Learning Code

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by N4QFY, Apr 11, 2016.

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  1. N4QFY

    N4QFY Ham Member QRZ Page

    I haven't been a Ham for long but I would like to learn Code so that I can use more aspects of this hobby.

    In your opinion, what is the best (simplest) method for learning code and what is the best starter key that would attach easily to a Kenwood TS-430.

    If this is the wrong place to ask then I would be more then willing to move to the correct place.
    KF5VGK likes this.
  2. AG6QR

    AG6QR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    This is as probably the best place to ask.

    To learn code, you've got to practice it until it becomes automatic. Your goal is to get to the point where, as soon as you hear the sound of a letter, you recognize it immediately and can go on to the next one. If you have to think through memory aids, many more letters will fly by as you're remembering what the first one is.

    These days, the easiest way to do the initial practice is on a computer. The computer is more patient than a human tutor, and gives you more variety and tailored drills than any set of fixed tapes or recordings. There are various programs that are designed to help you learn. The best ones use the Koch method and Farnsworth spacing. A few are: justlearnmorsecode.com, lcwo.net, and g4fon.net. There are more.

    I'd say practice about 15-20 minutes a day, every single day. A 15 minute session in the morning and another one in the evening will be even more effective. But the key is to practice every single day. Short sessions that are consistent will be more effective than occasional long extended sessions.

    Once you get the alphabet learned, there are other opportunities for practice. Listen on the air. Listen to W1AW practice sessions, either on the computer or over the air. Make QSOs.

    As for a key choice, any key will work with your rig, so you're not limited on that account. Key choice is a personal thing. Some will suggest starting with a straight key, and if your goal is to operate a straight key, that's not a bad place to start. But if your goal is to work with paddles, I'd suggest starting with paddles. The reason is that the keyer for the paddles will handle the length and spacing of your dits and dahs for you, so you'll be hearing correct code immediately. If you start with a straight key, unless you've got an experienced teacher sitting there with you, the danger is that you will hear your own mis-timed elements, and they will start to sound normal to you.

    There are so many keys, I can't make a specific recommendation without knowing more about what's important to you. There are many, many models, available new and used, at various price points. For the most part, you get what you pay for, though sometimes you can find genuine bargains on used keys (other times, you can get keys with missing or damaged parts on the used market). But most keys are rugged, and many of them will easily outlast their owners.
    VK5EEE likes this.
  3. N4QFY

    N4QFY Ham Member QRZ Page

    It would be neat to learn both but I like what you said about the timing being automatic on the paddle keys. I found and am downloading a Koch method trainer from G4FON. I found it and checked back here to see if I had any replies so I'm happy to see it on your list.

    I'll use it for awhile until I can start recognizing the entire alphabet then I'll start looking more in depth at keys.

    Thank you.
  4. AA4OO

    AA4OO XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I started learning the code last summer.

    I wrote about how I approached it.


    Rich, AA4OO
  5. KF5QZM

    KF5QZM Ham Member QRZ Page

    G4FON is what I'm using too. As AG6QR said, short (15-20 minute) sessions. If you try to go for too long, you go into overload, and it starts to get frustrating.
    VK5EEE likes this.
  6. AA8TA

    AA8TA XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I used Learn CW Online to re-enter the CW world and still use it. It will help you learn the 40 main characters and also has several other exercises to help you to improve.

    I think the most critical thing with whatever learning aid you use is to set the character speed to no less than 20 WPM. You want to learn the sounds of the characters and should not even be thinking about dits and dahs.

    Getting on the air is whole different thing and is an important part of the process. Whether rag chews, contests or whatever, jump in. Just tuning around you can find a couple of people engaged in a QSO and try to decode as much as you can. Get in the habit early of not writing anything down but try to retain as much as you can in your head.

    I learned Morse code 40 years ago all the wrong way and am still trying to break old habits. Starting fresh, I think is an advantage if you never start any of those bad habits. Sign up for the CW Academy; they're real big on learning head-copy and learning the sounds of characters and words.
    VK5EEE likes this.
  7. N3HEE

    N3HEE Ham Member QRZ Page

    You've been given very good expert advice to which I will reemphasize. Once you learn the code well enough to get on the air make it a point to get on the air and use the code as much as possible. I am finding this is the by far the quickest and most effiecint way to become more profficient with Morse code. I require my students to make 2-3 QSO's per day seven days a week for 8 weeks. Guess what ? They are doing pretty darn good at the end of the course!
    VK5EEE likes this.
  8. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page


    With any class amateur license, you can use CW on HF. As soon as you know "most of the letters and numbers," and maybe recognize the comma, period and slash bar (dahdidit dahdit), even without solid copy, you're ready to start making contacts at some slow speed. Doing that, and making a few per day the moment you recognize "most" of the characters, do it.

    Practicing sending as well as copying, and making interactive contacts on the air, ramps up skill and speed better than anything else ever could.
    VK5EEE likes this.
  9. WA7PRC

    WA7PRC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Ditto. As a 14 yo Novice ca 1970, I was on the air almost daily. My shaky 5 wpm quickly advanced to 30 wpm.

    vy 73 es gl,
    Bryan WA7PRC
  10. N4QFY

    N4QFY Ham Member QRZ Page

    I've got it set to learn at 15wpm. Should I turn it up to 25wpm or just learn it slower?

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