Learning CW.How you did it?which method?How long?

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by SV2SBE, Aug 12, 2018.

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  1. SV2SBE

    SV2SBE Ham Member QRZ Page

    New ham here.I have the licence for one year and already get the DXCC.But i feel that i miss the real amateur radio without the morse.
    So i started to learn with my cellphone and a program using Koch method.After 20 dayes with 30 minutes per day i know about 12-13 letters with numbers
    I have already ordered one Begali simplex and make an arduino keyer to key the begali in a speaker and learn
    How you learn?Which method?How long did you take it to make a simple slow QSO??

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  2. K1OIK

    K1OIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    When I was 14 I sent Morse code, recorded it and tried to copy it. It took me a month to make a contact.
    KD5RJZ, N4NYK and W2AI like this.
  3. WA7PRC

    WA7PRC Ham Member QRZ Page

    In 1970, I had a private instructor -- a retired US Navy Radioman. I called him 'dad'. Sometimes when I had my Novice ticket, when sending w/ a straight key at up to ≈ 20 wpm, the other station would ask what kind of keyer I was using. I guess dad learned me good. ;):D

    I think the point is to not give up. If you're having trouble, try again using something else.

    vy 73,
    Bryan WA7PRC
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  4. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    It took me a couple of weeks -- to learn Morse code, but not to learn "CW," which is a mode, and that requires some experience just like operating any mode.

    I learned when I was 12-13 years old back in 1964-1965, when it was a requirement to get a license and since we were kids we didn't know it was supposed to be difficult.:p My method: I found another kid who wanted to be a ham (David, who became WN2WND) and was also a neighbor of mine and the same age. We studied a "chart" that showed the dots and dashes for each letter, just so we'd know what they were, and then "spoke" Morse code to each other on the way to school and back (about 30 mins each way) as we walked to 8th grade classes.

    We started out with very easy words, and progressed to bigger words and sentences. Since we were walking, we had no way to write anything down, so we had to become familiar with the "sound" of letters and words, and just remember them. We ended up "sending" the code for street signs, car license plates, and almost anything we saw on the way to school and back. We used our "voices" to make the code sounds, like "di-dah" for "A" and "dah di-di-dit for "B" etc. We never used keys or anything electronic, and of course nobody had a computer back then.

    After a couple of weeks, we knew the alphabet and all the numbers, and a few punctuations. We had no idea what "speed" we were "talking" or "listening" at, but we got pretty fast.

    When we both went together to take the U.S. Novice 5 wpm code test (our examiner was W2NR), Frank started out sending us code at 5 wpm by sending V-V-V and then a few words, and we both really laughed because that was much slower than we had been going. I guess we were really learning at about 15 wpm, but didn't know that.

    I think when you're a kid, it's easier. But a big advantage as a kid is there's nobody to tell you "this will be hard." We just figured it would be easy.:p
    W4RAV, WU6P, WA7PRC and 1 other person like this.
  5. N1BCG

    N1BCG Ham Member QRZ Page

    I had to learn, and re-learn, the code twice for earning amateur radio licenses. And now that it's not needed, I've been committed to diving in and building proficiency. Weird, eh? The learning tool I've found most helpful is the AA9PW website for the following reasons...

    1) You can set the character speed and spacing separately - This lets you copy the characters at a faster rate and hear their sound rather than count dits and dahs. Setting the character spacing longer allows you time to think and to gradually decrease it to match the character speed as your copying ability improves.

    2) You can choose dynamic and interesting content - Copying random characters isn't very interesting. Copying headlines from actual news sources makes you feel like you're copying something meaningful and you'll start to anticipate letters as words form. As a bonus, the site also features simulated QSOs so you can copy as if you were tuned in during a transmission!

    3) The sending quality is perfect - It's hard enough for experienced ops to copy characters that are "slurred" together or those where dits and dahs are sent at different speeds. No sense in getting discouraged unnecessarily.

    I find it invaluable, and fantastic for those getting started. Once you're able to head copy good code at a decent speed, and your confidence has some padding, you can set out into the wild and copy actual sent code!

  6. W7UUU

    W7UUU QRZ Lifetime Member #133 Volunteer Moderator Life Member Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    At 13, I picked up a book and first learned Letter A, then B, then C etc. ... when I had memorized the letters, I did numbers. Then I did punctuation. I learned it all visually, with "dots and dashes". I passed my 5-WPM Novice in December of my 13th year.

    Took me a few weeks to get proficient at about 10 WPM or so.... barely passed 13-WPM General when I was 14

    Then took the next twenty years to UNDO ALL THAT and finally "learn it right" - passed my 20-WPM Extra 100%, "multiple choice" as well as "1-minute solid copy" on my birthday in June 1997, and CW has remained my favorite mode ever since.


    N7CPM, G0WXP, NL7W and 3 others like this.
  7. N2EY

    N2EY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    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 to learn now and most people can probably get to 5 wpm or so in a month to 6 weeks, if they 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.

    I often see the question "what's the best way to learn Morse Code?" IMHO, there isn't one single best way.

    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.

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

    1) It's important to understand what "learning the code" really means: 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 can help, they are not the key to learning the skills.

    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 code. A good solid desk or table in a room 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. Comfortable 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 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 Morse Code 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 time spent 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 have to 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.

    Practice can take all sorts of forms - listening to computer-generated code, listening to recordings, listening to actual on-the-air QSOs, making QSOs (rag chews, contests, DXing). Some of the practice should be things you are comfortable with, some should be a stretch. Mix it up and try different things.

    Most of all: Don't practice until you get it right. Practice until you can't get it wrong.


    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
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  8. WA4ILH

    WA4ILH Subscriber QRZ Page

    The boys who I grew up with in the mid-60s in New Jersey who were interested in radio joined Civil Defense (CD) which met every Thursday night at 6:30 for code practice, 7:00 PM for a bit of theory and then we actually got to talk and send practice messages on the CD net at 8:00 PM. All AM in those days except for the 75 meter net which was SSB. It was my job to turn on the Swan 500 at 6:30 so it would be stable by 8:00 PM.
    Tom WA4ILH
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  9. W4ZD

    W4ZD XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    CW is an aural mode, so use the ears! If you look at a chart of dots and dashes, sound them out, gotta train the ears. So, for say a "C" you will see _._. Sing it, or speak it, using "dah" for the dash and "dit" for the dot. I used to fall asleep at night running imaginary CW through my head, but would always think of the sound, not the visual pattern. And, of course, a CPO is good for this. Once you have the basics, W1AW has CP broadcasts that will help you improve your speed.
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  10. KC8VWM

    KC8VWM Moderator Volunteer Moderator QRZ Page

    There's no "learning" Morse code.

    Don't get stuck in this never ending roadblock. There's no one but yourself who's going to tell you you're finally "ready."

    Just get on the air and start using it. Nothing beats doing the real deal.

    Sure, you'll probably make some mistakes. That's perfectly fine... No one is going to send you to jail or anything... Lol.

    So never mind learning, just do it!
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2018
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