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Author Topic: The best way to learn Morse code.  (Read 26606 times)

gil

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The best way to learn Morse code.
« on: February 28, 2013, 07:44:24 PM »
It took me more than six months! Six months to be able to copy the alphabet, numbers and a few other punctuation codes and prosigns at a puny 12wpm. The military used to teach Morse code in a matter of weeks. I don't think I could have passed that class, at least not without a serious headache every night! Let's face it, it's not easy. I don't want to discourage anyone though, CW is the most efficient mode there is. I could have done it faster had I not made a few mistakes in my approach. This is why I am going to tell you what in my opinion is the best way to learn Morse code today.

The first step is to commit to months of study and frustration. That said, some people have a knack for it and breeze through the whole process without breaking a sweat. I didn't. The reward is a lifelong skill few peole possess that will allow you to do much with very small and simple equipment. So, decide now that you will see it through and not give up. It is just a matter of time. You need to oultlast your opponent basically  ::) Progress is slow but each plateau you conquer is very rewarding.

The second step is learning the characters. I suggest three softwares and one web site to do this:


I highly recommend Ham Morse because it allows you to listen to current news in Morse code. It is well worth the $4.99.

Do not make the same mistake I made and slow down to any less than 15wpm. I went down to 7wpm to finish the alphabet and numbers. Some characters I knew by sound, others as dots and dashes. Do not visualize dots and dashes! I am still struggling to get rid of this bad habbit. If you do so, you will have two translation steps to perform for each letter instead of one. You can be twice as fast if you associate characters directly to sounds.

In parallel with the software of your choice, depending on your platform, I also suggest that you open an account on http://lcwo.net. Use "Morse Machine" to practice character recognition. Each lesson will give you one more character to indentify.

The next step is to work on your speed. On Windows I use RufZXP: http://www.rufzxp.net. It is free and works great. the program sends you call signs and adjusts speed depending on your performance. It keeps track of your score and maximum speed attained. It is an excellent tool to build speed.

On Linux, similar to RufZXP, is QRQ: http://fkurz.net/ham/qrq.html. Not as goos as RufZXP, but close. You can also run it on the Mac.

Practice every day, twenty to thirty minutes. I did not stick to a daily schedule and it took me much longer than anticipated.

The last step is head-copy. The best way to achieve this is to listen to code on your radio (or news on Ham Morse). I like to leave my radio on in the background on a popular calling frequency, mostly 7030KHz. Once in a while you will recognize a word without really trying to copy or write anything down. This will happen more often as time goes. I read that it is good to listen to code much faster than you can copy. Head-copy is highly dependent on short-term memory. A good way to "increase you buffer size" is to ask a friend or significant other to spell words to you while you put the letters together in your head. Just simple letters, not in Morse code. This way you will be able to put together longer words with a bit of practice. Most of the time you will recognize a word half way through.

Most importantly, as soon as you can copy all the characters, get on the air! Do not care how you sound. Nothing bad will happen if you mess-up a QSO. There is nothing to be nervous about. Call CQ at a speed you can copy, even if it is 5wpm. You should get an answer at the same speed. Try to have a least one long QSO per day while you build up your speed, not just a signal report. If you only practice contest or DX type of contacts, you will miss most of the enjoyment of CW and won't be able to copy regular words reliably.

When listening to code and writing it down, do not dwell on missed characters. Just leave a blank or underscore and keep right on going. Otherwise, you will lose many more characters. By not getting attached to one missed letter you will miss only one, and can fill it in later from the context.

Sending is easier. Grab a book you like and open it on a random page. Send as you read.. Just keep doing it until your code flows freely. Mind your timing. Leave the correct spacing between letters and words. A good way to test your sending is to use a Morse decoder like Fldigi: http://www.w1hkj.com/Fldigi.html. If the text you send is translated by the software, you are doing well! I also use Fldigi as a backup during QSOs, when I am home that is. Outside, I just use a pad and pencil, which forces me to be more attentive. I do stall once in a while though and lose a word or two. Sending, while easier, is also very important. I have heard many operators at a speed I could have copied, had they not been very messy with their sending. Send as fast as you can do so reliably with good timing. Speed will come later. It is more important to be understood. You won't be faster by having to repeat yourself often!

I should also mention CWOps, which is a free class that also helped me by mainly providing feedback from a qualified instructor: http://www.cwops.org. The class meets thwice a week online for about an hour. It is great for anyone who doesn't have a radio yet. In any case, it is a good complement to your personal efforts and forces you to "show-up" for scheduled lessons.

Good luck, have fun, and don't give up!

Gil.

cockpitbob

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2013, 10:34:01 PM »
One more thing about "the code".  With it you will have something that is rare and truely earned.  It is something you can't buy or be given.  There are wealthy hams out there that envy some poor hams because they know Morse code and can work the world on 5W.  The club I belong to gives Morse classes and certificates.  The certificates call Morse operators "the elite of ham radio". 

Gil,
I think you covered it so well that all I can do is add some emphasis on some points.

* Skip characters you miss!  If I try to "save" a character I usually get it but miss the next 4.  It's actually a skill to know when to give up and focus on the next character.  For normal QSOs all you have to get perfect is the call sign, RST and maybe a little more.  I find I can carry on a QSO with 50% copy.  Call signs, RSTs and names are usually given multiple times.  Yeah, I miss some stuff, but how important is knowing the other guy's age or weather anyway?

* I mainly use lcwo.net.  It has a lot of different ways to train.  One of it's nice features is converting plain text to Morse.  I pasted the chapter from a book into it and recorded it to MP3 at several speeds for my iPod with my voice recorder.

* Find a friend to practice with to get feedback on your fist.  When you talk you can't hear your own accent.  Similarly it's hard to hear your own fist.

* Commit to this for the long term, then set short goals.  5wpm fairly clean copy.  Then 10wpm.  Between 5 and 10 get on the air for your first QSOs.  The CW community is full of friendly supportive people that will answer a slow CQ and enjoy helping a newb along.  Then 15wpm and you'll feel pretty comfortable on the air.

Rob_ma

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2013, 09:05:38 AM »
Are there any Android apps that I could use to learn CW while driving? I have a 30 minute commute to and from work and I would like to utilize that time to learn. Last time I was in the app store there wasn't an app that didn't require looking at the screen. Something that would say the letters with the code would work.

- Rob

cockpitbob

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2013, 12:26:59 PM »
Rob, copying is the hard part.  Learning to send comes very quickly.  I copied a bunch of training sessions from lcwo.net (mp3) into my iPod and listen while I drive.  I'll copy the same thing at several speeds.  You can do the same with g4fon and probably many of the others.

underhill

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #4 on: March 01, 2013, 09:29:11 PM »
K7QO developed a course, based on farnsworth weighting, to walk you thru the learning process, including files on all numbers, letters, some punctuation, qso's, random character files and story text files.  The CD is a collection of MP3 files, so way more densly packed than a standard audio CD

It is now offered thru the F.I.S.T.S morse preservation club.

an earlier version of the course, a Ver1 (I think) iso is available for a download. 
http://www.kkn.net/~k7qo/
Basically same material, just around 131 sessions instead of the 514 sessions available on the Ver 3 CD. 

Ver 3 CD is available from the Fists site:
http://www.fists.org/store.html#codecd

I try to spend 15-30 minutes a day with various files on my cd, over lunchtime, or some other quiet period I can find.   With the recent family crisis, unfortunately, that has slipped a bit, but I'm trying to stick to it best as I can.

My HT also has a code practice mode, sends random settable numbers/letters/punctuation or mixed in standard sized 5 character 'words', which I use at random moments.

I can send just fine, and copy, while not so good, but passable, up until I try to get on the air. Then it starts out ok, then seems to fade away with the first outside distraction :( 

Stickin with it, someday I intend to regain my morse.  Dang, I started as a novice many years back, got my old HW8 rig waiting for me.  It's harder than I remember, but on the other hand, mil school was immersion for more hours daily than I've been spending, they didn't have to deal with commuting, work, and family stuff.  A slight difference in focus, I suppose.

Allan
« Last Edit: March 01, 2013, 09:36:43 PM by underhill »

cockpitbob

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #5 on: March 01, 2013, 09:47:16 PM »
The brain works in interesting ways.   The FCC understood it pretty well way back when they picked 5, 13 and 20wpm as the milestones.

* 5wpm:    You've memorized the Morse table and basically do a look-up table in your head.
* 13wpm:  The look-up table can't go faster than 10wpm.  At 13wpm you have to be hearing letters  or syllables instead of dots & dashes.
* 20wpm:  At this speed you need to start hearing words (the syllables coming together into one thing) instead of individual letters.

It is so much like learning another language that the Boy Scouts, who provide a special "Interpreter" uniform patch to those who know a 2nd languge have added Morse to their list of Interpreter languages.  It's a cool patch.  All it says is   --  ---  .-.  ...  .

gil

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #6 on: March 01, 2013, 10:29:51 PM »
Quote
The FCC understood it pretty well way back when they picked 5, 13 and 20wpm as the milestones.

Absolutely. I have experienced those numbers exactly. Well, except for 20wpm. I'm not there yet... That is why I think it is important to learn at a minimum of 15wpm to skip the look-up table stage. I first learned at 7wpm and wasted a lot of time switching to the next step. Better go directly to the sound-to-letter association.

I am starting to hear the most common short words, but it is a slow process...

Gil.

gil

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2017, 05:31:00 AM »

MaryAnn

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2017, 12:10:17 PM »
Lots of great advice.  I hope you folks don't mind my adding more to the pile...

I was lucky when I learned the code because I never had to copy off tapes or canned lessons.  I copied right off the air.  On HF, this gave me a chance to learn how to copy in spite of the QRM, QRN, and QLF's.  I figured out pretty early on that if I missed a character I needed to let it go and listen for the next character.

I also copied on VHF.  In those days, one of the local hams ran a weekly code practice session on the 2 meter repeater.  Sometimes he'd start slow and gradually QRQ.  Other times, he'd start fast and gradually QRS.  Sometimes he'd send plain text, and other times he'd send 5 letter random code groups.  I was amazed at how much information I got from the plain text even when I only knew a fraction of the letters.

So I would say, right off the bat, copy as much code as you can under as many circumstances as you can.  I remember even trying to "copy" a leaky faucet!  (Lots of dits, no dah's.)  In spite of everything, though, there were a couple of letters I always had trouble hearing.  I don't know why, but the letter G and the letter L just never registered with me.  The FCC took care of that problem for me because my novice call had both a G and an L in it.  I got real good at hearing L's and G's after that.

If you're interested in increasing your code speed,  try listening to higher speeds for a few minutes.  For instance, if you are comfortable at 15 wpm and want to copy at 20 wpm, copy for a few minutes at 25.  Then drop the speed to 20 and you'll be surprised at slow 20 sounds to you.

As far as head copy versus hard copy is concerned:  In my day, the good CW ops used a mill to copy, so their code speed was limited by their typing speed.  I'm a traffic handler who can't type, so my code speed is pretty much limited by how fast I can write.  I never learned to head copy, per se.

One trick I use, which I think is pretty cool, is I use my off hand to operate my paddles.  That way, I can be logging or taking notes with my dominant hand as I send code with the other hand.

One last thought:  I don't understand it, but some folks just don't like CW.  Sometimes I wonder if CW is just so foreign to them that they can't even spell it... ;)   

MaryAnn, NS7X         

KK0G

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2017, 12:57:21 PM »

Good tips MaryAnn, thanks for sharing.


One last thought:  I don't understand it, but some folks just don't like CW.  Sometimes I wonder if CW is just so foreign to them that they can't even spell it... ;)   

MaryAnn, NS7X         


Some folks don't like CW!?!?  :o 


I suppose I was one of those folks many years ago, I barely learned just enough code to squeak by on the 5 WPM test to get my General ticket and beyond passing the test I had zero interest what so ever in CW, my interest was phone and digital. Fast forward a few years and me being a very technical minded person who likes to build stuff, I kept noticing all these cool QRP kits available for what seemed to be bargain prices. But alas they were almost exclusively CW only rigs and of course I had no interest in annoying dits and dahs............. or did I? 8)  I made a half hearted attempt to re-learn code but my interest was short lived. A few years later I read an article by none other than RadioRay of this forum that re-sparked my interest in CW, this time I buckled down and really dedicated some time towards learning code and it started to get relatively easy in short time. I started making QSO's on the air and suddenly my proficiency skyrocketed because I was having fun while learning which made the whole process completely painless. I started building QRP kits and the rest is history, I haven't transmitted a phone signal on amateur radio bands in many years and in fact I only own a single HF rig that will even do phone, an old Icom 735 that is buried in a desk drawer somewhere in my shack.
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" - Benjamin Franklin

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gil

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2017, 07:09:34 AM »
Really, what's not to like? I had my share of problems (still do) with learning and using the code. Some letters still slow me down, like Q! Forget punctuation other than a dot :o Other weird things I noticed is that I am faster with the left hand using a straight key. Thanks again Ray for sending me one BTW, because I really enjoy straight keys now :) The slightest distraction still makes me miss whole words. I don't even think I could head-copy while brushing my teeth :o Being well rested seems to help a lot. Sometimes I copy words at 30-35wpm, and sometimes struggle at 18. I'll just keep on using Morse, the rest will take care of itself...

Gil.

Rescue9

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #11 on: April 14, 2017, 08:41:13 AM »
This is frustrating beyond belief. Having learned the "dit dah counting method" , wrapping my mind around thinking of the words and letters as sounds is problematic. I keep trying, but I've been so bummed that lately I don't even want to touch the radio.

Sent from my m8 using Tapatalk


gil

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #12 on: April 14, 2017, 09:17:48 AM »
Yep, that's how it goes ??? Just hang in there, eventually it gets easier.

Gil.

KK0G

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #13 on: April 14, 2017, 04:40:09 PM »
This is frustrating beyond belief. Having learned the "dit dah counting method" , wrapping my mind around thinking of the words and letters as sounds is problematic. I keep trying, but I've been so bummed that lately I don't even want to touch the radio.

Sent from my m8 using Tapatalk


Yep, that's why almost everyone strongly advises against learning code at a speed slow enough to count individual characters, it's much more difficult to break a bad habit than it is to learn a new one. No need to worry though, crank the code speed way up, maybe 18-20 WPM, while leaving lots of spacing between letters and I think you'll be amazed at how quickly your brain starts to instantly recognize the different sounds of each letter. Getting frustrated is normal, it happened to all of us. Keep practicing, it won't happen overnight but you'll get there.
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" - Benjamin Franklin

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cockpitbob

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Re: The best way to learn Morse code.
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2017, 09:12:05 AM »
This is frustrating beyond belief. Having learned the "dit dah counting method" , wrapping my mind around thinking of the words and letters as sounds is problematic. I keep trying, but I've been so bummed that lately I don't even want to touch the radio.

Sent from my m8 using Tapatalk
Hang in there Rescue9! :)  For some of us progress is slow.  I accepted that and told myself to enjoy what I can do (most Hams can't do any Morse) and know that it will get better with time.

Getting on the air helped my motivation.  With a QRP rig I consistently hit western Russia from MA with my simple wire antenna.  They were quick 599 QSOs but doing better than 1,000 miles per watt with Morse really put the hook in me and helped me to not give up.