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Author Topic: Novice question about Paddles vs Straight Keys for learning  (Read 16404 times)
K2CMH
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« on: March 31, 2011, 05:58:52 AM »

I am a newly licensed General and would very much like to learn CW.  It seems from what I have read that the usual progression is to start learning with a straight key and then as your speed increases move up to a paddle/keyer.  My question is, would it make sense to start learning from the outset with a paddle/keyer as opposed to a straight key?  Would skipping the straight key and starting with a paddle make it more difficult to learn?  My reasoning is that if I learn on a straight key and then want to move to a paddle, I will probably have 'rewire' my brain to use that paddle, so why not just start out on the paddle?  So I am looking for opinions/thoughts on whether I will be shooting myself in the foot by trying to start with paddles or if it makes a difference. 
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AE4RV
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« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2011, 06:58:45 AM »

Most people recommend that you start with a straight key and the vast majority of people throughout history probably did so. I usually recommend that, too. I recently (almost two years ago) finally made the switch to paddles and bugs. Well, I haven't looked back. But I'm glad I learned to send well "manually" with a straight key.

Starting with paddles on one hand will be a little harder as the "interface" is a little more complicated. But, paddles are like training wheels for your timing, so, overall, especially if your goal is to send well (and fast), paddles would be easier to learn with, I think.

You probably can't go very wrong either way. If your goal ultimately is to get fast, chase DX, contest, have faster-than-average rag chews, then maybe get with the paddles as soon as you can. If you just want to try and experience Morse Code by all means the straight key is a classic and classy way to do it. Many people NEVER leave the straight key behind.

Good luck, and 73,

Geoff


« Last Edit: March 31, 2011, 07:37:11 AM by AE4RV » Logged
K2CMH
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« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2011, 08:19:53 AM »

Thanks for the quick reply. 

>If your goal ultimately is to get fast, chase DX, contest, have faster-than-average rag chews,

I can't say at the moment I intend on contesting or DX chasing.  At this point my intention is to learn to send/copy at more of a casual/average speed (15-20 wpm?).  I just want to be able to copy and be copied by the majority of the casual ops and have fun doing it.

>Many people NEVER leave the straight key behind.

Interesting, I did not imagine that would have been the case.
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WB2WIK
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« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2011, 08:41:38 AM »

I learned with a straight key, as did almost everybody back in the 60s when I started.

However, paddles are so much easier to use!  The learning curve to use them might be somewhat longer, since it takes a bit more technique, but once you get it, sending is really easy at any speed until the speed gets so high your coordination and dexterity is the limiting factor (kind of like typing very fast).  But 20-30 wpm is "nothing" with paddles, and requires no more effort, and just a bit more practice, than 10 wpm.

If I had it to do over again, I'd probably just start right out with paddles and a keyer.  As a kid I didn't have that option, as a straight key was $1 vs. paddles and a keyer which were way over $100 (even then) and I was 13 years old with almost no income.  Plus, electronic keyers were a "new invention" at that time, and even a lot of old-time hams with money didn't use them -- they used Vibroplex "bugs," which had been around for decades and what they got used to.

Keyers are better.
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DJ1YFK
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« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2011, 09:24:24 AM »

One more vote for skipping the straight key and going with a paddle right from the beginning.
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AE5QB
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« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2011, 09:50:49 AM »

What's the hurry?  Some of the most popular organizations today are straight key clubs. The straight key has a romantic nostalgia to it.  Just imagine the operators of decades ago pounding away at the brass.  Or imagine an operator in a WWII submarine or on the Titanic sending an emergency message for help. 

I am using both and truly believe that learning on a straight key will make you a better CW operator.  Yes a keyer is faster and kind of cool but I like straight keys best.  I am not even a descent CW operator yet so my opinion is from a newbie point of view.  I think we move to quickly in all aspects of life.  What's the hurry?  Slow down and enjoy the trip.  Good luck to you!

73

Tom
AE5QB
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W5ESE
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« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2011, 10:07:46 AM »

My experience, as someone who makes quite a few contacts with new CW operators, is that the fellows who start right out with paddles make a lot more sending mistakes. In particular, it's easy to let extra dits slip out when you are first getting started. Folks who start out with straight keys don't do this, since each dit is manually formed. The advice given in my copy of 'The Radio Amateur's Operating Manual' (3d edition; 1972), suggests beginning with a straight key and using it until you can consistently copy about 16 wpm. At that point, it's time to start shopping for paddles. In my opinion, that's still good advice. And if you do begin with a straight key, check out the 'Straight Key Century Club' at http://www.skccgroup.com for on-the-air operating events that are quite popular with morse newcomers.
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K2CMH
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« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2011, 10:58:33 AM »

>>AE5QB

>What's the hurry? 

There really isn't any.  My main concerns are learning it correctly and not going down one path and wishing I had gone down the other
and having ended up duplicating effort/time switching from one type to the other.

>The straight key has a romantic nostalgia to it.  Just imagine the operators of decades ago pounding away at the brass.  Or imagine an operator in a WWII submarine or on the Titanic sending an emergency message for help.

Yes, I agree 100%.  The nostalgic factor is one of the reasons I am attracted to CW.  The other reason I am wanting to learn CW is because I am
interested in qrp/portable operation and from what I have learned, CW on 5 watts gets you a whole lot further than SSB on 5 watts.

>I am using both and truly believe that learning on a straight key will make you a better CW operator. 

What factor about learning on a straight key is it that you believe will make me a better CW operator.  I'm not questioning
your opinion/information but rather just want to get some additional insight from someone that has been down the road before.

>Yes a keyer is faster and kind of cool but I like straight keys best. 

What is it about straight keyers that you like best over paddles/keyers?

>Slow down and enjoy the trip.  Good luck to you!

Thanks, I have no doubt I will be taking it slow...lol

>>W5ESE

>My experience, as someone who makes quite a few contacts with new CW operators, is that the fellows who start right out with paddles make a lot more sending mistakes. In particular, it's easy to let extra dits slip out when you are first getting started.

Very good point, I had considered that may be an issue.

>suggests beginning with a straight key and using it until you can consistently copy about 16 wpm.

That raises another question I meant to include in the original posting....do most people learn to copy first then learn to
send or do they do it together...ie, after you learn how to copy a few letters, learn how to send them, then progress to the
next set of letters?

>check out the 'Straight Key Century Club' at http://www.skccgroup.com for on-the-air operating events that are quite popular with morse newcomers.

Thanks for the info, I will definitely check them out.
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AE4RV
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« Reply #8 on: March 31, 2011, 11:44:23 AM »

">I am using both and truly believe that learning on a straight key will make you a better CW operator.

What factor about learning on a straight key is it that you believe will make me a better CW operator.  I'm not questioning
your opinion/information but rather just want to get some additional insight from someone that has been down the road before."

Because paddles are like training wheels for timing. A really good op shouldn't NEED them at modest speeds.

"That raises another question I meant to include in the original posting....do most people learn to copy first then learn to
send or do they do it together...ie, after you learn how to copy a few letters, learn how to send them, then progress to the
next set of letters?"

Sending is relatively easy compared to receiving. Concentrate on receiving first. You'll eventually find that you can send faster than you can receive.

Sending very well takes some practice, however...

Ultimately I have to agree with W5ESE. It took me 13 years to adopt paddles (and bugs) and I love them now. (I was mostly inactive though). I haven't picked up a straight key since but I'm really glad I learned that way.

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KE6EE
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« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2011, 12:46:25 PM »

An important goal (not immediate but within a couple of months) is to actually be able to hear the difference on the air between well-sent code and code that is sloppy and incomprehensible or nearly so. If you don't get to this stage, you haven't learned the basics well-enough and are unlikely to enjoy the process of communicating with cw.

Your early listening and sending experiences will be critical. You will need to listen to well-sent code which comes from any of the available practice sources.

You should learn to send at low speed with a straight key. The rule for learning complex manual tasks (like playing the piano or sending code) is that in order to go fast you need first to go slow. Using a straight key to train yourself to produce well-spaced, perfectly clear code at a low speed (5 wpm) will pay off in the long run in your incorporating well all the complex learning tasks that you need to master.

Once you are able to send and receive clearly at 10 to 15 wpm, then you might consider getting a paddle. Paddles are easy to use; much easier than using a bug. Using a paddle in bug mode is also easy and it lets you combine some automation of sending with real "handcrafted" sending.
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KE3WD
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« Reply #10 on: March 31, 2011, 05:00:29 PM »

Concentrate on COPYING. 

Sending is realatively easy for the person who can copy. 

As for which type of key to use, why limit yourself?  A relatively inexpensive Straight Key alongside of a set of paddles is not a bad thing.  For one thing, I use my Straight Key when responding to slower senders, novices (okay, nowadays we call 'em noobies) and such.  That way I don't have to readjust the keyer on my paddles, but also helps remind me to stay at the slower speed rate for the other ham in the QSO. 

I'm old school about learning the proper timing and spacing with a Straight Key.  You never know when there may be a day where you have to communicate without a key handy.  At that point, being able to touch a couple bare wires together yet maintain some manner of proper timing and spacing, where dashes are as long as three dits at the speed you are operating, should be a natural thing because you've learned CW inside and out. 

Don't limit your fun, work it ALL. 

Besides, you wanna be ready on Straight Key Night, right? 


73
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VA7CPC
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« Reply #11 on: March 31, 2011, 06:12:12 PM »

. . .  [1] My question is, would it make sense to start learning from the outset with a paddle/keyer as opposed to a straight key? 

[2] Would skipping the straight key and starting with a paddle make it more difficult to learn? 

[3] My reasoning is that if I learn on a straight key and then want to move to a paddle, I will probably have 'rewire' my brain to use that paddle, so why not just start out on the paddle? 

This is a "religious argument".   If you check the archives for this Forum, you'll get all the previous discussions.  Here's my opinion:

1.  Yes, start with a paddle.

2.  No, starting with a paddle will make it _easier_ to learn (but see below).

3.  You have good logic.

There are two parts to "learning CW":

(a) learning to _read_ CW -- that is, listen to the signal and translate it into English.  That's the hard part for most people; it's easy to learn to send.

(b) sending with _correct rhythm_ -- proper inter-dit, inter-character, inter-word spacing.

For (b), paddles are clearly superior.  They _will not let you_ make certain kinds of errors.  Your "dits" will be evenly spaced, and the dit-to-dah transitions will be the same as the inter-dit time (or longer, if you're sloppy).  Some keyers, in some modes, will even enforce correct inter-character spacing, as well.

So paddles free you from worrying about a lot of stuff.  Not to mention which, once you get over 15 wpm, you'll probably give up the straight key because it's too clumsy.

I'm sure somebody will bring up the "straight key forces you to learn the rhythm" argument.  To me, that's like saying you should learn violin _before_ you pick up a guitar, because the violin (no frets) forces you to become sensitive to small variations in pitch.   Whereas with a guitar (frets), the pitches are "quantized".  It's poor pedagogy, IMHO.

                        Charles

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K8AXW
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« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2011, 09:09:13 PM »

.

You should learn to send at low speed with a straight key. The rule for learning complex manual tasks (like playing the piano or sending code) is that in order to go fast you need first to go slow. Using a straight key to train yourself to produce well spaced, perfectly clear code at a low speed (5 wpm) will pay off in the long run in your incorporating well all the complex learning tasks that you need to master.


N6GND has hit the proverbial nail on the head!  The above quote says it all!
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KE4ILG
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« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2011, 09:41:42 AM »

Each has his own opinion but none can go back and try the other route.  I started with a straight key and got onto the paddle soon after I passed the 5 wpm exam. Perhaps 3-4 months on the air 1-3 short qso's per day.   This was well before I was good at sending with a straight key. I am conviced I am a far better operator with a paddle than a straigt key.  I also have many years using the paddle so this is not surprising.  My belief is I would have been better off using a paddle from the beginning. But I can not go back and confirm this.

The dits and dahs are consistant making an easier copy for the other station, generally.  Many straight key and bug operators are great to listen to.   I have always attempted to send the very best code I can.  I have failed many times but I continue to try to improve.

No matter what speed you operate at if you send well others will want to talk to you.  Learning to copy is very important but well sent code is a joy hear. 

You will never regret learning code.  73 Mike.
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K2CMH
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« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2011, 04:26:03 PM »

I would like to thank everyone for offering the experiences and opinions, they have been very helpful.  It seems there are definitely pros and cons to starting out with either one.  Perhaps I will try both and see which one seems to feel more natural.
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