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Author Topic: How to practically copy CW in your head - for beginners  (Read 15604 times)
AD0AE
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Posts: 79




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« on: January 09, 2013, 07:24:53 AM »

Hi All-

I recently read WB2WIK's article about CW and really enjoyed it.  Thank you WB2WIK!  I want to take his advice a step further and get some recommendations. 

My story real quick, I am currently in the process of learning morse code at 12 wpm using the Koch Method (JustLearnMorse code freeware).  I am about 2 letters shy of having the whole alphabet done and then it is onto numbers and a few prosigns (SK..etc).  I try to do a 100% copy using the keyboard ( and I am good at typing, so that isn't an issue).  Unfortunately, I probably only practice 5-10 mins a day.  So it is a bit low, but I have been at learning it for over a year now, so I am committed.

After reading the article, it sounds like a better way to copy (perhaps after learning the code?) is to listen and just absorb what is being said.  My question: how can you practice this skill?  I would imagine listening to actual conversations is great, but I still sense I will be trying to copy.  Maybe using programs or other website that send words to copy? 

In this context does slowing down to maybe 5-8 wpm make sense to get the hang of listening and then building up speed?

I am also wondering if people who just listen will occasionally jot things down or "spell out" harder/longer words during real QSOs?  I suppose some of this is just "what works," but you all are the experts, not me!

As a final note, one of the key reasons I want to learn CW is that it is one of the few modes that comes in clear in my apartment which has a ton of noise.  That is reason enough right there! 

Thanks all!

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WB2WIK
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Posts: 20666




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« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2013, 09:29:20 AM »

For me and for most I've encountered, the way to learn how to copy without writing or typing anything (just listening) is by actually using the code to make contacts.

"Copying" code can work, but it takes a long time and is kind of boring.  Much nicer to actually chat with people, which of course provides sending practice as well.  Sending is 50% of the code, and not only is it good practice but it improves almost anyone's "copying" ability in the process.

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PA0BLAH
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Posts: 0




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« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2013, 09:40:08 AM »

I miss a reference to W2WIK. so don't recall what he wrote.

So right of the pen:

You master practically all characters, so exercise with words. You are accustomed with Just Learn Morse Code.

Two methods:
1. log in at www.lcwo.net and exercise words. You can do that with a limited number of characters and with a fixed speed, with limited wordlength  and with repetitions ad infinitum.

Listen to the word at your present speed. repeat the word just by listening and glueing the received characters in your head, till you get it. repeat it 2 times after detection to be sure. After that go over to next word. Do that each day with a set of 25 words as offered by lcwo.net.

2. Take a list of words from wikipedia that are most common in English, or ur language. or the language you want to get the utmost proficiency in.

put them car return separated in Just Learn Morse Code and play the file random. In that case every word only one time, or no stop when you are sure you detected right.

My opinion is that it is not good to exercise on the band, because then you don't want to miss a single character and hence are jotting it down. Furthermore decoding by head is much more then the standard QSO text of a rubber stamp QSO.
Also when you will be learning with machine code, your sending increases in quality, because you know exactly how Morse has to sound in order to copy the easiest way.


gd luck and congrats with your progress so far


« Last Edit: January 09, 2013, 09:57:59 AM by PA0BLAH » Logged
KK4MRN
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Posts: 97




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« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2013, 11:46:17 AM »

I have that program too - Just Learn Morse Code.  It is good, but it can get boring just listening.

I also listen to live CW on 40 m.   Some are slow.  Some are fast.  Some you can tell use straight key. I do this also to hear how contacts happen.  I recognize the musical sound of a CQ call.

I have a few programs on my cell phone.  I have an iphone.  I'm sure Android and other makers have apps too for learning CW.  This way, you can learn it wherever you are.  However, you might need a pair of headphones so as to not annoy people around you. 

Most morse code software tends to focus on listening.  There is the Tap tab in the iphone software called Morse It which allows you to enter morse code.  If you enter the dits and dahs correctly with the correct spacing in between, the character will display.    I try tapping each letter of the alphabet, then the digits, then some punctuation like question mark, period, comma, then some pro-signs.  I then type my name, my call sign, think of sentences to type out.  This helps me learn too and keep me interested.  CWSpeed is another good app, but it is only for listening.
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AG6WT
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Posts: 477




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« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2013, 12:26:55 PM »

Take this with a grain of salt as I too am just learning but hear is some off-the-air advice I've gotten from my club elmers...

Try copying behind. That is instead of writing the characters as you hear them, try listening, storing the characters in your head, and transcribe them a few characters back. For example, if you are doing 5 character code groups like ABCUW, don't write the "A" as you hear it but let a few characters come first so that maybe you are hearing the "U" when you start writing "AB..". What you are doing is training your brain to not just translate but to actually store characters as a word is being formed.

See if your software has a word or qso mode. The software I use has a library of CW abbreviations, q-codes, and common English words. If your software has it, try transcribing words after you hear them. Many will recommend not writing anything down but if you do that you don't have anyway of checking your progress and seeing where you need work. As you progress, try to listen for more than one word before you type anything.
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K8AXW
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Posts: 4002




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« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2013, 08:53:28 PM »

Some people have the ability to copy in their head right off or shortly after learning the code.  However, most of us mortals learn head copy after many years of listening to the code.

As one pointed out the best way to do this is by making contacts.  Most contacts consists of similar components..... name, QTH, signal report...etc.  These will be the first things that most people learn to head copy first.  When the OP switches to personal items or asks questions, then it's a different game.

It should be understood that head copy is an advanced art.  If  I was just learning the code I wouldn't complicate it by learning head copy at the same time.  Just learn the code and the rest will be forthcoming.

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AC4RD
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Posts: 1235




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« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2013, 04:12:08 AM »

...the way to learn how to copy without writing or typing anything (just listening) is by actually using the code to make contacts.

I agree 100%!   If you sit down with some training device, you're working.  If you make contacts on the air, you're having FUN, and you'll improve faster than you would with some trainer. 

Except for learning it for the 5wpm test, I never studied code at all.  But as a new Tech+, I spent a lot of time on 15 and 40, having fun working some DX and having some chats.  A year later, I took the 20wpm test as a warmup for 13wpm, and passed it without expecting to. :-)  And I had a WORLD of fun getting my speed up that way!   73 GL!
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PA0BLAH
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Posts: 0




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« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2013, 04:47:53 AM »

Right,

So AD0AE, you asked a question and you got a lot of nearly orthogonal answers. So just pick the one that suits you  best.
Afterall asking has hardly or no sense.

The worst advice I noticed was to exercise copying behind.

Make fun that is the easiest way to get results, I read.

Nature knows that, otherwise we shouldn't be here because making careless sex is extreme fun.

May be people are able to perform a task that they think by carefull reasoning must be the best to do, (diminishing overweight by example) but the task is not funny at all, in that case you should invent a syringe with a fluid that makes the task funny for everybody that will perform the task but missing any willpower required to accomplish it.

A lot of guys don't succeed in academic education, not due to lack of brains, but because every task you determine that it will be your goal is not funny in the long term.

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AA4PB
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Posts: 13032




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« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2013, 05:17:53 AM »

Copying behind was something we were taught in the military. That's because we were using a typewriter (mill). Different Morse characters take different amounts of time to send but a typewriter takes the same amount of time to type each character. At higher speeds you need the "brain buffer" so that the varying Morse times can be translated to a constant typing rhythm. For example, if someone sent "EE0", the two Es would appear faster than you could type them but the zero would give you time to catch up.

In my case, copying behind didn't appear to do anything to help copying in my head. I could type what was sent but I didn't comprehend any of it until I read it later. The best thing I found for head copy of normal QSOs was to learn to recognize the short, common words like "and or the" as complete sounds rather than individual letters.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2013, 05:23:06 AM by AA4PB » Logged
N2EY
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Posts: 3926




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« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2013, 05:57:10 AM »

Here's how I learned "head copy":

First I learned to "write it down". I found a pencil and paper, plus block printing, worked best for me. Got well past 5 wpm and the Novice license that way. Kept at it and got well past 30 wpm, with the limiting factor being writing speed.

But once I had the basics, I also spent time "just listening". Had the receiver on and receiving code whenever possible, even when doing other things. Over time it became second nature.

Contesting helped too because you hear a lot of the same thing over and over but only have to write down some of it.

73 de jim, N2EY
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AB7KT
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Posts: 155




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« Reply #10 on: January 10, 2013, 07:03:50 PM »

I can tell you the way I learned to copy in my head. It worked for me, that is all I can tell you.
For copying in your head, I listened to CNN Headline News in CW (there is a website and I listened to it on my iPhone while I was driving).
I often have read that people felt you should practice copying random letters or random code groups so you can't anticipate what is coming or so you can't guess what is coming etc.
I disagree with this, especially when it comes to learning to copy in your head. If you are copying text that is in complete sentences, yes you do anticipate what is coming and you also guess: but this is a good thing. You guess because you know what they are talking about and are following a along with the conversation: so when you get lost or you miss a few characters in a row, you mentally fill it in. If you are rea ing this sent  ce and you miss a few charact  s. You still know and understand what is being said: and that is the point.
It would be no different if you were having a verbal conversation or watching TV and you get distracted: you missed a little bit, but you still know basically what is being said.

So in my case I used CNN Headline News, but you could use any text: magazine articles, books, whatever.

Back when we had to take an FCC code test and they required you to have perfect copy and/or answer questions about what was sent, it made sense to learn to copy on paper or typewriter. But if you are learning CW to communicate on the air, this is an unnessary step that makes things harder and more complicated. It adds another dimension that only complicates things: you can't write fast enough to keep up or you make a mistake writing, or your pencil breaks, or ............................. Learning to copy in your head is the only way to go. I wish I would have learned to copy in my head from the beginning. I feel that I learned to copy code the wrong way.

I may be wrong about this but it seems to me that if you can copy in your head, you could transition to writing it down pretty easily if nessessary. However the opposite is not true as you are figuring out: learning to copy by writing everything down does not easily translate to copying in your head.
Logged

I thought you said this was a weak signal mode ? I HAVE a weak signal and he still didn't hear me.

FWIW: My callsign is AB8KT
ZENKI
Member

Posts: 997




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« Reply #11 on: January 10, 2013, 11:04:33 PM »

Throw the pencil away and just listen. Dont think or say I am going to copy 100%  When you work on the computer or you doing some soldering just listen.

In no time you will be copying in your head. When you try too hard to be MR CW superman you  will then fail at it. Chill, take it easy and  your act just comes together.

Its a language, and thats how I learned many languages. I speak 8 different languages fluently and I did this by listening to shortwave broadcasts without trying too hard or studying. CW is no different.

Irregular CW is the best way to learn copying in your head. There is still a Korean and Chinese coastal radio stations on the air trying copying that in your head you will see how quickly
your head copying gets better. Ham QSO's these days are too canned to be of value. Whats being sent can be almost predicted so you not sweating on copying because you know what is coming.
Its even worst now with QRZ.com because the turkeys are looking up your name. Thats why I blanked out my name on QRZ. Its all the PC CW operators who cant receive CW  who are using this canned CW.

I can easily fix the PC CW receivers up, I just switch on the bug and they go QRT!

Hi All-

I recently read WB2WIK's article about CW and really enjoyed it.  Thank you WB2WIK!  I want to take his advice a step further and get some recommendations. 

My story real quick, I am currently in the process of learning morse code at 12 wpm using the Koch Method (JustLearnMorse code freeware).  I am about 2 letters shy of having the whole alphabet done and then it is onto numbers and a few prosigns (SK..etc).  I try to do a 100% copy using the keyboard ( and I am good at typing, so that isn't an issue).  Unfortunately, I probably only practice 5-10 mins a day.  So it is a bit low, but I have been at learning it for over a year now, so I am committed.

After reading the article, it sounds like a better way to copy (perhaps after learning the code?) is to listen and just absorb what is being said.  My question: how can you practice this skill?  I would imagine listening to actual conversations is great, but I still sense I will be trying to copy.  Maybe using programs or other website that send words to copy? 

In this context does slowing down to maybe 5-8 wpm make sense to get the hang of listening and then building up speed?

I am also wondering if people who just listen will occasionally jot things down or "spell out" harder/longer words during real QSOs?  I suppose some of this is just "what works," but you all are the experts, not me!

As a final note, one of the key reasons I want to learn CW is that it is one of the few modes that comes in clear in my apartment which has a ton of noise.  That is reason enough right there! 

Thanks all!


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AB7KT
Member

Posts: 155




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« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2013, 06:45:17 AM »

"Ham QSO's these days are too canned to be of value. Whats being sent can be almost predicted so you not sweating on copying because you know what is coming."

However, if you are doing this (learning CW) in order to use it in ham radio QSOs then learning, by copying ham radio QSOs is a good thing to do.
You know what's coming ?
Good.
You know what's coming because you succesfully copied what came before. Otherwise you wouldn't know what was coming. And you are practicing what you are going to use on the air.

Think about the freedom: instead of sitting there hunched over the table, pencil in hand, carefully writing UR RST 599 599 BT NAME KEN KEN..........................
You instead can copy in your head, you are sitting back relaxed. Because ham radio QSOs are canned (at least the first go round or two) you know the only thing you really have to concentrate on is getting the report, name, and location. You might want to make note of his name and location on paper. Or while he is sending has canned response, you might want to be updating your logbook or filling out his QSL card instead of bending over the desk copying down letters and words that you know are coming. You are free to do this because you can copy in your head and you know what's coming. 

Landline telegraphy is long gone. Martitime CW is long gone. The US Military doesn't use CW anymore. Morse code exams are a thing of the past.  So I have to assume you are studying CW for use on ham radio ? A lot of stuff that has been accepted as gospel for decades is no longer valid. Learning CW using the methods of 50 years ago is not the BEST way to go today. Yes, it will work, but there are better/faster/more efficeient ways to learn CW today IF you are learning it just to converse on the ham radio bands. And the most important of these is to forget about trying to achieve 100% copy on paper.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2013, 06:58:14 AM by AB7KT » Logged

I thought you said this was a weak signal mode ? I HAVE a weak signal and he still didn't hear me.

FWIW: My callsign is AB8KT
K8AXW
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Posts: 4002




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« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2013, 05:52:24 PM »

7KT:  Yup!  Yur right!  For the typical "canned" QSO this will work fine.  But, the first time someone sends something out of the ordinary you're screwed!  Like there is more than one way to say "The name here is..."  Or, "The QTH here is....?  Then what?

I've seen a natural tendency to constantly eliminate writing portions of a QSO on paper by being able to hear the letters and putting them together in the head to form words.  Without conscious thought. 

I feel learning head copy is to keep writing it down and with time the need to write it down becomes less and less.  In the meantime, successful QSOs take place without constant repeating because you wasn't able to follow it in the head.

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AB9NZ
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Posts: 177




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« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2013, 07:27:58 PM »

k8axw, Al you're absolutely right. New operators are encouraged to put down their pencils and look like idiots to somehow force head copy. Having a pencil in your hand won't keep you from learning head copy. Head copy will come exactly when you are ready.
          73 de Tom, ab9nz
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