Copy Speed Going Nowhere...

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by KN3O, Jan 26, 2016.

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  1. KN3O

    KN3O Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hello CW Hams,

    I have been working on my CW skills on and off since I got back into ham radio last year. I'm finding it very frustrating, but only half so. I have gotten better and better and transmitting. I'm probably up to 15-20 wpm on the straight key, with very little error. I know that I can transmit at an effective rate to hold a QSO and snag the dx I want.

    I'm still at 5 wpm, at best on my copy. I have listened to countless sound files from the ARRL and practiced copying. I have app after app, used learn cw online, etc, I just can't get my copy speed even close to 10 wpm. I miss a letter and its all over, I'm flustered and it takes me 5 to 10 characters to get back on track, and then I miss another one. The sound of the letters just doesn't compute to paper fast enough, the next letter or two are already upon me.

    How do I get to the point where my copy comes up? I'm practicing relentlessly, and it's obvious I know how the alphabet is supposed to sound.

    Please give me something new, some trick or magic I haven't tried. This is getting so frustrating. It's been 6 months. 10 wpm shouldn't be too much to ask...
  2. KO6WB

    KO6WB Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    If you're trying for a perfect copy, quit doing that;).
    You can usually tell what's being sent by the other letters in the word. What jams you up is where you hear a character and can't relate it to anything.
    Just move on to the next character and relax. It's not life or death (usually) so simply train yourself to quickly move past the missed character and get the next one, or the one after that.
    In time, and sometimes it's not right away, you'll get it.

    Have fun
    K8AI, N0NB and W5BIB like this.
  3. K7MEM

    K7MEM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Transmit speed is usually faster than receive speed, at least at the beginning. However, it is a poor idea to transmit at a speed much faster than you can receive. It will only frustrate you.

    I agree with Gary, stop trying for perfect copy. As long as you understand what is being sent, that is all that matters. 5 WPM is a difficult speed, because it takes a long time for a whole word to come through. Plus, rather than hearing a whole word, your pulling it in letter by letter.

    You said you are practicing relentless. Maybe that is part of the problem. Studying too long and too often can set up a mental block. When I was working on the 20 WPM code test, I would practice copying for only 10 - 15 minutes at a time and only two to three times a day. Short copy sessions give it time to settle in. Plus, at each study session I would push myself a little bit. When I was copying about 80 - 90 percent, at any particular speed, I would increase the speed by 2 WPM.

    I didn't study using code groups or ARRL transmissions, I used recordings of simulated QSOs. These are fairly simple to create on a computer and contain all the things you might hear in a normal QSO. As the speed increased, the content also increased. While I was listening I would concentrate on things like the call sign, operators name, and operators QTH. All the stuff in between didn't matter. Once I was copying everything that I thought was important at a 80-90 percent rate, I would increase the sending speed by 2 WPM. When you do that, it seems like you were struck dumb. But after a few sessions at that new speed, things start to clear up. Below is a link to the sample files I used. Just skip the rhetoric and go right to the code samples. Below the code tests are the listings for each test.

    This may, or may not, be a help. Everyone has their own way of learning. This was just the way that worked for me.

    Good Luck on your studying.
  4. W4KJG

    W4KJG Subscriber QRZ Page

    One of the techniques is using an old method known as the Koch Method. It teaches a few letters at a time, using high speed characters spaced with lots of extra space between each character. Take a look at this link:

    There are a number of other practice sessions available in the internet where you can do similar practice sessions. You can set the character speed at something like 15, 25, 35, etc., WPM, but the spacing can be set for 5, 10, 15, etc., WPM.

    Using this kind of training can really help get over the "plateau".

    Good luck.
  5. AA4OO

    AA4OO XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Hello Evan,

    I'm also a relatively new CW operator.

    I started learning the code May of last year using

    I used the CourseLesson part of the site: and set my character speed to 18 wpm while beginning with a slow effective speed in the page of the site.

    As another poster mentioned, if you're trying to learn with a character speed at 5 wpm that could be hindering your progress. A character speed of 5 wpm is so slow that the character itself doesn't really have a "sound" so your subconsciously counting which uses a different part of your brain than the part that handles speech and sound. The speech center of your brain needs to learn the "sound" of the characters and eventually as the speed goes up, the "sound" of the word.

    Try setting your character speed to 18 or even 20 wpm while keeping the effective speed at a comfortable level in the training program for a week and I think you'll find that the speech center of your brain then has something to latch onto.

    I'm certainly not the brightest bulb on the tree and now, 8 months after starting, I generally copy real qsos at between 17wpm to 22wpm depending on the quality of the sender's FIST.

    Keep your practice sessions short and fun. If it stops being fun give it a rest. This is a hobby, not a job.

    I've written about my experience learning the code on my blog. Maybe you'll find it useful:

    Richard, N4BQ
    KD8EDC and K6FNI like this.
  6. AG6QR

    AG6QR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I wish I had original thoughts to help you, but I'll mostly have to settle for underscoring what's been said. Learn to miss a letter and quickly abandon it, so you can concentrate on the next one that's coming. You'll usually be able to fill in the missing letters via context. Koch and Farnsworth are your friends. Always keep the letter spacing fast, 18-20 WPM, so that you hear the sound patterns of the words, instead of counting dashes and dots. The ARRL practice files, especially the slow speed ones, aren't so great in this respect, because they slow down the dits and dahs, to keep standard spacing always. You can make your own practice files by using ebook2cw.exe (google search will find it). That lets you keep the letter speed fast while adding extra space between the letters. Practice consistently, 15-30 minutes a day. Keep adjusting your speeds to stay in the zone where you can copy about 90-95% of the letters, and figure out 99% or so of the meaning of the messages. If you're going so slow that you're getting 100% copy, you're not learning much. But if you're missing too many letters, you're not learning much that way, either.
    VK5EEE and K6FNI like this.
  7. K6FNI

    K6FNI XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Good suggestion.

    I can't imagine practicing with a character speed of less than 12 wpm. I don't think a slower speed will work.

    When I'm practicing I always use a character speed that a little faster than the code speed.

    Robert, K6FNI
  8. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff.

    QUIT writing down your code copy, that's a recipe for it taking a long time to get good.

    'Listen' to the code. Really listen to it. No reason to write it down. Let the characters become happens, but if you try writing everything down that slows the process a lot.

    No cash prize for perfect copy.

    Make A LOT of contacts, and if you can't copy 3/4 of what they're sending it doesn't matter. Get the gist of it, and ask questions when you don't know their name or whatever.

    Make at least 5 CW contacts a day, even if you copy 10 percent. Get back to us in six months, after 900 contacts. If you're not copying 20 wpm solidly by then, you'll be the first I've ever come across to say that.
    NK8I, K9KXW, K8AI and 3 others like this.
  9. K6JJR

    K6JJR Ham Member QRZ Page

    A tourist once stopped a New Yorker on the street. He asked him how to get to the New York Philharmonic. The New Yorker answered " Practice practice practice!!!" :D
  10. KD8EDC

    KD8EDC Ham Member QRZ Page

    It seems that there is a lot more "key" shyness than there is "Mic" shyness. At least that's how it appears to me. I've been working on my code skills for a while. However, I've only made a couple of contacts on CW. From my perspective, I have been reluctant to get on the air on CW until I can fully understand a QSO (or at least 70% of it) at the rate I want to converse. My hypothesis is that many people suffer my particular "paralysis". That is, we're afraid that if we only understand 10% of what is said, we'll be mortified and unable to even converse enough to adequately say hello and goodbye. In other words, we'll get into a situation in which we send information but cannot copy enough to reply sensibly to the other operator. I know I think about this with a "then what?" question in my mind due to lack of experience.

    I too can send much faster code than I can copy, but I refuse to practice at that rate because I want to maintain equal rates so I don't make the other operator think that I can copy as fast as I send. That said, I think a LOT of us are losing time on the air "waiting to be good first" and not getting on the air and GETTING better. I've seen a lot of folks recommend that a certain level of proficiency be attained before going on the air, but from what I am hearing here, and from my own musings, this appears to be quite counterproductive. Perhaps the best approach is to keep practicing using apps and Internet resources, but once one learns the letters and numbers (and associated punctuation and prosigns), to get on the air and work other stations in the real world regardless of how many WPM our brains can handle?
    K9KXW likes this.

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