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Author Topic: The single most vital piece of advice I can give to those wanting to learn CW  (Read 24669 times)
NA7U
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« on: May 16, 2012, 10:05:17 AM »

Shocked Put down the microphone!  Roll Eyes

Give your mic and/or HT to the XYL or better yet some stranger and tell them to hide it and not give it back to you until you can copy at least 15 WPM.

I have seen so many ops who want to learn CW, but they keep spending their time on voice, meaning to get back to CW soon, ... real soon. There is just no excuse for this. CW for most folks takes a lot of work, frustration, and more work, but most of all persistence. The learning curve is like a roller coaster, up, down, flat, etc.; certainly not a linear gradient at all. But, if one simply applies themselves, say, 20 minutes a day, minimum, little by little progress will be made.

And while you're at it, keep the RX tuned away from voice transmissions. Instead, put it on CW transmissions and let it play in the background. A lot of it will filter into your brain by osmosis. Probably the easiest way to do that is to use a digi-mode program or one of the many WebSDR sites so you can find the CW traces very quickly.

Get the job done! dit-dit  Grin
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PA0BLAH
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« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2012, 10:35:53 AM »

When that osmose idea is really true, It is very dangerous to turn on the radio or televisoin with talking heads on them, when you are unconscious listening to them.
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W3JAR
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« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2012, 10:57:44 AM »

Hi,
John here. Trying to learn CW as we speak. Had my wife hide my mic and have not turned on the radio since my CW quest began (which is just learning the letters) almost 19 days ago. I started a twitter "diary" that outlined my trials and tribulations of learning it. Here is the website: https://twitter.com/#!/JohnRogener

I think persistence is key and so is patience. There were days where the last thing I wanted to do was listen to code. I did, it was a mess and I accepted it. What would happen is that the following day's session would be fantastic. Knowing that learning code is hard and accepting it is the first step to learning it.

Also, don't read the boards on how quick people can learn code. Everyone has different speeds. Just because Joe Smith learned it in 10 days does not help your confidence.

In two weeks I plan to christen my J-38 ebay key If you hear me spitting out terrible code, my sincerest apologies.

John
« Last Edit: May 16, 2012, 11:02:34 AM by W3JAR » Logged
N2EY
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« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2012, 03:06:38 PM »

The following is a couple of years old, but I guess it bears repeating. See Step 10.

12 steps to learning Morse Code:

1) Realize that Morse Code is a set of skills, not just one or two, and they take a while to learn. They cannot be learned by reading a book, watching a video, or posting to a forum; they can only be learned by doing. There is no "best way" nor "magic method" that is universal; there is only what works for you, and it can ONLY be found by doing.

2) Set up a place to study code. A good solid desk or table with no distractions, lots of room to write, good lighting, good chair. Source(s) of code (computer, HF receiver, tapes, etc.), key and oscillator. Headphones are a good idea. I recommend starting out with a straight key. It needs a good solid base and needs to be adjusted properly.

3) Stay away from gimmicks and printed charts with dots and dashes on them. Morse Code is sounds, not printing on a chart or little phrases. Learning to receive consists of nothing more than learning to associate a certain sound pattern with a certain letter or number. There are only about 41 of them to learn. Do you think you could learn 41 words in a foreign language? Learning Morse is easier than that because the sounds are simpler.

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 practice on one day does not give you an excuse for the next day.

5) Visualize success, not failure, not mediocrity. Nobody is born with the skills, all those hotshot ops you hear or see started out as clueless newbies. Do not accept excuses about "talent" or "musical skill" or such; there are plenty of tone-deaf CW ops who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. "If you believe, you can achieve".

6) Download and read "The Art And Skill of Radiotelegraphy". It's free and available from several websites. Search out other code-oriented websites and read what they have to say. But do not let time reading or on the computer get in the way of practice.

7) Practice both sending and receiving each and every day. A few minutes sending is plenty, most of the time should be spent receiving, but the two help each other.

Cool Practice receiving by writing it down. Copying "in your head" comes later. I find a pencil and block printing works best for me, but what matters is what works best for you.

9) Discontinue ANYTHING that impairs your ability to concentrate, focus, and learn new stuff. Only doctor-prescribed medications are exempt from this rule. Beer and other learning-affecting substances are not exempt. Get enough sleep and enough physical exercise. Eat right.

10) Put away your microphones and stay off the voice radios - all of them. Listen to hams actually using code on the air, copy down what they send. Learn how hams actually use code. Translate street signs, house numbers, etc. into code (in your head). Have code playing in the background whenever you can.

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. 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.   

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.

---

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

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

73 es GL de Jim, N2EY
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NA7U
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« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2012, 05:42:21 PM »

The following is a couple of years old, but I guess it bears repeating. See Step 10.

12 steps to learning Morse Code:

<snip>

7) Practice both sending and receiving each and every day. A few minutes sending is plenty, most of the time should be spent receiving, but the two help each other.

Practice receiving by writing it down. Copying "in your head" comes later. I find a pencil and block printing works best for me, but what matters is what works best for you.

<snip>

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

73 es GL de Jim, N2EY


Excellent list Jim!

I think a pen works better than a pencil, less friction. Smiley I'm of two minds about writing first and head copy later. I understand it's a logical progression, but that giant leap from writing to head copy seems like an enormous chasm the first time and I wonder if there aren't methods for learning it in your head first.  Also, once you get to head copy you should be starting to copy words instead of letters.

And then, of course, there are the QRQ guys!! ( http://cloud-warmer.blogspot.com/2011/09/qrq.html ) Cheesy
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N2EY
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« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2012, 06:09:08 AM »


Excellent list Jim!

Thank you.

I think a pen works better than a pencil, less friction. Smiley

See the first step:

There is no "best way" nor "magic method" that is universal; there is only what works for you, and it can ONLY be found by doing.

For some folks a pen may indeed be better. The thing is to try various writing implements and see what works best for you.

In fact, some folks who type really well may be better off using a keyboard.

I'm of two minds about writing first and head copy later. I understand it's a logical progression, but that giant leap from writing to head copy seems like an enormous chasm the first time and I wonder if there aren't methods for learning it in your head first.  Also, once you get to head copy you should be starting to copy words instead of letters.

The trick to learning any complex skill is to break it down into small pieces and learn them individually until they are practically automatic, then put them all together.

With writing-it-down, the basic skill is to hear the character, decode it, and write it/press the key - to the point that you're not really thinking about it. Head copy involves keeping the previously-sent letters in your mind to form words and sentences, which is a different skill.

The biggest problem folks have with learning Morse is that they're not used to learning skills. They're used to learning facts and concepts, which are usually learned in very different ways from skills.

For example, I watched a video about the P-39 on youtube, and learned a lot of facts about that airplane. If I watched it a couple of times, I could probably recite the entire startup/taxi/takeoff sequence for you. (There are quite a few steps!)

But actually fly one? That's a completely different thing, and no amount of video watching would teach me that. I might know the concepts and facts, but being able to use them requires a different learning technique entirely.

I doubt anyone would learn to fly in a high-performance (for its time) plane like a P-39 - even if it had a second seat and dual controls. They'd start with something much slower, much simpler and much more tolerant of pilot mistakes, and only when they had the basic flying skills down cold would they be allowed anywhere near a plane like the '39.


And then, of course, there are the QRQ guys!! ( http://cloud-warmer.blogspot.com/2011/09/qrq.html ) Cheesy


Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

73 de Jim, N2EY
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KB3SYZ
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« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2012, 08:18:27 AM »

I too am in the process of learning Morse. I have a Blog where I am documenting my adventure here: http://kb3syz.blogspot.com/.

I am currently have my General ticket but plan on upgrading after I learn Morse. Only want to concentrate on one thing at a time.

I do not own any HF or CW gear yet. Will buy a key and practice oscillator soon though. When I do get on the air due to my current employment situation I will not be able to afford the an HF rig that has phone capability. So it will be a QRP kit as they are cheaper. So wont have to worry at first about that as I will only be able to transmit and receive in CW.

Thanks for all the hints and advise. I do look over all the HAM related forums that I can find and read as much as I can about the subject.

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K8AXW
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« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2012, 09:26:19 AM »

As one who has been using Morse for 55 years....starting with suffering through 6 months of forced fed code tapes, many tests with pressure to pass within in specific time frame and who used the skill for almost 3 years in the service in the most stressful manner you can imagine; as one who still prefers CW over any other mode even though I use voice and digital,  I feel that I am qualified to make this statement:

Make a hard copy of N2EY's "12 Steps to Learning Morse Code" and nail it to your wall.  Every day, before you set down for your daily practice, read it.  Believe what he wrote.  It covers it all and is the best advice I have ever seen.

A - K8AXW
 
« Last Edit: May 17, 2012, 09:30:09 AM by K8AXW » Logged
K7KBN
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« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2012, 12:00:26 PM »

Ask members of a local amateur radio club for help.  Somebody who's had several years - or decades - of experience can be a valuable asset, and this is especially true for your sending.  I've heard so many lousy fists over the past five years or so.  I'd like to help each one, but there are just too many.  And there are others who get offended by the suggestion that their code is less than copyable.

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73
Pat K7KBN
CWO4 USNR Ret.
N0BLT
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« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2012, 04:21:12 PM »

The single most vital piece of info for me, is to "HEAD COPY" only, using COMPLETE WORDS.  
     I spent months using the "Just Learn Morse Code" program, scribbling random characters on paper, using 20wpm as a target before I'd add another character (I'm up to 11 characters now) . I made a few audio files of words only, instead of random characters. When listening, I was horrified.  Although I could copy on paper successfully, I was unable to comprehend what I was writing in real time.  Having read numerous threads about the value of "head copying", I decided to try and skip the writing and go for stretching my brains buffer.
     To create my custom, "words only" files, I take the letters that I currently know and feed them into http://www.scrabbleaword.com/  then take the words that pop out, edit them, and create audio files using, the "Just Learn Morse Code" program.  I then put them on my mp3 player.
     In many ways it is easier, I'm no longer confined to desk, which can drive me CRAZY.  I listen to code mostly on my bicycle.  I REALLY get into the "code groove" for some reason on my bike--much more than at home chained to a desk.  Lots of exercise that way too, and I don't find it unsafe, cuz my brain is always looking for some silly reason to quit comprehending what is coming in my ears anyway!  
     I was also scared that after learning 20wpm paper copying, I'd have to start all over again just to learn head copying.  I have sort of started over again, speedwise, because my mental buffer is resisting massively!  I don't really care though, cuz I want to do this RIGHT, and not have to look back, only knowing slow motion code, and be paper/pencil dependant.
     It's definitely slower learning. But I think I'll be happier later.  Too many horror stories of those that copy 10wpm, but cannot speed up later because they never stopped mentally translating the dit's and dah's all the months they were writing on paper.  
     So for now my code practice is almost exclusive listening to WORDS (not random characters) via  mp3 player on bicycle.  As I said I'm only using the first 11 characters prev learned from the "Just Learn Morse Code" program.  I may sometime go back and supplement or test myself with paper/pencil copy method.
     If you are going to be stuck hand writing copy, I'd recommend  getting a uni-ballĀ® Kuru Toga mechanical pencil.  It's a mighty fine instrument!  The lead rotates while you write, always keeping a sharp point.  Pens are fine for some, but for me, ink-pens and I DO NOT GET ALONG.  If I can find one that works, it will inevitably quit, dry out, skip, or have blobs and smudge.  

Brian
« Last Edit: May 17, 2012, 07:41:41 PM by N0BLT » Logged
STAYVERTICAL
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« Reply #10 on: May 17, 2012, 06:51:36 PM »

All of the advice posted above is excellent and worthy of being put into a tome for aspiring CW enthusiasts.
But much of it is addressed to what to do after you have learned some code, or reached a plateau in speed.

To address the original question: "The single most vital piece of advice I can give to those wanting to learn CW",
the thread originator already had the answer in his question.

In every endeavour we try, and tasks we attempt, their are elements of skill, teamwork and plain luck always present.
But, as has been shown repeatedly in history, and science, the one element which kindles the fires of success is persistence.
If we look at many inventions we use today, they were originally wrestled into existence by the stubborn refusal of a particular
mind to accept defeat.
Edison is one example with his famous 99 percent perspiration, 1 percent inspiration quote.
Einstein spent years working on the problems of relativity before receiving the eureka moment.
Even the eureka quote came from archimedes revelation about a problem he was working on relating to measuring gold content
in a crown.

Our ancestors knew the power of persistence, and positive thinking - you only have to see the number of books published in the
1920's onwards to see how early this power was recognised.
The subconscious mind is the hidden source of power which you need to condition to learn CW.
It is not easy to convince the subconscious that you are serious about it, and only persistent application will win it over.
Once that is done, your path is clear, and like an experienced driver, musician or CW afficianado, you will do it instinctively.

As the philosopher Wolfgang Von Goethe said two hundred years ago:

Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do.

73 - Rob
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NA7U
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« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2012, 07:26:33 PM »

Quote
N2EY said: The trick to learning any complex skill is to break it down into small pieces and learn them individually until they are practically automatic, then put them all together. With writing-it-down, the basic skill is to hear the character, decode it, and write it/press the key - to the point that you're not really thinking about it. Head copy involves keeping the previously-sent letters in your mind to form words and sentences, which is a different skill.

Allow me to offer a couple of refinements here. As someone else in this thread noted a lot of people get stuck at a slow speed because they started learning by counting dits and dahs (they may not have even realized it), so there can be a drawback to breaking the problem into parts too small. That's why I'm a strong believer in using Koch/Farnsworth methods as part of (not solely) learning the Code. Furthermore, I don't think head copy of words, if you want to really learn it, is a matter of buffering up letters. It's actually hearing the entire word as one unit. "the" is one of the first easily recognizable words we all learn. We don't hear it as "t" "h" "e", but just as a single entity unto itself. When guys get to QRQ speeds (35+ WPM) they are even beyond hearing just words, they are starting to hear the sentences as a whole.

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KG4NEL
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« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2012, 06:37:47 AM »

Quote
Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do.

Yoda also put it succinctly Cheesy
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K1ZJH
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« Reply #13 on: May 18, 2012, 06:44:23 AM »

Download the G4FON  CW training programs to your computer. If sitting by
the rig is a problem for practice, the G4FON program is next best thing.
It did a lot for my code speed. Next best thing is the CW contests--work
at copying the calls. They are almost as good as copying random code
groups!

Don't EVER get into the habit of counting dits or dahs in numbers. That
works good until about 25 WPM, and after that it becomes an almost
impossible habit to break. Learn the sound of the full character.

I'm getting to the point where I can copy longhand--faster than writing
each letter individually.

Keep at it. Listen the W1AW bulletins and prop forecasts.  The prop forecasts
are great to learn numbers.

Peter
« Last Edit: May 18, 2012, 06:51:00 AM by K1ZJH » Logged
NA7U
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« Reply #14 on: May 18, 2012, 08:50:32 AM »

Download the G4FON  CW training programs to your computer. If sitting by
the rig is a problem for practice, the G4FON program is next best thing.
It did a lot for my code speed. Next best thing is the CW contests--work
at copying the calls. They are almost as good as copying random code
groups!

<snip>

Peter

For copying call signs there is no better trainer than RufzXP!
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