The Weird Lurches of Learning Morse Language

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by N7BKV, Dec 8, 2018.

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  1. N7BKV

    N7BKV Ham Member QRZ Page

    So bear in mind this in only my story. But maybe some if it relates to others as well.

    First, when I got into the game less than 6 months ago I thought I would use a keyboard (key-bored, as it turns out) and decoder and cruise the HF world. Quickly found out two things.

    First, decoders are very limited. I have the one on my QCX dialed in to about 80% accurate if the sender is timing and spacing well, the noise is low, and the amplitude is good. Not too hard to find these guys, actually. But they are also the guys not likely to answer a CQ from me. Great for learning, since the screen is delayed from the audio about a letter or two, so it is more of a verification of what I am ear decoding.

    But I would rather QSO with a weaker signal, or slower learner, where we can crutch along with each other. And both be rewarded with a measure of success.

    Second, there is something about Morse Language as such that is lost for me when using key-boreds and decoders. Hey, that's why I'm not into FT8 or other digi stuff. Great for the computer aficionados, but I am not one. I want to FLEE my computer. That's just me. So don't take offense. Not that I am a total Ludite. I mean, like I use a fancy Iambic paddle. But that is more because my old hands have their limitations. The paddles seem to overcome that for me. So fantasies of being the radio officer on the Titanic pounding on a J38 are out.

    But here is what I am running up against in my learning curve. I learned the "code" well early on. Practiced sending common and personal things fast and well. Stuff like my call, my name, and my QTH, was well as QRL/CQ strings. Common stuff like that blasts from my paddles at about 25-30 wpm.

    In fact, what I have discovered is that faster is more accurate with the real familiar stuff. I actually make more mistakes when I slow down and take my time. And I am expanding the list of "real familiar stuff" to increasingly include stuff like the 100 most common QSO words and 100 most common English Language words.

    However, at this point when I can send the letters fast, any letters, my letter spacing is still way slow in comparison. I am really not sending words well, but strings of letters. My mind is not flowing with the paddles. Maybe it is just a slow brain.

    But when I slow down the letters to be more "wordy" then I make more mistakes. I do a lot of practice. QCX has a great practice mode where you are RX with all the live QRM, QRN etc. and can pretend to engage others with the TX off.

    Sorry for being long winded, but I am just looking for any insight and encouragement. As I lurch forward....
  2. N6MST

    N6MST Ham Member QRZ Page

    Put an antenna up and practice with people. Make sure you can receive (at least) as fast as you can send. And have fun!
    W9RAC, WA7PRC, WB5YUZ and 2 others like this.
  3. W5BIB

    W5BIB Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Hi Brian,... first of all, Slow Down ! It sounds as tho you have a good basic grasp of Morse in general. I would work more on learning/recognizing the abbreviations used with CW, rather than "100 most common English Language words". :rolleyes: As you may (or, may not) know by now, a large percentage of the QSO's we have, don't go much beyond the prerequisites of signal report, QTH, & name. The second time around, it's usually your rig/antenna, age, & maybe the weather. After that, it depends on your proficiency.

    From what I read,... you are having problems 'sending' with correct spacing. First of all, 25-30 wpm is pretty darn quick for someone just starting out ! - I would say to try and drop your sending speed (formation of characters) back a bit to 15-20 wpm & utilize the Farnsworth Method (spacing).

    I think that you're trying to do too much, too fast.

    Set the 'keyboard' that you have to 20 wpm & try to emulate its formation of characters with your 'paddles'.

    We ALL went thru that period of thinking that faster is better & sending, faster than we could copy. :eek:

    If we were closer to each other, I would love to have a QSO with you, but, my 15 watts isn't conducive to that happening with the current band conditions.

    P.S. - Get rid of that 'Decoder' you have & use the one between your ears. ;)

    77 /73
    dit dit
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2018
    WB5YUZ, N7BKV, KF9VV and 2 others like this.
  4. M6GYU

    M6GYU Ham Member QRZ Page

    I assume that when "stuff blasts from your paddles at 25 to 30 wpm" you can read morse at that speed? As W5BIB says, thats pretty good for someone whose been doing it for the time you've been learning.

    I'm not 100% clear what specifically your problem is except that if you blast off at 25/30 wpm then suddenly turn the keyer down to a slower speed it takes a bit of time to get used to the slower timing of responses = so you make mistakes. Like everything else in life it takes practice and six months isn't long.

    Of course being able to send a single letter on a key at say 35wpm doesn't follow that you can send another at 35wpm with the gap correspondingly as fast. You're brain needs to be able to send the character AND the space at 30wpm = that takes time and practice.

    What happens when you are on HF and you send at 30wpm? Can you read everything the other op sends at that speed too? If so well done!

    Like W5BIB I'd suggest you deliberately try to match the character speed with both the correct character spacing AND the word spacing. Thats when morse sounds correctly sent!!
  5. N7BKV

    N7BKV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks to ALL of you above who replied. I won't quote your comments since they are all pertinent. But know that this advice is exactly what I was looking for.

    Ear reading is coming along well. But predictably lagging the hand on the paddles.

    I partly blame that on the CT599 paddles. They are just so darn fantastic, especially when adjusted real tight.

    Slowing down and accepting errors as a trade-off for better messaging seems to be the wisdom you all have given me.

    I get to where I am sending fast in a thought-to-hand fashion and don't consciously recall the letters I sent. That makes me come to a halt to think about it. When I check the decoder they are there.

    Maybe the thought-to-hand dynamic is a good thing. But it seems to be ahead of other essentials at the moment, such as reading at that same speed and properly spacing. As a language it is not so much about the letters as it is about the message. On a good day I read only about half the speed I send. But improving continually, not plateauing.

    Maybe its all those years of playing pinball that developed my thought-to-hand talent. Surely CW is bound to be a better employment of that. And the nice thing about CW is only ONE hand is used!
    M6GYU likes this.
  6. M6GYU

    M6GYU Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm curious, but if you read cw at half the speed you send, what happens when you are on the air and someone replies at the speed you are sending????
    N7BKV likes this.
  7. N7BKV

    N7BKV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Not good. That is why I am reluctant to QSO unless their sending is decoded well on my QCX. It is a real frustration. When I go up to the 7114 area there are not a lot of fast guys there. But often the slow guys are waaaaay to slow for me to engage. It is like a different language and it messes me up since I don't do dits and dahs, but sound groups, lame as I am at fast reading it in my head still.

    I am getting there. Balance is coming. Lots of practice. Someone said it takes about 400 hours. I think I am into this enterprise about 200 hours so far. And every effort is encouraging.

    Thanks for taking your time to listen and help.
    W5BIB likes this.
  8. W5BIB

    W5BIB Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    "Be patient Tadpole" :)
    M6GYU and N7BKV like this.
  9. KF9VV

    KF9VV Ham Member QRZ Page

    I learned this in my other pursuit, music. Speed hides timing issues. Slow things down and work to get your timing right.

    I spent a few hours working the SKCC WES today. The ops with good timing were a lot easier to work.

    Gee, in music they talk about 10,000 hours!
    NG5O, N7BKV and W5BIB like this.
  10. NG5O

    NG5O XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Totally agree. Gotta' LOVE the guys who think they should get a little "swing" going with their sending - "dah di dah di dah".
    N7BKV likes this.

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