Issues learning CW

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by KI7QVR, Jun 11, 2019.

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  1. KC8VWM

    KC8VWM Ham Member QRZ Page

    I agree.

    The problem is often the fact people are trying to "learn CW" by forcing themselves to memorize all the individual characters like it's a multiplication times table, but it doesn't work very well that way. For some reason, this approach automatically creates a barrier for many people to mentally block themselves from fully understanding it. Some people have great difficulty learning CW very effectively that way.

    You see, what you are actually learning is a new language.

    That means you have to actually start using it, in order to learn it.

    For example, as a toddler did anyone teach you to speak the English language by instructing you to memorize all the words in a dictionary before you could start using it? No, of course you didn't... You learned to speak the language by starting to use it and then over time, you developed more skill and eventually mastered the language right? Same principle applies with learning to speak CW. Start with recognizing the sounds of simple phrases and words and work your way up from there.

    If you do this, everything will all start coming together and falling in place for you naturally over time.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2019
    KZ4KX, N1NA, K4TTJ and 1 other person like this.
  2. WF7A

    WF7A Subscriber QRZ Page

    Not to cast a pall of negativity on the thread, but some people are just terrible at learning languages (myself included) so even with the best of intentions and tons of practice, they'll hit the proverbial wall and can't surmount it.

    I have a pet theory that people who are good at playing musical instruments have an easier time learning code--their brains are good at processing sound so it works to their advantage here.
  3. KC8VWM

    KC8VWM Ham Member QRZ Page

    I bet I can teach you how to instantly identify and recognize a CQ heard on the bands in less than 30 seconds. After you are done with this post, I can almost guarantee you will always instantly recognize what it's like to hear a "CQ" forever without even trying.

    In this instance, never mind "counting" the number of dots and dashes of the individual characters in your head. You're not really learning or fully understanding anything that way.

    Just watch this short video below and simply listen to how a CQ actually sounds and flows together in it's entirety. Did you ever hear a song coming on the radio and you instantly recognize the song by only hearing the very first few sounds of it starting to play? That's exactly what a CQ call is going to sound like to you from now on. What you are going to do here is simply remember this particular song playing, and nothing else whatsoever.

    So start thinking of a CQ like you are hearing the beginning of your favorite song playing, because that's really what it is.


    Last edited: Jun 13, 2019
    WF7A likes this.
  4. KE6EE

    KE6EE Ham Member QRZ Page

    Although Morse Code is not really a "language," it is like a new language in the sense that it is all about
    learning to recognize new sounds.

    We all have different abilities in this; few of us cannot tell one sound (or Morse character) from another very
    different sound. Some of us can hear a song one time and then can play it on an instrument or sing it.

    KC8VWM's advice is excellent: once you accept that you are learning to recognize and remember new sounds,
    you will move forward. At whatever speed.

    Remember that at one time Morse Code was learned without much effort by millions of people from scouts to
    military and commercial ops. And once upon a time every ham had to learn it. When I began I didn't know anyone
    who thought learning code was a big deal. We just did it.
    KC8VWM likes this.
  5. K5TEN

    K5TEN XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Throw the microphone in a drawer for few months. When it's dark get on 40m CW in your licence class. Call CQ till your arm falls off. Lather, rinse, repeat.
    AD5HR and N2EY like this.
  6. WA1GXC

    WA1GXC Ham Member QRZ Page


    First, hat's off to you and congratulations for taking on a new skill. I know it's difficult; any time you learn a new language, it's more work

    than it is fun. Rest assured that shortly, it will become more fun than work and then you will feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment as

    you deserve. What is particularly daunting with CW (again, as with learning any language), is the illusion that you are not making progress.

    Your brain is being re-wired for the new processing mode. After seemingly no progress, you will magically find your speed going up in discrete

    jumps. Keep doing what you're doing. Without any disrespect for those suggesting you slow down, your method of hearing fast sounds will

    in the long-run stand you in good stead, and is the best method to become a very proficient CW op.

    If you look at the history of FCC Amateur and Commercial exams and their CW requirements of the past, it will give you insight into the

    predictable "brick wall" speeds that everyone-- yes, everyone-- will hit. The Novice exam was 5 WPM. This is because if you had the basic alphabet &

    sounds just memorized, that's about the speed you could support. The next license increment was General Class at 13 WPM. Why? Because everyone

    stagnates and plateaus somewhere around 10-12 WPM. Next--the old Extra exam at 20 WPM. Again, why? Big dead-zone wall at about 17-18 WPM.

    Also note that to hold the old Commercial Radiotelegraph Operator 2ND Class, international treaty requirement for ship Radio Officer, requirement was

    20WPM plain-language, 16WPM random coded groups--This recognizes you've reached the criterion for being a professional at 20WPM and having

    pushed thru 18WPM and higher speed is relatively easily obtainable with just plain hours of listening.

    Do not be lured by the false god of bad, fast code. Take pride in sending and receiving properly, doing it the right way. The speed is not important.

    I have far more respect for you trying to do the right thing at 10WPM than the legions of knuckleheads I hear every day sending embarrassingly bad code

    at 30WPM; it's also usually self-evident that crowd at 30WPM can actually copy but 15 when their PC breaks down.

    Stay with it. I'd be privileged to work you on the bands.


    Harry WA1GXC
    N1NA likes this.
  7. K9STH

    K9STH Platinum Subscriber Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page


    With almost 60-years of teaching code classes, I definitely believe that playing a musical instrument, at some time in their life, makes it considerably easier to learn the International Morse code. Virtually every student, that I have taught, who learned the code the fastest, either plays, or had played, a musical instrument.

    I have told this story before: The fastest time in which I have had a student learn all 26-letters, 10 numbers, punctuation marks, and pro-signs, was about an hour! In fact, his code speed was over a real 8 wpm.

    One evening, I was sitting in my room at my fraternity house when one of my fraternity brothers walked in. He said that, by occasionally watching me operate from a station set up in a little closet off of the party room (it had a Johnson Adventurer transmitter, CW only, and a National NC-300 receiver, all left behind by fraternity brothers who had graduated before), he was interested in getting a Novice Class license. So, I started to teach him using the method that I outlined earlier in this thread.

    Although he did not have a photographic memory where his studies were concerned, he definitely had such where the International Morse code was concerned. I would send a character like 3, or 4, times and he had it memorized. Within less than an hour he had all of the characters and then I showed him how to use a straight key. His sending was virtually perfect. I could hand him a magazine and tell him to start sending at a certain point and he would send the information without error.

    Although he no longer played the instrument, he had played the clarinet in junior high school and high school. I am convinced that this played a significant factor in his learning the code.

    I started playing the cornet in 2nd grade and added the soprano bugle (was in 2-different drum and bugle corps, 1-junior and 1-senior, at the same time) in junior high school. Now, I can't remember if it was late in 7th grade or early in 8th grade that I learned the code. Of course, I was fairly young. However, I never had any problems and learned the code fairly rapidly. Looking back, I expect that playing the cornet definitely played a role in my rapid learning of the code.

    Glen, K9STH
    WF7A likes this.
  8. KY5U

    KY5U Subscriber QRZ Page

    Definite book on learning telegraphy

    From the book's Introduction

    "The research behind this booklet would probably never have been done at all if I had not been so eager to learn the telegraphic code, but made such a terrible flop of it. I just barely qualified for a license in early 1930, and for a very long time could not receive it well enough to really enjoy using it. Like most others in those past days, I memorized the "dots and dashes" from a printed table..."
  9. KA6RES

    KA6RES Ham Member QRZ Page

    There was a time when I tought "Morse Code" at a local community center as a contract class. It was a pleasure to teach and help people to learn CW. Some folks do fine until they reach a certain point. It depends on how you learn it. I have found that the folks that had difficulty, benefited from a learning system called "Code Quick". If you learn CW with the language centers of the brain it is easier to bring your speed up considerably. There are those who learn the code with the noise center of the brain including myself at one time and getting faster, code wise, can be sometimes difficult.
    Practice makes perfect. You could check out this "Code Quick" thing at,
    I believe it belongs to a ham "W6TJP" if memory serves me well.
    I know it works and it also is very convincing from a educational stand point.
    Other then that, I wish you all the best and do not give up.
    73, to all
    WZ7U likes this.
  10. W5LZ

    W5LZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Are there, or can there be 'issues'? Sure, expect them! Then, adapt, overcome, and prevail! (where have I heard that before?) Since CW is hearing something, then that's the best way of learning it. Simple till you have to put in the work to do it...

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