How do YOU copy CW?

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by WQ4G, Feb 6, 2019.

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  1. WQ4G

    WQ4G Ham Member QRZ Page

    I've been a ham for quite a few years now. Like others in the hobby my interest has waned from time to time, mainly due to work and other responsibilities, but now I'm back to stay since I have retired and have more time.

    Back when I first got my ticket, and for the first few years of ham life, I was strictly a CW operator. Eventually, I started working phone mode and after a while became accustom to it. Now, after 20 or so years of not using CW, I have become interested in it again mainly due to the exotic DX that can be found near the bottom of the bands.

    Before I stopped using CW I was able to copy in the 13-15 WPM range and was actually beginning to hear/recognize a few words here and there. This of course was especially true during a 'standard' QSO where name, QTH, and signal report are exchanged.

    Now that I am getting back in to CW I find my self having trouble. But, the trouble I am having is not in being able to recognize CW characters, my difficulty is that I can not write fast enough. For me 7-10 WPM is not overly difficult. But, above about 11-13 WPM I find that I can not write fast enough to keep up. And, at about 15 WPM, and above, it is all but impossible for me to keep up. Either I must learn to copy CW without writing it down OR I need to find a faster way to write.

    How do you copy CW? By ear only? Do you write it down by hand or type it out? Do you even write out a 'hard copy' at all? Any hints, kinks, or advice would be greatly appreciated...


    Dan KI4AX
  2. W7UUU

    W7UUU Super Moderator Lifetime Member 133 Administrator Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    I have no choice but to copy "in my head". I too just cannot write faster than 10 WPM anymore.

    I also never learned to "copy on a mill" (typewriter) even though I touch type very fast... it just doesn't work for me.

    So I copy in my head, and note down on paper only the things I want to reply back about or pertinent details

    K8PG, PU2OZT, K7TRF and 5 others like this.
  3. W6MK

    W6MK Ham Member QRZ Page

    Head copy for much operating at 20 to 25 wpm.

    Depending on the situation, and the predictability/context of the QSO,
    I will copy with paper and pencil. I can do this at the above speeds, printing
    in all caps.

    I have made a stab at copying in cursive, which is much faster. Since I can
    do OK printing in caps, I haven't made the transition fully.

    Typing on a computer keyboard also works fine for me. Using an old-fashioned
    mill I'm not nearly so efficient. I think my mill needs cleaning and lubricating.

    One of the critical factors for me (and others) is that when relying completely on
    head copy, one can lose track of conversation details, particularly if it isn't limited to
    the usual exchanges. So head copy with notes is a good compromise.
  4. WB5YUZ

    WB5YUZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Like many others, I do "head copy" of whole words and just take notes on salient details; name, QTH, WX, etc. I probably take more notes than most people because I have more trouble remembering conversational details than most people.

    AFAIK this technique is used by most of us when doing conversational CW at much more than about twenty words per minute.
    N0NC, W1ADE, K7TRF and 1 other person like this.
  5. K3XR

    K3XR Ham Member QRZ Page

    Not sure if you are printing or writing longhand. That would be the first change to consider. Try not writing every letter or word just take notes so you won't be left hanging on the important information.
    WQ4G likes this.
  6. N0TZU

    N0TZU Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I first read that as "I think my mind needs cleaning and lubricating".

    Hmm...a good mind cleaning and lube might just help improve my CW copy.
    PU2OZT, AC8UN and WQ4G like this.
  7. N8TGQ

    N8TGQ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I learned to head copy by just turning on the radio and letting it play while going about my day to day activities. After a while it clicked. Now I'll write down your call and name, but not much else. Very libetating and saves a lot of paper!
    W1ADE and WR2E like this.
  8. VK2WP

    VK2WP XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Writing fast can take a bit of practice, when I was a youngster was taught "running writing". Even so pretty well the best speed I can write is 20 wpm.

    At 25wpm my writing turns to mush.
  9. KD8ZM

    KD8ZM Ham Member QRZ Page

    That's one of the main reason I quit writing things down. One day it dawned on me that the sheer amount of paper required would be totally impractical. Plus wanting to work mobile made the decision a lead-pipe cinch.
    K8AI and W1ADE like this.
  10. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I use only "head copy" but do take some notes to keep a log.

    However, I didn't have to go from "writing it down" to "head copy" because I never wrote it down, even as a Novice just getting started with 5 wpm contacts. Reason was (almost 54 years ago now!) I practiced the code with a buddy, David (who became WN2WND when I became WN2WIK -- we took the tests together but for some reason had calls pretty separated when issued by FCC) and we didn't use recordings or oscillators or anything, we actually "spoke" code to each other as we walked to school and back home and stuff. Literally, like "di-dah" for "A" and "dah-dah-di-dit" for "Z" and everything in between. We practiced "sending" each other street sign names, license plate numbers, anything we saw while just walking along.

    Since we were doing this during our one-mile walk each way to school and back (about 20 mins each way), there was no way to write anything: We were carrying books and walking.

    So, we got used to "hearing" the code and it became letters, numbers, punctuation, words and sentences in our minds.

    I think that's a cool way to learn, and we really didn't know that everyone didn't do it that way.:p
    K6GB, NY7Q, N8TGQ and 5 others like this.

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