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Author Topic: Thoughts on best way to learn CW  (Read 7257 times)

Posts: 55

« on: January 06, 2014, 02:05:39 PM »

O.K. there have been many threads about learning code, but what do you all consider the best way to learn. Remembering that I am an old fart now in my 50's and probably not considered the sharpest tool in the shed (just ask my wife). I am going to start studying for my extra class while on the tug boat and will probably take the test on my next vacation. Then I want to devote my time to learning code in a way that I will be able to become proficient using it on the air. Not Navy radioman good doing some ungodly amount of words per minute, but a decent enough speed so people don't shut down their stations and run away when I get on the air.

Any suggestions will be much appreciated.


Posts: 349

« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2014, 02:45:41 PM »

I suggest a code practice oscillator, a software program that will let you monitor your sending (so you can learn to make the letters correctly in time/space) When you have that stuff ready, break the alphabet into groups that are concurrent as in E. I.. S... H.... 5..... (all Dits) T- M -- O--- 0 ----- (all dahs) A .- U ..- V...- 4 ....-   You get the idea. After you get a few of these groups down you will be able to make simple words. By now, if you have a receiver you will be able to listen on air a start picking out some letters and after awhile you should start hearing words instead of letters.
Most important is to never give up. As a kid I was given 1 month to learn the code and get ready for a birthday (My 13th) trip to the FCC field office for the Novice license. It was a 75 ,mile trip and in those days it was an all day affair. My folks asked if I'd be ready and I'd said yes. (Scared myself) I would mentally send street signs in cw to myself as i rode my bike around but I said I'd be ready and I was. Upshot was KN6CLF year was 1953.
Most anything is doable with the desire and you'll never forget that first contact because even 3 WPM will seem like 20 but when it's over you'll have a feeling like none other. (PS if you got a partner like an XYL to practice with it's even more fun)
Regards and 73 Dick KH2G

Posts: 76

« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2014, 04:45:15 PM »

Sounds like we are probably about the same age and intelligence.
Our wives can compare notes  Wink.  I'm 53 and have been using CW
for about a year.  I currently run at 10-14 WPM and have a blast.

I used two programs to learn CW.

I'm very busy, like I'm sure you are, and only spent 10-30 minutes
a day practicing.  It took me 8 months to feel confidant and fast enough
to get on the air but I think I made a mistake that set me back.

This was "MY" experience and you may be very different.
I was learning the letters at 24 WPM with the word speed set pretty slow.
When I tried to copy code on air it was so slow I couldn't understand it.
For me it was impossible to copy slow code that most beginners were using. 
When someone would QRS for me they would just slow their keyer down to
about 10 WPM and again I couldn't really copy it. 
BUT.... if someone sent at 20+ WPM with proper spacing again I couldn't copy it.
It came too fast and furious.  It was really discouraging.

I went back to the programs and literally relearned the letters at 12 WPM.
It was just as hard to learn them at 12 WPM as 24.  Well at least now I can listen
to fast code and get most of it. 

I would start with the programs set at:
Letters 12 WPM
Words 5 WPM
AGAIN... that worked for me and you may be different.
Hope that makes sense.

Sorry for the long reply but I really want you, and many hams, to learn code.
I think there is a significant number of "older" hams that won't be here in a few
years and if we don't get more CW people enlisted there won't be many people
to talk to.

73 es GL
Stan AE7UT

Posts: 55

« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2014, 05:55:03 PM »

Thanks for the replies I will be purchasing or building an oscillator and getting a key to practice with. I also will use the programs suggested as I have some down time on the boat. Oh and Stan we probably don't want our wives comparing notes  Grin



Posts: 1624

« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2014, 08:08:31 PM »

KH2G is a genius. Do EXACTLY what he said!!!! That is the way almost all is old guys did it (hey, I'm 50 too!). Whatever you do DON'T go to some stupid website and learn some crazy method the tells you to send your letters FAST with big spacing!!

Like many many guys, I learned the code by SENDING it with a code practice oscillator. When you send, you hear too. And it is more fun to send than to just sit there and listen. Learn the DOT letters(and 5) then the DASH letters (and 0) and you can make LoTS of words. Record them, then play the tape back to yourself. Once you KNow them, only then move on to the A,W,J than N,D,B.

MOST IMporTANT!!!!! To to ARRL website NOW and download some 5 wpm mp3 files (and the associated text). I think it is listed under "W1AW code practice". That will tell you what GOOD code is supposed to sound like. Emulate that.

It's a piece of cake. Once you know words and all your letters get on the air. THAT is how you will get better.


Posts: 505

« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2014, 03:56:09 AM »

The best way to learn is the way that works for you. The worst way is the way that drives you to frustration. (I've written elsewhere at length about my trials and tribulations while trying to learn Morse).

Posts: 413


« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2014, 04:42:07 AM »

It shouldn't make any difference how old you are. I originally had a Novice license in 1965. I learned Morse code, but was never very good. I didn't really get the bug to upgrade until 1999, when I started a search for a way that worked for me. I was about 50 years old then. Knowing all the characters was a bit of an advantage, but it was still a lot of work.

I used a program called Morse Academy. This program will generate simulated QSO audio files at any speed you want to use. The output was not in WAV format, so I used WAVGEN to convert the audio files. Morse Academy is old so it need to run under "DOSBox" on systems above XP.

I used Morse Academy to generate tests starting at about 10 WPM. Once I was copying at 90-95% I would generate new files that were 2 WPM faster. I followed that plan all the way to 25 WPM. At the time, I was studying for the Extra 20 WPM test, but you don't have to worry about that now. The process worked great for me.

I would also recommend that you don't over study. I listened to my study tapes three times a day, but only for 15 minutes at a time. In that 15 minutes I could usually fit in three tests.

I used a cassette tape at the time but now you can use a MP3 player and store all the tests you need. Here is a ZIP file that contains 120 pre-recorded WAV files. Each WAV file is a different simulated QSO. There are 10 each at 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, and 27 Words Per Minute (WPM). To keep the Zip file small I only included the ".wav" files. If you need the .mp3 files you can download a free ".wav to .mp3" converter at and convert them.

You can also access these test on the internet at Just skip the rhetoric and click on "Code Tests" in the menu. Ignore the rest of the pages on that site. It is not up to date and many are incomplete.

Martin - K7MEM

Posts: 1299

« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2014, 04:56:25 AM »

It shouldn't make any difference how old you are. I originally had a Novice license in 1965. I learned Morse code, but was never very good. I didn't really get the bug to upgrade until 1999, when I started a search for a way that worked for me. I was about 50 years old then. Knowing all the characters was a bit of an advantage, but it was still a lot of work.

Well I guess everyone's different. I first learned the code (at a slow speed, using Farnsworth's "Revolutionary New Word Method" set of LPs) as a 12-year-old but never used it, and quickly forgot the whole thing. I remember it being pretty much a piece of cake. Also as a child (and to this day) I spoke/speak two languages natively (French and English). I don't even remember learning either of those languages, they are just part of my being.

Fast-forward to 31 years old, and I spent a year in Cairo studying intensive Arabic. Admittedly it is often described as a "difficult" language for Westerners. Boy, was that tough! Would it have been easier as a kid? Of course. I have many friends who are bilingual in English and Arabic, because they were brought up with both languages.

Fast forward to November 2013 and I'm 56 years old, back in the saddle trying to learn Morse code. Well, sorry, but I am certain that it is just MUCH harder for my brain to take it in than it was as a 12-year-old. I am also convinced that a lot of the OTs who are saying that "learning the code is easy" are also the kinds of hams who learned as kids or as teenagers; or perhaps as military radiotelegraphers in their early 20s. When their mind was a sponge!

This is an important issue in the sense that a fair number of today's "new" hams are middle-aged people or at least, not kids. I suspect that the ham demographics were very different back in the 1960s. I think that a would-be CW operator who is middle-aged should be given a realistic picture: "You may find this quite hard and time-consuming, but it will pay off greatly in terms of your enjoyment of the hobby." I realize that's a controversial point of view. A lot of people say the opposite: "It will be easy as long as no one tells you that it's hard."

Edited to add: It's clear, from the research and from what people have said, that learning the code is not an "intellectual" exercise. You can't just pick up a book and "study" it. Rather, it's a skill, learned with conditioned reflexes, like touch-typing (or like some aspects of learning a language). Unlike, say, academic study, that kind of skill-learning is -- surely -- much easier for young people than older people.

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
« Last Edit: January 07, 2014, 05:08:06 AM by KB1WSY » Logged

Posts: 505

« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2014, 04:58:11 AM »

It shouldn't make any difference how old you are.

Why not? There's plenty of evidence that children learn some things much more quickly than adults, and that older adults take much longer to learn some skills (particularly auditory and motor skills) than younger adults. Why should the skills needed to learn Morse be any different?

Posts: 624

« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2014, 07:14:07 AM »

Hi Karl

I am 50 yrs now and learned CW RX by computer.
I am now speeding up for 40+ WPM.

I use LCWO and think it is wonderfull.
But I agree with a lot of other comments, do not use to stupid things.
But at Learn CW Online you can make many adjustments and can learn in a lot of different ways and lots of different things like calls, words, etc.

In my humble opinion it is better to learn how to recieve morse-code and then learn how to send morse code, but I am not a Pro this methode worked fine for me and my son and some other hams I thought morse-code to.

i used CW-isit 13 yrs ago but as it is a very old DOS program, it will not work no more on modern computers.
But it had a lovely feature to send against the computer and learn how to copy cw on ears.
It was also possible to see your send code in strapes and dots and pause on the PC-screen so you could see if your code was right in dot , dash and pause length.
Learning CW can be done at all ages , only at an higher age it will take somewhat more time.
Good luck with your cw studies

Posts: 3541

« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2014, 11:39:25 AM »

In 1963, my Navy Radioman school class started out with 126  students.  Six months later there were 123.  We lost three students because they couldn't seem to be able to learn Morse code.  Other classes from the same era (± 5 years or so) showed me that the percentages were very much the same.

We didn't use "Koch", or "Farnsworth" or any such method; rather, we used the Navy method.  Fingers on home keys on the big typewriter in front of each position.  Then we heard ".-" and echoed it out loud: "didah".  Then we heard the same ".-" again and said "alfa", and punching the "A" key at the same time.

Most of us didn't type very well, if at all, and the typewriter key caps were blank with the home keys (F  & J) having a little raised spot on the surface so our index fingers could find them without looking.  I'd been a ham for about three years before I started Radio school and I was comfortable at 25 WPM, but I couldn't type that fast!

My point is that maybe two percent of those who make the effort to try to learn Morse code will not succeed because of a variety of reasons.  The remaining 97-98 percent will succeed within six months if they study a couple hours every day because it's what they're being paid to do (like the Navy classes).

In other words, practice is the (ahem) key.  Practice with a partner is even better.  Find somebody who's learning Morse and is at about your level.  Send back and forth to one another using an audio oscillator and a couple of keys.  Be critical about spacing; constructively criticize your partner's fist.

And don't overthink the importance of "Koch", or "Farnsworth" or anyone else.


Posts: 6

« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2014, 12:26:28 PM »

I have only been using cw a few years myself now and the best thing i did to help in the learning process was to put the microphone away and spend all my radio time on cw. Also used JLMC which i found good. I still walk or drive around and say street names or licence plates into myself in code.As for the microphone, thats only been used once in the last two years,guess when the bug bites it bites. Good luck with the learning.
73,  Paul.

New licence 2I0OTW

Posts: 23

« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2014, 03:02:38 PM »

I started working on learning CW last year at age 66.  Used the Just Learn Morse Code program.  With perseverance was able to learn in 3 months, working at it maybe 15 - 20 minutes most days.  I am NOT an auditory learner, which may explain the length of time it took.  Then life interfered and I stopped practicing.  Just a few weeks ago I got after it again and now am about where I was last spring -- took MUCH lest time this go-round.  One of the things I learned last spring was that I should have been listening to the ARRL code archives a lot sooner, as it is MUCH easier to "get" words, phrases and sentences than it is to hear random letters and numbers. Started with the 5 WPM code archives the other day and have been 90+% the first three times.  With the Just Learn Morse Code program I listen at 5 wpm per minute now, with the "spacing" of the  characters (dits/dahs) at 20.  So I hear the individual letters/numbers at a good rate (so I hear the "sound" of the letter/number and don't count dits/dahs), but the 5 wpm spacing between characters gives me adequate time for the sound to register in this old brain before I hear the next character.   Last spring, when I moved up to the 7.5 wpm ARRL practice messages it wasn't too big a leap -- will see how it goes this time. If you can catch some slow code (5 - 10 wpm) on the air that would make for good listening practice, even if you don't get all the characters.  Perseverance is the key.  Good luck.

Posts: 23

« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2014, 04:14:57 PM »

Forgot -- here is another site for practicing
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