Learning Morse At 64 Years Old -- My Experience With The Koch Method

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by G3EDM, Aug 31, 2021.

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  1. G3EDM

    G3EDM Ham Member QRZ Page

    There is a slight contradition in what you said. I am very aware of it because it ended up being central both to my Morse success (which is happening now) and my many failures, in the past, to learn Morse.

    For a long time I thought that before getting on the air I needed solid recognition at 20wpm or at least, 15-17wpm. I worked diligently with code-learning software, and also various other resources, but after several repeated attemps (each one spanning several months) I still was not reaching my goal.

    This time around, I was much less of a perfectionist. Instead of aiming for 90% recognition (which is the Koch benchmark) with the drills, I actually stopped even "grading" myself. When I reached a "plateau" as is common in learning Morse, I took a break, came back to it the next day, and just sorta pushed through it even if recognition fell below 50%.

    Once I had learned the full 40-character set, I got on the air immediately. As I have already chronicled in a QRZ thread, the result was extremely mediocre. I could copy no more than maybe 30% of the received QSO. Amazingly, this turned out to be enough to complete a basic QSO. More importantly, I am finding that my copy skills are now growing rapidly, much faster than when I spent hours a day listening to software transmitting "canned QSOs".

    Before I got on the air for the first time (10 days ago!), I was vaguely aware that CW operators are helpful and polite. However, I did not realise just how true that is. IMO the courtesy and patience are almost forced upon us by the nature of the mode. If, as in my case, you cannot communicate much faster than about 15wpm, you have to be patient and forgiving just to talk with me! Not to mention copying my newbie code!

    73 de Martin, G3EDM
     
    KE8OKM and KD7ICW like this.
  2. US7IGN

    US7IGN Ham Member QRZ Page

    I will tell you my experience. I started studying CW at almost 40 years old on www.lcwo.net and spent a year when was able to make the first simplest QSO. 1. Koch's method is the only one that gave a real result. 2. It turned out to be much more difficult to receive on air than what the program send. 3. It is still difficult for me to understand when the transmission is bad, especially when there is no space between signs and words. 4. It is very difficult for me to receive an ordinary conversation without recording. I think this is because English is not a native language. However, any information I perceive the worst by ear, it is better for me to read. 5. Competition was the best way to improve speed.
     
  3. US7IGN

    US7IGN Ham Member QRZ Page

    This is nonsense. As far as I understand, according to his method, you cannot teach CW at a speed below 15WPM. This is the essence of the method - to immediately learn the sound of a letter, not being able to count the signs in it.
     
  4. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I think you're right.

    I never "learned" or practiced that way, but even today if I want to change my speed from fast to slower without reaching up to turn a knob on the rig, I just use wider spacing and still send letters at my original speed, with more space between them. It's easier, and does seem to mostly work.

    But for those who learned a very poor way, which is counting dits and dahs, it probably doesn't work.
     
    US7IGN likes this.
  5. US7IGN

    US7IGN Ham Member QRZ Page

    And it is right! My maximum speed is 30-35WPM. But I can understand even on 45WPM if there are large spaces between letters. But I can not understand anything even at a speed of 10WPM if there are no space between them at all.
     
    G3EDM likes this.
  6. G3EDM

    G3EDM Ham Member QRZ Page

    I can send at any speed between 5wpm and about 17wpm. Typically, as a beginner, my top sending speed is higher than my top copy speed.

    However, when I learned to copy, I set the Koch-method software (G4FON) to send all the characters at 20wpm with Farnsworth spacing, bringing the effective transmission speed to 15wpm.

    When I send Morse, I am doing the same thing: sending the characters relatively fast, with Farnsworth spacing.

    For me, the problem with true QRS (characters actually keyed at 5wpm for instance) is two-fold:
    • Characters sent that slowly just don't sound like the characters I assimilated when learning Morse. I do not recognize them.
    • Even worse, if I try to copy really slow Morse, there is no way I can stop the dreaded "lookup table in the brain" from being triggered: "Counting the dits and dahs". This is bad, not just in principle, but also because it can literally mess up your progress with Morse, which involves vigorous suppression of the "lookup table". The only way to banish the "lookup table" is to copy Morse that is being sent too fast for the table to be useful.
    Somewhere on the Zed, perhaps in this thread, another commenter noted that research has been done showing that in very bad CONDX there is an optimum speed for efficient transmission which is around 12wpm. So there are some cases where QRS has a practical purpose. Obviously, QRS is also a courtesy extended to beginners such as myself, although the quicker one can progress to (say) 15wpm or higher, the better, in my experience so far.

    Ironically, I do not necessarily copy better at 10wpm than at 15wpm. There are even times when my mind goes into a kind of Zen state (described in "The Art and Skill of Radiotelegraphy") and I can copy entire sentences at 20wpm. I have found that the crucial skill needed for that kind of fluency is "copy behind" by approximately one character. Very tricky to force your brain into it, at first.

    Ops who copy true QRQ use "copy behind" much more dramatically, letting entire words enter their brains before either head-copying them, or writing them down. Actually, it is already happening in my case, in a very small way. A handful of very short words such as FER are already entering my human memory banks. It's really tricky though, because (for example) you run the risk of mistaking another word that starts with FE for FER.

    That is one of the key advantages of the Koch method. All the drills are randomly generated and contain random characters, not actual words. So there is no way that you can guess what is coming next. This of course is not unique to the Koch method: I assume, for example, that military cryptographers in Days Of Old would often practice with random character groups, even if they were not taught with the Koch method.

    (Learning using random character groups also has its drawbacks, which readers of this thread can easily guess. The worst issue is that Morse of random character groups has a very different "rhythm" compared to normal words in English or other languages. So when you finally finish the body of the Koch course and start copying real English, it is a bit of a shock and quite difficult. I alluded to this in my original post in this thread.)

    73 de Martin, G3EDM
     
    W9RAC likes this.
  7. DM2TT

    DM2TT Ham Member QRZ Page

    That what i do too,when i use the paddle.turning the speed down makes it all sound strange to me,irritating.
     
    G3EDM likes this.
  8. W9RAC

    W9RAC Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I get it Martin on the slow code. I have to us a pen and pad if its real slow and even then I have a problem with some of the characters since they of course do not sound like what you are use to. The head copy to me came with practice and being tired of being tethered to a pad and pen. You probably have listened to enough so that certain things pop into your head right off generally before the Op has even finished sending, like QRS, name and stuff. That will happen with most words as you progress. A big part of it is what you do regarding CW. So the exchange Op. might not be very efficient at a rag chew. All I do is rag chew which is great for conversation but I would be lost in high speed exchanges. I head copy and take notes for return conversation unless I am struggling to follow the Op or its slow then I have to write it down. Most of my rag chew is 15-17 or so and you will end up there too probably with the straight key. I use the bug most of the time but do use the paddle just so I do not forget how. Im thinking sending Farnsworth with a straight key might be difficult to send @21 for most Ops. and sound decent? Anyway great work, 73 Rich
     
    G3EDM likes this.
  9. W9RAC

    W9RAC Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Its a different breed of Op on CW for sure. Lots of respect, lots of politeness. Im not sure why exactly other than respect for the other Ops. effort to be there. A very refreshing change for sure from fone...most of the time, I also know great SSb Ops but they are often overlooked from the other trash going on. 73 Rich
     
  10. W4HAY

    W4HAY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Are you going to take part in the SKCC Sprint this weekend? The SF is up around 100, so jumping the pond with 100 Watts and a dipole on 20 should relatively easy. 40 at night may be possible, too.
     

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