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Learning Method...?

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by KM4KWK, Aug 2, 2015.

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  1. KM4KWK

    KM4KWK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    A forum dedicated only to CW enthusiasts would certainly be the place to ask this question. I am quite interested in learning CW at some point in the near future. It really intrigues me. Not long ago an experienced local ham whom I respect and also is an experienced CW operator made a suggestion to me when I was asking him questions about CW. He suggested/warned me and any other ham to not even think about learning how to send code with out first becoming VERY proficient in the reading of it first. He said it is like two different ballgames. That reading should always be mastered first BEFORE the other. Actually makes good sense to me. Any other input/suggestions on this would be met with open ears.
  2. AA8TA

    AA8TA XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I consider myself a novice at the CW game, but if I was giving advice to somebody who wants to learn Morse code, it would be: relax and have fun at it. I've seen some advice that almost makes it look like NASA preparing to launch people into space. To me, that is too much. You're not going to get paid for this, so take a relaxed approach to it and make it a fun adventure. Sure, you'll almost certainly hit a few difficulties along the way, but patience will usually get you through those.

    I agree, sending before knowing the characters is silly. Not sure about 100% copy at 40 WPM before you send a dit, but whatever. I sometimes pull up news articles and send them to myself at a speed just slightly faster than I'm comfortable with. Whether that really helps me, I'm not sure, but I'm not much into rag-chewing so it is a way to do a lot of sending (having to think what to send is pretty hard for me).

    I used to learn (still using it). Also use ARRL's code transmission files. Take your time, make it fun and remember: there is no pressure; if you learn in a week, great, if a year, also great. You're not getting paid for this and you'll learn at whatever rate works for you. Also, make that "some point in the near future" no later than tomorrow. Good luck.
    KI4ODO, KD4MOJ and VK5EEE like this.
  3. KM4KWK

    KM4KWK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thank you for the link....I will try it out. Thank you for the advice as well. The putting off of things sometimes can become "eternal".
  4. KK4PP

    KK4PP Ham Member QRZ Page

    I am currently learning CW. I have opted for the old school "learn all the letters at 5 WPM". Yesterday I just completed an old WB6NOA W5YI course (originally on 2 double sided cassettes) designed to prepare you for the old 5 WPM novice exam. I tried once before and get busy with work and didn't stick to it. This time I did. The course took me about a week to get through. 15 minute sessions 3 or 4 times a day. I'm not exactly ready for my first QSO yet, but I have a good grasp of about 20 of letters. There are a few I still confuse and can't copy fluently at 5 WPM. (F, L, Q, X, Z, J, etc) I have the concept of the numbers down, but can't copy them at any speed yet.

    Proponents of the Koch method of learning say that if you learn at 5 WPM, you will have problems picking up speed later. On Friday, I downloaded some of the practice MP3s and matching text files from the ARRL website. I downloaded the files at 10, 13 & 15 WPM. I start silently "reading along" with the MP3 at 15 WPM. If 15 isn't happening at that moment, I drop down in speed. This AM, I was able to following along with 2 paragraphs of text at 10 WPM. I tapped out almost all of the copy on the table with my finger, one letter ahead of the MP3. My goal is to keep doing this until I can close my eyes and still follow along without the printout in front of me. I do have to say that reading and translating in your head is much easier than copying when you don't know what is going to be said next, but it's a start.

    I don't own a key or a paddle yet. Getting one of each is at the top of my to do list.

    I also downloaded a morse code keyboard for my iphone. It forces you to peck out your letters on 2 virtual buttons and then turns them into the letters. I have sent a few text messages that way. If you mess up a letter, you just hit the backspace and try again. When the sentence is complete, you can hit "Send".
    K5URU likes this.
  5. K7MEM

    K7MEM Ham Member QRZ Page

    I think what the other ham meant is to not let your sending speed get too far beyond your receive speed. A CW operator tends to judge the receiving speed of another operator by their sending speed. If a experienced operator hears your 30 WPM transmission, he will likely respond at 30 WPM. But if your receive speed is only 15 WPM, a problem exists. So when you are sending a CQ, or responding to a CQ, don't send at a speed you are not comfortable receiving. You should always be able to read your own code.

    Everyone has their own way of learning that works for them and their own way of increasing their operating speed. They are two different learning experiences. And any ham can only tell you what did or did not work for them. I got my ham license 50 years ago. I was able to learn all the characters pretty easily, but couldn't get a lot of time to really learn to send/receive like I wanted to. I tried a variety of ways over the next 30, or so, years to get my speed up so I could upgrade my license. I didn't have any issues with the written tests, just the Morse test. But during that time I also learned that I needed to study for the test. What I mean is, I knew what was going to be on the test, sort of. The test was going to be a simulated QSO and I had to have either solid copy or answer 10 questions about the simulated QSO, So I thought, why am I copying 5 letter code groups or excerpts from QST magazine over the air. That isn't what I am being tested on.

    So I use some software to generate multiple simulated QSOs at speeds from 11 to 27 WPM. Each QSO had the same basic information, but each one was unique. I started with the slow speed, 11 WPM. I listened to the QSOs until I was easily copying about 90% of the information. Then I would increase my testing speed by 2 WPM. It was tough to get going again, but after a few sessions, it started to get easier. I continued that way until I was copying about 17 WPM and went for, and passed, the General 13 WPM test. That process worked so well that 6 months later I was at 27 WPM and went for the Extra 20 WPM test. I passed the Morse test and all of the necessary written tests, and walked out a Extra.

    Like W8JPF said, just enjoy yourself. Take your time learning. If you choose a method that doesn't seem to be working for you, choose another. Getting on the air won't necessarily increase your speed, but it will give you the confidence you need to go further.
    WB5YUZ and VK5EEE like this.
  6. N7ZAL

    N7ZAL Ham Member QRZ Page

    There are numerous techniques as there are ways to take your money, but the bottom line is what works for you. Various people learn in various ways and select a method you are comfortable with. It isn't "rocket science." :)

    I learned Morse back in the 1950's just using regular note cards to learn. One side of the card had the letter and the other side had the Morse equivalent. I used a piece of tin strip cut from a coffee can lid, an old cabinet knob on one end, the other end screwed into a board, and a buzzer. I was motivated, so learned quick. My code speed eventually got up to 60 WPM after a year or so. Of course I upgraded to a keyer by then.

    It just depends on the most comfortable and easy way you learn. Some people use tapes, some SWL, some use CPOs, etc.

    Regardless, keep at it, enjoy it, and welcome to a great mode.
    VK5EEE likes this.
  7. AG6QR

    AG6QR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I've been slowly learning CW, just starting a couple of years ago. I'll offer some of my own experiences.

    As you mention to others that you're learning CW, many experienced CW operators will offer you advice. Virtually all of it is offered in a spirit of genuine helpfulness, and the vast majority is useful. But some of it occasionally can be of the form, "The only way to learn CW the way I learned it." In fact, there are lots of different ways of learning, and different people's minds learn differently. That doesn't mean all methods are equal. Some ways may tend to be faster than others, and some ways are more likely to develop bad habits that must later be broken. Try to avoid those bad habits. And try to stay mostly with the methods that others have found to be faster and more effective.

    But the only absolute "must" I'll give you is that you must find a method that keeps it fun enough for you and rewarding enough for you so that you don't give up before you become proficient.

    I'm not sure what was meant by that. If he meant that you shouldn't send on the air faster than you can receive over the air, that's very valid advice. If you don't follow that rule, you'll start a QSO with someone and he'll come back to you faster than you can copy him, and you'll miss a lot of stuff and have to ask him to repeat, and generally be frustrated. That's a very valid point, but that doesn't sound like what he said, unless I'm missing something in translation.

    It's also true that sending and receiving are different skills, and for most people, the sending part is easier to learn than the receiving part. So it makes sense to concentrate your early practice heavily on receiving. If you let your receiving skills get ahead of your sending skills at first, it won't be hard to get your sending to catch up later.

    There's another thing he might have meant. If you start sending practice solo, before you have the rhythm of the letters firmly etched into your brain, you may develop bad sending habits. It's easy to get a strongly accented/personalized fist. If you've got a helpful Elmer to listen to your practice sessions and correct you, this may be less of a problem. Guys who learned to send in the formal environment of something like a military code school may have had an advantage there. But many of us these days do the bulk of our early practice alone, using a practice oscillator of some sort, with nobody else listening. If you keep hearing that code that you're sending wrongly, your ears will become accustomed to hearing it that way, and your hand will become used to sending it that way, and the habits will become etched into your brain.

    There are a few techniques that may help avoid that problem:
    1. Don't send until you've practiced enough receiving to have the proper sound of the letters firmly etched into your brain.
    2. Do your sending practice under the periodic supervision of someone who will honestly critique your sending and help you break bad habits before the habits are too firmly established.
    3. Use an electronic keyer to control the length of the dits and dahs, and the space between them. This is not without controversy; there are those who say you should learn with a straight key first. But an electronic keyer makes it impossible to send poorly formed dits or dahs, and it enforces a minimum space between them, so it makes at least some kinds of bad habits impossible. You can still have poor space between letters, and poor space between words, so it won't solve all problems. And if your goal is to eventually become proficient on a straight key and/or bug, you can't use the crutch of the keyer forever.
    4. When you send, use some sort of automatic computerized reader to read your code while you send it. If the reader doesn't decode the letters you thought you were sending, you know you're doing it wrong.
    Looking back, I guess I used a combination of all four of those to learn to send.

    VK5EEE likes this.
  8. M0LEP

    M0LEP Ham Member QRZ Page

    There are many threads on this subject at present in the "Working Other Modes" forum. It'd probably help a great deal if they were moved from there into this one.
  9. KM4KWK

    KM4KWK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thank you all for the advice and input. Very valuable to hear what experience has to say.
    Thanks again and hopefully will be learning code soon......
  10. K8JD

    K8JD Ham Member QRZ Page

    My learning experience with Morse
    I learned Morse so long ago I forgot exactly how I did it !
    I Know that I spent a lot of time listening to the old Novice bands on my Hallicrafters S38d SWL receiver.
    Once I learned all the letters and numbers I would listen for a CQ and then try to copy the callsign.
    Then when I could copy callsigns I went on to eavesdrop on a QSO and the Idea of finding out who and where the signals were coming from just made it very interesting and I persued it with more entheusiasm.
    Also, studying a real QSO, gives you the format that radio conversations take in a real world situation with QRM and QRN so once you actually get on the air on CW, you can handle it well.
    Just listening to practice groups of letters on a computer is not giving you a real on-the-air experience.
    Good luck.
    VK5EEE likes this.

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