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   Home   Help Search  
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Author Topic: Absolute CW Beginner's Questions  (Read 6651 times)

Posts: 18

« on: September 11, 2007, 05:30:20 PM »

I was halfway through learning the alphabet when the code was dropped (already had gotten my Tech), so I went to upgrade to General instead.  Now that I got that ticket, I want to go back to learning code.  
Am I doing it right by memorizing the alphabet first (using word/sound association, like "Dog didit" for D), or is there better way?  I don't have anything like a practice oscillator, should I get one?  And what are the differences between a straight key and an Iambic paddle (or anything else)?
I really am as absolute a beginner as you can get, but I really do want to learn and use code. I don't think it was wise for the FCC to drop it for all tickets.
Thanks for any help!

Posts: 32

« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2007, 06:31:57 PM »

Many of the answers to your questions can be found in the book:

"The Art & Skill of Radio Telegraphy"
   By William G. Pierpont

See it here:

And of course many of your questions can be answered here on this forum.

Using software is a good way to learn the sounds of characters and words.  You should try listing to the sounds and visualising the letters in your head.
Set the character speed to 18wpm and above.

You could also set up your key on a sounder and set up the practice software to send characters with plenty of space in between.  Then when you hear the character, visualise it in your head, then send it back on the key. And so on with each following character.

No need to write anything down, just do it in your head.

When you get good at this, try it with words. Set up the software for normal spacing between characters and a large space between words.  Visualise the word in your head then send it back on the sounder.

Once you have learned the characters, it is time to get on air and have some QSOs!

David Mayes

Posts: 103

« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2007, 06:35:40 PM »

I highly recommend G4FON's Koch method training software (google G4FON).

I've also heard good things about "Just Learn Morse Code".  Never used it though.

Scott kc9hoz

Posts: 1524

« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2007, 07:28:08 PM »

Absolutely do NOT, NOT memorize dots and dashes or use so-called memory aids such as "dog did it".  These will raise a wall at the 10wpm level that the only way to crack is to start learning code all over again at higher speeds using the right learning techniques.

1.  Download and read "The Art & Skill of Radiotelegraphy" as previously mentioned.

2.  Download the free G4FON software and follow the directions precisely.  Set the character speed for not less than 15wpm and set the word speed for whatever is comfortable for you to write at the current time.  Practice several times per day.  Keep each session short, under 15 minutes, but try to do a total of 30 minutes per day.

Posts: 18

« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2007, 03:31:05 AM »

Thanks for these tips, that's the information that I was looking for!  I'll check out that book and website and get to work.
This is greatly appreciated.

Posts: 550


« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2007, 06:44:02 AM »

Yes, a code practice oscillator is a good idea.

There is a popular circuit at:

You will get alot of different opinions on this,
but I always recommend beginning with a straight

An inexpensive one that works well is the Ameco
AM-K4, which is available from Morsex (and most
amateur radio dealers).

When you reach a consistent level of proficiency
of about 16 wpm, it's time to consider learning
to use a keyer and paddles.

73, and have fun!


Posts: 4283


« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2007, 10:13:09 AM »

The software recommended is excellent and I don't think you really need a practice oscillator.

DO learn the sounds of the code and not dots and dashes nor any special sayings; as stated you will never get have any copying or sending speed by doing it this way.

The Gordon West Code tapes are excellent also.

Iambic paddles are easier to learn to use and to use.  A straight key is harder because you personally have to form each dot and dash and proper spacing whereas paddles with a keyer do that automatically.

Posts: 1146

« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2007, 10:41:16 AM »

I just recently (January 2007) returned to CW and it is my favorite mode by far.

Although I already had learned the code and my speed was up around 20 wpm or so that was 40 years ago with nothing in between.  But, I started listening to on-air QSOs which a little cheat sheet in front of me.  For example, I think I forgot things like Y or Z and had to double check my cheat sheet when I heard a character I did not immediately recognize.

But, I do recommend using some of the computer based systems like the Koch trainer but as soon as you can start listening to on-air QSOs even before you learn the entire alphabet.   Also, most CW rigs will allow you to operate your key locally (no transmit) so it is a good code practice oscillator.  And, don't make the mistake I made.  I just assumed that sending would come back to me easily and no practice would be necessary but my first QSO in January I had to abort because my sending fist was so bad plus I was a bit nervous.

I recommend learning on a paddle too but keep in mind that a paddle and electronic keying are not that good at slower speeds (I guess this is an opinion).  If I answer someone at anything below 13 to 15 wpm I usually switch to my straight key.  And, I don't even think my keyer will work below 10 wpm though I really haven't measured it.  I should do that someday.  So, knowing both straight key and paddle are good.  I don't think my fist could do a straight key above 15 wpm and if so I couldn't do it for long.  Back in my Novice days 40 years ago, I used a Vibroplex speed key (mechanical).

Posts: 209

« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2007, 10:48:26 AM »

Lots of great ideas here. I stress you need to know the correct letters. Lately I have worked guys who didn't know a letter, causing every word containing that letter to be spelled wrong. Good thing that letter wasn't in his callsign. One thing the 5WPM test did was, it made sure novices, then extras at least know what the letters were. Now some terrorist could make up his own code to plan another attack, then when questioned, say he never learned the code and just guessed.

Posts: 5688

« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2007, 10:53:51 AM »

Google the "A-E-R-N-T" method of learning the letters.  

AERNT, starts with the shortes and simplest characters and builds in five letter groups rather than attempting to memorize the alphabet in alphabetical order.  

That method is time proven and is the fastest.  

There is an older free piece of software called, "Morse Academy" that will use this time-honored and US military method of learning the letters, like having classroom instruction actually, using the computer as your virtual one-on-one instructior.  

Still one of the best methods I've ever found for learning the code, also teaches typing copy on the qwery keyboard at the same time, a plus if you ask me.

Note the instructions and "other" piece of software necessary for running this grand old piece of code under XP.  

Once you learn all the characters using Morse Academy, you can then let it send you random versions of the old CW "QSO" tests for practice like on-air, like playing a computer game.  You can also load any text file into MA and have it play back as CW, a great way to practice "head copy" when you get to that point, push your speed, etc.  

In all this time, I've found none better, really.  


Posts: 1

« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2007, 03:04:20 PM »

learning using things like
( dog do dit ) is called mnemonics

is a great way to memorise many things

realy worked great for ops
that just wanted to pass the 5 wpm test
NOT move on to become a real
morse code ops

when you use mnemonics to memorise morse code

you are now stuck with this
( dog do dit )
extra step
that comes and bites you
with a speed bump
that some ops never overcome

if you realy want to be a cw op

stay away from
mnemonic memory tricks


Posts: 1

« Reply #11 on: September 12, 2007, 03:39:33 PM »

the G4FON Koch program works great
play with it
you can make it send just one letter
or all the letters numbers and punctuation
or just the letters you are working on

its realy a great program
and oh boy its FREE

spend 10 min at it 3 or 4 times a day
every blinking day
within a month you will be up to
where you can start to copy slow
stations on the air

can you find a buddy to practice with
a few times a week
he send to you, you send to him

you are going to need to practice sending
before you get on the air
don't expect to just sit down
at a telegraph key
and send
it is easier to learn how to send
than receive
but just because you can receive
don't think for a min you can send
with out some real off the air practice

yes you are going to need a good telegraph key
you can see
the telegraph key reviews here on e ham
i think best bang for you buck
is from Morse Express
the Soviet Mil surplus TKF
sometimes called the Cherkassy key
for $49.95
its better than any key selling
for less than $99.99

if you realy want to buy a first class
more expensive key see the German " Junker " key
for $99.99
its as good or better than any key
costing less than 200 bucks
and better than some keys costing more than $200

please note
there are lots of telegraph keys
straight keys
low profile American style
high profile pump handle European style

paddles single lever
paddles double lever (iambic)

regular contact
optoelectric contacts
single lever
double lever

but for now i sugest stick with a straight key

i prefer pump handle straight keys
using European style sending

others prefer low profile straight keys
using American style sending

new, new old stock, used, rare
some telegraph keys are collectors
items worth huge amounts of money

telegraph key one op loves
can be the same
telegraph key another op can not stand

first class well made telegraph key
will last you a lifetime

also there are all kinds of web BB
having to do with using morse code
one is the yahoo user group.... brasspounder
there is a world of info on the... FISTS web site

at first its not easy

just remember
if its too dam easy
it not worth doing
yours truly

Posts: 14499

« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2007, 05:33:16 PM »

As some one who's been there and done that I concur with not using tricks like "dog did dit". It'll kill you when you want to get the speed up and its a very difficult habit to break.

Crank the keying speed up (15 WPM) in order to force yourself to learn the complete sound of the characters. At first lengthen the space between characters to give you more time to think. As you get better leave the keying speed the same and start decreasing the space between characters. Eventually you'll wind up with the proper spacing and you'll be copying 15 WPM. This is called the Farnsworth method.

Copy computer generated code. In addition, spend some time copying W1AW broadcasts which are also computer generated but will add noise and QRM. Also try copying QSOs on the air to get used to imperfect timing along with fading, QRM, and noise.

You'll probably make better headway if you do your practice in short consistent sessions. Three 20 minute sessions per day (morning, noon, and evening) is much better than one 60 minute session and a whole lot better than once a week.

Bob  AA4PB
Garrisonville, VA

Posts: 317

« Reply #13 on: September 12, 2007, 07:36:45 PM »

Since you are asking "How to..", here is my suggestion. First, learn to copy code from a program like G4FON. If you have a key, put it away until you can copy 100% at whatever speed you have selected as your goal.

When you can copy that speed, then get the key out and try some QSOs.

Others will disagree, but I don't think you can send code properly, unless you can copy it first. If you learn from a program like G4FON, you will tend to send like G4FON. If you learn from listening to a friend who doesn't know what good code should sound like, then you will send poor code.


Posts: 3541

« Reply #14 on: September 13, 2007, 09:51:03 AM »

On the other hand, if you can copy code at, say, 10 WPM but have never touched a key, it would be a mistake to get on the air and try for QSOs.  Your hand/wrist/arm has to get used to the movements necessary for sending each character.  Knowing what it's supposed to sound like is pretty much a given, but assuming your manual coordination will magically just BE there is a bit too much to hope for.  

It shouldn't take too long, though.  Probably nowhere NEAR as long as it takes to learn to copy.

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