new to CW

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by AF7XY, Jan 8, 2020.

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  1. AF7XY

    AF7XY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hi everyone I am new to learning morse code and am using several different courses , Gordon West, Skillman, Jerry silica to name a few. I was wondering if anyone could give me some advice on how to proceed in my learning and study habits. Thanks in advance
    M0KBO and KN4YHP like this.
  2. WW2PT

    WW2PT Ham Member QRZ Page

    • Don’t learn Morse code using a visual method.
    • Listen to on-air QSOs for practice.
    • Don’t be afraid of making CW contacts when starting out.
    • Disconnect and hide your mic and force yourself to use CW.
    • Spend the money for a good paddle. There’s a reason they cost more.
    These are the things I wish someone told me—especially the first one!
    UR4MCB, W9RAC, KF9VV and 4 others like this.
  3. K5UNX

    K5UNX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I need to do better at your third bullet and get on the air more!
    WW2PT and WB5YUZ like this.
  4. W2OZB

    W2OZB XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Good advice has been spoken! Here are my feelings. First my disclaimer as I am a CWAcademy advisor. I am partial to the CWAcademy method, BUT, it is not the only one. There are two basic approaches to learning CW: learning it on your own and taking a class. Both work. It's up to you to decide on which way to go. I would recommend if you learn on your own, get an Elmer. CW has its own quirky language with pro signs and Q codes and abbreviations that my not seem intuitive to the casual observer. There are tons of software available, Phillips Trainer, G4FON,LCWO, etc etc. Some are accurate when it comes to Speed and Farnsworth spacing, some are not. If you are a self motivator and can keep yourself focused, this may be you approach.

    Structured classes are, well, structured. They will hold you accountable for your practice time. You are committed to a practice schedule, class meetings, and homework. You also belong to a group of students who also make each and everyone accountable. This is a far more demanding approach but the success rate is incredible. Besides CWAcademy (a division of CWops), there are other organizations that conduct CW classes, one big club in New York of which the name escapes me at the moment(I'm sure someone will chime in), and others. For CWAcademy, please look at:

    There will be a drop down menu for CWAcademy. There will be plenty of info there to peruse.

    Again, there are other structured classes available both internationally and at local clubs. I'm sure others will chime in to give you links and info. Hope this helps
    WB5YUZ, M0KBO, N4UP and 1 other person like this.
  5. 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
    OH1BOR, K5TSK, K1LKP and 5 others like this.
  6. N1UKX

    N1UKX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    and PLEASE learn to space your letters and words so others can copy them.
    KP4SX, M0KBO, N4UP and 4 others like this.
  7. K5UNX

    K5UNX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Yes! This! . . . I am learning CW and listen to live QSO's as part of my learning. I often find people calling CQ with no spacing between letters and words. I have to just spin the dial on those.
    KF4MOT and NG9F like this.
  8. N8AFT

    N8AFT Ham Member QRZ Page

    I hear T E N Q and N N Q sent alot instead of CQ.... :p
    BTW, I learned Morse code not CW myself.... ;)
    M6GYU likes this.
  9. WW2PT

    WW2PT Ham Member QRZ Page

    AMEN! I was tuning around last night and found myself unable to copy even 15 wpm because I was dog tired and couldn’t concentrate.
    M0KBO likes this.
  10. W6MK

    W6MK Ham Member QRZ Page

    Human beings mostly learn best when they are among other human beings. The reasons for this are many: we are essentially social
    creatures, we learn by imitation, striving and competitive urges stimulate learning and so on.

    Join some sort of group to learn Morse Code efficiently and most pleasantly. Otherwise it can be a chore for many people
    who are not good at learning new skills.
    W2OZB likes this.

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