to figure out if you copied the letters wrong or just what the abbreviation really means. This is all part of the learning process.  Just like reading, moving from knowing the alphabet to meaningful and concise communications takes a lot of practice.  So there is no substitute for on air experience.  While copying ARRL code practice at 15 or 20 wpm is great practice, it is just words out of a magazine.  That type of practice has its place.  But it is far different than engaging in a QSO or passing traffic.

IMHO, organizations like SKCC and FISTS are great ways to learn.  They promote the use of a fairly rigid QSO exchange construct so that goes a long way to help you feel comfortable and increase your speed. Somewhat knowing what is to come next...RST...QTH...SKCC Number... goes a long way towards reducing the anxiety and learning to really communicate.  To compare it to typing...remember typewriters?  There is a big difference between typing, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," which surely demonstrates you know the letters on the keyboard, and typing a formal letter.  Just saying.

Be patient, it will come.  I am making the transition from paper copy to head copy and it is turning out to be a difficult jump for me.  I still want to listen for letters and then try to put them together as word after the fact.  This doesn't work as well in the head as it does on paper where you can go back and look at a word when your brain has a few cycles between easy letters.  I am learning that like reading, good CW copy requires hearing words instead of letters and that only comes with more and more practice.

Hang in there and never give up.  It will come, albeit more slowly for some of us than others.

vy 73, hpe cul sk  AC2EU de AE5QB dit dit
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K8AXW
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« Reply #4 on: December 21, 2012, 08:24:18 AM »

One thing I meant to say in my previous post, but forgot, is to go back through this CW forum and look for similar questions posted that are exactly like yours.  There are many of them and thousands of words have been posted discussing everything you want to know about learning CW.

I think this would be a good idea instead of starting this whole discussion all over again.
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KD8IIC
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« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2012, 12:11:11 AM »

I have found that I can copy Very well at 20wpm myself, but to copy on the air it's more like 10 to15wpm receive max.Most computer based tutors won't give more real world letter and word spacing without switching the program to QSO's from random code,G4FON is a good example.I will get past that speed however.
 Best advice again is to bring what skill level you have right now to the table, run what ya brung, and make QSO's at the speed that you can copy well.
 Experience on the air will give you whatever results you seek.As a bonus you will make new friends, even guys that send slow code.Achievements are great, making friends is priceless.Enjoy your time. 73.
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K4PP
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« Reply #6 on: December 22, 2012, 05:46:08 AM »

Since I just went through the learning phase I can explain how I did it which seemed to help. First I never treated it as an absolute goal, I just gave it a shot with practice about 15 mins a day probably about 3 days a week. I told myself like anything else if you just practice it regularly you'll eventually learn it. I practiced copying with G4FON fairly regularly. Sending took me almost no time to learn and I was mostly just transcribing visual text into the code and seemed rather easy. I fell way behind on copying spending a lot of time on sending. Eventually, I realized when listening to qso's on air there was something I was missing because these hams were clearly not transcribing from text either in their head or on paper, and the guy copying could not possibly be writing this stuff down that fast. I read up on the suggestions like you are doing and I pieced out two things: practice regularly in real qso's on air as well as software tools, and use the sounds of the letters and words alone for copying.

I went back to re-learn copying with a different method. I decided on a 25 wpm letter sound rate and I practiced until eventually it was just the sound of the letter meant the letter! I treated it as learning a sound signature and learned all 26 + 10 sounds at 25 wpm until when each sound was played it was a letter as if just spoken. This helped tremendously, and made me feel as if I was on a downward side of a hill where things began to come more naturally with less struggle. Currently, I still struggle with rag chews because I haven't gotten where sending relative to thought is seamless so I tend to stick to structured qso formats. I can copy much better than I send and I have a bad habit of playing games like morse runner and pileup runner at extreme speeds which really don't do anything for learning to ragchew but are great for DX'ing and contest. This has caused me to be able to grab calls like I5IHE at 45 WPM without a hitch, but I drop down to around 15 - 20 WPM for a ragchew and a little struggle there to hold a good conversation. I still follow my original premise that if I keep at it, it all gets better.

Hang in there it all comes together in time.


K4PP      
« Last Edit: December 22, 2012, 05:54:24 AM by K4PP » Logged
AC2EU
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« Reply #7 on: December 22, 2012, 08:54:14 AM »

Thanks for the input.
My daily regiment is approximately 15-30 minutes on the trainer or listening to the radio QSO's or W1AW.
I found that there was no way that high copy speeds could be obtained by counting or thinking terms of dots and dashes,only by rhythm of the letter. As I listen to real QSO's , i find the I can also identify common word or abbreviation sounds as a group. This cannot be learned from the random letters on a trainer!

I am a visual thinker, so I have found it enormously helpful to practice sending while visualizing the text in my head to increase the speed ( however, spell check has ruined my spelling) . It also helps my rhythm/letter association to jell better.

The "jargon" is an interesting facit as well. Most of it makes sense like tx, rx, wx but the 5nn thing was bizarre when I first encountered it. Of coarse, all of these were invoked for brevity and speed. Dah-dit is a hell of a lot faster than dah dah dah dah dit. I'm told that there are letter abbreviations for all of the numbers, but the only other one that I have found out recently is that A=1.

I guess the upshot here is to find a comfortable copy speed, get on the air and send at that same speed and hope that the other guy doesn't get too annoyed with me!  Grin
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2E0OZI
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« Reply #8 on: December 22, 2012, 09:04:41 AM »

That's about the long and the short of it mate! It sounds like you are ready to start making a few contacts, and that will spur you on to make more and more and the benefits will become apparent. I got on the air about 3 weeks after I could copy all the letters and numbers reliably from the computer trainer, after I heard a talk by M0BLO about operating CW at my club. His talk was so inspiring I went home that very night and made my first CW contact with HA2PP.
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Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.
George Orwell
PA3DEB
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« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2012, 12:32:50 AM »

Hi Jim,

Just my two cents:

Fabian, DJ1YFK has a very good CW course on line called http://lcwo.net It's multi-lingual and I hear very good things about it.

Most important thing is: practice on a regular basis, 15 to 30 minutes a day will do the trick. Just don't give up, how hard it may be, you'll get rewarded in the end.

Just remember: thousands before you have learned the code, so can you!

Btw, Fabian now is one of the fastest. Search for video's at Youtube with keyword DJ1YFK.
Not meant to disencourage you, but just to show what's possible ;-)

Good luck and season's greetings!
Kees, PA3DEB
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KE4ILG
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« Reply #10 on: December 24, 2012, 08:56:37 AM »

Once I was able to copy 5 wpm I went on the air.  I used on air practice to improve my ability to copy.  Sometimes I would follow a QSO and pretend I was one of the stations.  I would turn the sound down and "answer" the other station without transmitting.  I found this got me more comfortable for real on air QSO's. 

I did stay in the 12-15 wpm for a long time but had a lot of fun and continue to find many ops working in that speed range.  I also stayed with writting down what I copied which I am sure held me back on copying in my head. 

For me head copy came naturally with experience and chasing DX.  DX is the simplest QSO to copy so speed comes easily with it. 

What I would hope for you is you get on the air and have fun the rest, head copy and speed, will come soon enough.  In the mean time just relax and have fun.  Don't forget to make good notes on your first few CW QSO's they will be the ones you remember for ever.  73 Mike.
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KG5MG
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« Reply #11 on: December 24, 2012, 09:12:21 AM »

I have been a ham for 30+ years and got my Extra in 2001 after barely passing the 20 wpm code test.  I I worked with tapes to learn enough to pass the test but never worked code on the air at all.  I always intended to go back after passing the extra code exam and REALLY learn the code and get on the air.

I basically dropped out of amateur radio until a couple of months ago when I bought a used 2M mobile rig which I installed in my vehicle just to help pass the time during my daily 2 hour commute.

I finally decided to get off my butt and learn the CODE.

I found G4FON's site and downloaded his program and have begun using it daily.  One thing I would like to echo from several others is that you have to learn at a high enough character/minute speed so that the SOUND OF THE LETTER in a unique thing rather than something made up of individual pieces which are put together to form the letter.

For me that seems to be 50 WPM.  I am at 18 WPM overall but at less than 50 WPM character/min speed I still find my self counting dits and dahs rather than hearing a letter.  I am still working on learning all of the characters and as of right now I don't have any HF gear so I can't get on the air yet but I'm working on that, too.

My eventual goal is to work CW QRP.  I don't plan to even buy a microphone.
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WA1KWA
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« Reply #12 on: December 27, 2012, 12:18:17 PM »

Hi Jim,

All is good advise here. I copied W1AW most every night when I started as a Novice, and now CW is my favorite mode. If you would like, perhaps we can have a sked on 40 or 80 meters CW. Look me up on QRZ.com for my email address. Yes, that you can send much faster than you can receive is the one "gotcha". I know I did that starting out. Don't be afraid to ask the other station to QRS, or repeat something you may have missed.

Remember what the Manhattan cabbie said when he was asked how to get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice.

Good luck!

73,

Colin
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GILGSN
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« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2012, 09:24:02 AM »

Hello,

My suggestion is to set-up a daily practice session with a friend. I have been doing that and my speed is increasing.. Not steadily, but by "jumps." I was stuck at 7wpm for months, and one day, it clicked, and I went to probably 12wpm in one session. You can enjoy Morse at 5-7wpm, no doubt. Just get on the air, and don't worry about your speed, it will come.
Also, check out cwops.org. They have a free class starting on the 3rd, which I am taking...

Gil.
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2E0OZI
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« Reply #14 on: December 28, 2012, 10:06:05 AM »

That's what I am trying to talk a friend of mine into doing Gil - he's about 7 miles away and good copy on phone and we occaisionally have a long chat on 10 later at night. Although I have been on the air CW since late March this year, he has been reticent to dip his toe in - though he knows his letters numbers and the common abbreviations. I suggested a low pressure qso with me a few times a week on 10m CW and he would be away and flying. We are supposed to be organising this later for this week.  Grin
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Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.
George Orwell
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