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How to help those trying to learn CW?

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by WF4W, Apr 18, 2017.

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  1. WF4W

    WF4W Ham Member QRZ Page

    Im a huge proponent of CW - it is an incredible mode that allows the passing of information accurately, quickly, and with minimal power during poor conditions. I tell newcomers to immerse yourself in code and it will come easier... but last night I lost my patience.

    I heard a chap calling CQ - very slowly - like 2 wpm slow. Ok, so I respond to him at 5 wpm (that's the lowest speed on my rig's keyer) with increased spacing trying to slow it even further. He can't copy - keeps sending QRS QRS QRS. I tried to send my call 6 times as slow as I can go - still - "QRS".

    I felt bad but I had to leave the frequency but I thought about it all night - had I discouraged this new guy by not sticking with it? I tried to get him to copy my call for nearly 6 minutes - was that enough? Does he think I'm one of those guys who wont slow down?

    What do you guys suggest? How do we help those who have the ambition to get on the air and immerse themselves in code but are, quite frankly, not ready to be there?
    AD5KO likes this.
  2. WR2E

    WR2E Ham Member QRZ Page

    I wonder if that's what I heard on 40m last night, maybe around 7:00-7:30 PM, around 7052?

    I was tuning through and only listened to 1 or 2 characters and kept tuning.

    That's a tough one. If he had an Elmer, he would have been told that he wasn't yet ready. If he didn't have one, he just didn't know he wasn't ready.

    How to help him? Maybe see if you can email him with some friendly advice and help? Certainly there would be no way to help him on the air if he could not copy well enough to get your callsign.
  3. WF4W

    WF4W Ham Member QRZ Page

    I think this guy around 7.105 but I've heard a lot of slower code down around 7.050 - which is good. Yeah, I wish I could have sent slower but I just dont think that was the problem - he just wasnt recognizing the characters even though he was sending them.
  4. N1BCG

    N1BCG Ham Member QRZ Page

    Did you catch his call? I'll occasionally reach out via email to ops who I simply cannot hear due to non-propogation issues (distortion, low audio, etc). Made many friends that way!
  5. WR2E

    WR2E Ham Member QRZ Page

    Coulda been there too... I usually tune up in that range as well. I like to work the newbies...

    Does he have an email listed on QRZ?
  6. WF4W

    WF4W Ham Member QRZ Page

    i've got it written down - i'll email him.

    I try to work at least one newbie each time i'm on the air - i just think it's good practice and connects me to my roots as a novice on 7.105 dreaming of passing 20wpm to work the DX down on 7.005 :)
    KU4X and WB5YUZ like this.
  7. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Send him this:

    12 Tips on Learning Morse Code

    Way back in the 1960s it took me about two months to go from zero to about 7 wpm. I did it by listening to other hams on the air - no tapes, records or computer. There are better ways now and you can probably get to 5 wpm or so in a month to 6 weeks, if you practice every day.

    In a few months after getting my Novice I was ready for 13 wpm, and in about a year, 20 wpm. And that was just the beginning.

    Dr. George Sheehan frequently said that "Each of us is an experiment of one". He meant that while there are general rules to learning new things, each of us has to experiment to find out what works best for him or her. For most things, there is no single "best" way for everyone. This is particularly true when it comes to learning skills.

    Skills are learned differently from "book knowledge". People only develop skills by doing - by active participation, not by passivereception. No teacher can teach a skill; all a teacher can do is guide the student's efforts.

    That said, here are 12 tips to learning Morse Code:

    1) It used to be that there were two main reasons for radio amateurs to learn Morse Code. The first was to actually use it on the air, while the second was to pass the license tests. The second reason has disappeared in the USA and several other countries.

    So it's important to understand what your goal really is: to become an Amateur Radio Operator who is skilled in Morse Code. That means learning a set of skills, not just the one or two skills needed to pass a one-time test.

    That skillset cannot be learned by reading a book, watching a video, using other modes to talk about them on the air, or participating in online forums. While those things help, they are not the core.

    The needed skillset can only be learned by doing, and it takes time, practice, and an active involvement on your part. This is what makes learning skills so different from "book learning" - and why some folks find it so hard to learn skills. You have to be actively involved - it doesn't happen passively.

    2) Set up a place to study Morse Code. This doesn't mean it's the only place you study code, just that it's optimized for learning it. A good solid desk or table with no distractions, lots of room to write, good lighting, and a good chair. Source(s) of code (computer, HF receiver, tapes, CDs, etc.), key and oscillator. Headphones are a good idea. I recommend starting out with a straight key, you may decide to go straight to paddles and a keyer. Regardless of what key you decide to use, it needs a good solid base and needs to be adjusted properly.

    3) Avoid gimmicks such as CodeQuick and printed charts with dots and dashes on them. Often such systems were designed to help a person learn just enough code to pass the 5 wpm test, but resulted in bad habits that had to be unlearned for practical operating. Morse Code as used on radio is sounds, not printing on a chart or little phrases. They may work for some people, but, in general, I advise against them.

    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. If you could learn to recognize 41 words in a foreign language, you can almost certainly learn Morse Code.

    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 on one day does not give you an excuse to miss the next day.

    Some folks learn better if they do several short sessions, some learn better if they do it all at once. You have to find out what works best for you.

    Yes, you may miss a day here and there, because life happens. The trick is to keep such missed days to the absolute minimum.

    5) If you can enlist a buddy to learn the code with, or find a class, do it! But do NOT use the class or the buddy as an excuse to miss practice or slow down your learning. The buddy and/or class are a supplement to your study, not the center of it.

    6) Download and read "The Art And Skill of Radiotelegraphy". It's free and available from several websites. “Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy” is also good. Search out other code-oriented websites, articles, etc. and read what they have to say. But always remember they're not a substitute for practice.

    7) Practice both sending and receiving each and every day. Most of your practice time should be spent receiving, but the two help each other. Practice receiving by writing it down and by copying "in your head". I find a pencil and block printing works best for me; you may be better with a ballpoint, felt tip, etc. Or even a keyboard.

    8) A combination of the Koch method and Farnsworth spacing is probably optimum for most people. Read up on them, understand and use them – but remember they are tools, not magic. They can make learning the code easier but they will not make it automatic.

    9) Discontinue ANYTHING that impairs your ability to concentrate, focus, and learn new stuff. Only doctor-prescribed medications are exempt from this rule; beer is not exempt. Eat right, get enough sleep and enough physical exercise.

    10) Put away your microphones, stay off the voice radios - all of them. Besides the automated Morse Code generators, listen to hams actually using code on the air. Copy down what they send. Have Morse Code playing in the background while you do other things (but don’t count that as practice time). Learn how hams actually use code. When you get to the point where you can send and receive code, even slowly, get on the air and start making QSOs. Get involved in CW contesting, rag chewing, DX chasing, etc. Remember that you are learning Morse Code to be a Radio Operator, not just to pass a test.

    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; usually the default settings are optimized for SSB. 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; they’re not all that useful on CW anyway.

    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 every day. Nobody was born knowing the skills you're trying to learn.


    A bit of work? Sure it is, but well worth it, because all those steps make learning the code easier. And the work is trivial compared to what 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.

    Good luck!

    73 de Jim, N2EY
    K4EI, VE6NS, W9FTV and 3 others like this.
  8. KI4VLM

    KI4VLM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Very good read, thanks.
  9. AG6QR

    AG6QR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    First, bravo for trying.

    If you had a straight key connected to your rig in parallel with your keyer, you could have switched over easily. If you don't own a straight key, you could probably switch your radio to tell it you had one connected, and then you could use one side of your paddle as a horizontal straight key. It might be awkward, but surely you could manage it at 2 or 3 wpm.

    I agree that he's not ready, but I applaud your attempt to give him a taste of slow success.
  10. VE7JBX

    VE7JBX Ham Member QRZ Page

    As someone who "could have been that guy" 6 months ago, I'd say you don't have to do anything more than you did, and what you did already helped him (or her).

    I made my first two or three attempts at CW while using software to 'read' the incoming for me. I could send around 5 wpm just by eyeing a code table over the op station. It got me intrigued in the mode, but I also realized the only way I would actually get much enjoyment from the mode was to be able to copy unassisted. So I unhooked the computer and started banging away on a home made straight key. I didn't have any Elmer, but I did find a few useful web sites. I started putting in 10-15 min per day copy practice.

    Most of those earliest contact attempts were duds - they pretty much went as you described - so I guess maybe I know how the fellow felt. Maybe a bit embarrassed, maybe a tiny bit discouraged, but I also recognized that the people on the other end of the signal were trying to QRS for me, that the problem was my skill, not anyone else's attitude. I appreciated every one of those people who tried to answer my fumbling attempts, even when I copied little to nothing of what they sent back. It meant that I only had to get my copy a bit better and I'd make that breakthrough... so I'd go back to LCWO and AA9PW websites for another week... then I'd try again. Progress was pretty slow at the start, but after a few months I could actually tell I was making headway. Then I went looking for an on-air Elmer via SKCC, and found someone with a semi-reliable good QTH path to me, who was willing to sked a few sessions a week of just trying to do simple rag chews.

    That was maybe 4 months ago. Two weeks ago, I had my first experience of someone asking ME to 'pls QRS', and I suddenly realized how far I've come. The desire to do that came from within, and interactions like the one you had were letting me know I needed more practice, but that there were going to be people out there in the ether, willing to reply to me every time I wanted to try. You were that friendly attempt at a response he (or she) heard, they heard you try to slow down, and they got both messages - they need more practice, and there are people out there to QSO with if they can just get that little bit better!
    K4EI, W9FTV, KU4X and 2 others like this.

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