My Morse Journey

As I’ve mentioned many, many times.  My attempts at learning Morse code or CW as a teenager were unsuccessful.  While I’ve mentioned my excuse was too many distractions (cars, sports, girls).  I also believe my failure was a learning block which I couldn’t overcome.  Perhaps another way to word this was a learning block I didn’t know how to overcome. 

Since getting my license in 2007, CW has been a mode I’ve wanted to operate.  I will admit that I’ve fiddled around in Ham Radio Deluxe DM780 and have also downloaded and installed other software applications to decode via the computers soundcard to text translation.  I’ve decoded many times, but have never actually attempted to send via these mechanisms. 

Please understand that what I’m going to say next is my opinion and only my opinion.  But if I have to use computer software to send and receive CW signals, I might as well stay away from that mode.  Again…this is my opinion for my own operational style and my own way of thinking. 

So having said that, I am in the process of researching methods of learning Morse code.  I’ve spent some time talking to some friends and researching information on the internet.  I plan to wrap up this discovery phase and get started in the next few days.

While I know many learned CW from simply studying the dots and dashes which make up each letter or from listening to code tapes.  I’m looking for alternative methods as I’ve tried the code tapes and studying an A is .- with not much success.  Of course, I also understand I’m a much different person now than I was 30 years or so ago.  Most of this will be similar to overcoming my obstacles with earning extra last summer.  Meaning, I just need to focus and get it done but at the same time not setting unnecessary pressures on myself. 

Morse code is very much alive on the bands and it is a mode I dearly want to enjoy.  I’ll be certain to most frequent updates to share both my successes and frustrations along my Morse journey.

Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK 

Jerry Taylor, KD0BIK, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Colorado, USA. He is the host of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast. Contact him at [email protected].

11 Responses to “My Morse Journey”

  • Tom AJ4UQ:

    Check out the lcwo.net (learn CW online) web site. The Morse Machine tool is very nice, and you can find a variety of standalone ones for your computer.

  • Rex KC9KAE:

    I have the same issues as yourself. Both in my teen years and now at near 60. I fully agree with your comment about computer vs. human operation. If I am going to use it, I want to KNOW it!
    Code is work for me to learn and it seems if I am away from it for a few days I feel like I am starting over.
    A program that I like is “Ham University” purchased through ARRL. It keeps track of where you are in your lessons and is easy to backup and review when needed. It will let you immediately input your response by keyboard or write it on paper and then input at the end for scoring. This system seems to be working much better than tapes for me, but I really think combining both methods is the most comprehensive method.

  • Phil KA7TTI:

    Many years ago I was doing pretty good at about 15-20 wpm. Then the darn Internet stole me away. Now I’m back re-learning code and am having a challenge. I can recommend the Koch Method CW Trainer-G4FON….Google it.
    Then use it. Or use any of the others but stick with it. You will learn just the same as you learned to read or write or speak. You will overcome the “learning block” you had because it never existed in the first place.
    Be careful of code courses with gimmicks….you will only learn and retain by rote memorization and repetition and practice….just like everyone else I think.

  • Chris K2HVE:

    This really makes me push for more Code proficiency. I am a Ham for 12 years now . In my early years i tried 3-4 times to learn morse code to get my foot in the door but never could make the grade so to say. In 2001 after the code was dropped to 5wpm i passed my code and written test to become a proud Amateur Radio Operator at the age of 52 and went all the way to Extra. I took the easy road and operated HF and Vhf/ Uhf voice only.
    Always in the back of my mind i knew i wanted to be better at the Code. Now, after these years i have started all over again and have brought my code up to 10 wpm and hopefully i’ll keep going. There is always the thing in the back of my mind as they say,” Real Ham Radio Ops do code”!!

  • KQ2RP Chris:

    I learned CW as a teen in the late 70’s and took a 25 year hiatus from the mid 80’s until 2011. I am now doing 20+ wpm copy again and can send at 30+. I was amazed at how quickly I regained it. My learning methods were the ARRL ‘Tune in the World With Ham Radio’ cassette, code practice that I got with my local radio club novice classes (5 wpm) and listening to/copying the W1AW code practice transmissions – I would recommend this last one to everyone – you get real QRM, QRN, fading, etc. My speed increased when I got my ticket and got on the air. I don’t think there’s any substitute for the pressure of a real QSO – knowing someone is on the other end – to build speed and improve your fist.

    While I know little about the methods and new training software, I can offer two tips – 1. You must get yourself to ‘hear the letter’. If you hear .- and get your brain trained into some ‘extra step’ to ‘convert’ dot dash to ‘A’, you’ll have trouble. Hear the letter. And 2. When copying code, you need to have a short memory like a pitcher who gives up a HR or a QB who throws an INT. If you miss a letter, don’t dwell or you’ll miss the next 2 or 3…. You can figure out the missing letters later.

    Good luck!

  • Tom. Kb3hg:

    Like Chris stated you have to use it. I just wish the Tune in the World book /Poster and Tape or CD now were still available. I have children that are interested and that big US call sign poster map was great! filled mine with station call signs that I worked. I worked cw with a WWII navy vet. Got on the air and tried at least one QSO a day. Started at 5WPM and went up from there.After awhile it was like relaxing and my speed increased. Mid 20’s. My Buddy copied in his head, could carry on a conversation , draw, paint simultaneously at 45 WPM 100%. I guess that’s what 5 character groups at speed do when on ship with nothing else to do. Try it. there are many seasoned ops that will QRS for new CW ops. Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained.

  • Mike KD0MCV:

    I also agree with not using the computer to do my CW if I don’t know it. When I was first interested in ham radio as a teen, I found that I could not get CW – regardless of how hard I tried. It was because of a mild form of dyslexia and so copywork was nearly impossible. Not being able to get the code part (and the fact that I was never informed about the possibility of a waiver because of dyslexia) kept me away from the hobby for nearly 30 years.

    It was not (and is not) for a lack of trying or desire, as I have both. I love to sit, listen to the melodic sound of CW and try my hand at decoding. I am hoping that with all the tools that are out there today, I may even get it.

    Thanks for posting this. You are not alone out there in this.

    73

  • Michael N5TGL:

    Morse machine is GREAT! Out of all of the things I’ve used to help with learning code, it’s the only one thats given me any real progress. lcwo.com has one, and you can download a simple executable here:

    http://c2.com/morse/

    I also HEARTILY reccomend reading The Art & Skill of Radio Telegraphy. Free .pdf download here:

    http://www.qsl.net/n9bor/n0hff.htm

    It is an excellent read on HOW to learn, which probably goes against many things you’ve been told. Excellent, excellent book. I’ve set a goal of being a minimum CW op at 20 wpm by the end of the year, and I don’t think that’s going to be a problem with the two above tools.

  • Tom, AB9NZ:

    Jerry,
    Try out the free programs of course. If that doesn’t stick get Code Quick it worked great for me. It takes you by the hand and teaches the code. Take a look at the reviews on E-ham. I really need to write an article on my blog about the excellent results I had with Code quick, a lot of people that never used it are slamming it. Very best regards, Tom AB9NZ http://radiotelegrapher.posterous.com/

  • Jeremy KB7QOA:

    Hello Jerry! Glad to see you’re joining the ranks of CW operators. I myself wish I were better at it, but a slow QSO here and there seems to be all I get in right now. I’m getting ready to move here in a few weeks and will have a real office/hamshack room instead of a corner of our bedroom, so hopefully that’ll let me concentrate on it more and actually improve my skills.

    All of the recommendations above are great, but I’d like to add one to the list. http://www.hamtools.org/cutecw/ is a great tool that starts you out with 2 letters, then once you reach 90% accuracy, it adds another, and continues on in that way. If you start to miss a letter, it backs off until you get back to proficiency on that letter and adds more back in. It does seem to have a bug where the audio disappears, but you can pause and restart to hear the letter without affecting the score negatively. After more research it seems to me that if you have more than one soundcard (such as for PSK work or USB headphones) the lack of audio is caused by it randomly using the alternate interface. Other than that minor bug it is a great tool to rapidly learn the characters and start at whatever speed you want. This is the basis of the Koch method. I originally learned 5WPM using a combination of the ARRL tapes (Farnsworth method) and a local Elmer in the ham club offering evening practice sessions/classes.

    If you decide to use Code Quick or other “gimmick” programs, be careful. From what I’ve been told by many hams I know that are high-speed operators, using tricks such as associating rhyming words with code sounds, will help you quickly learn the letters, but trying to advance your speed will be very difficult. This is also reinforced by many online articles on how to learn and operate code. Since there is no longer a code speed hurdle on licenses, I’d suggest not trying to use a shortcut to learn all the letters quickly, but concentrate on what is useful in the long-haul. This is not meant to take away from what Tom (AB9NZ) said above, but I just wanted to let you know what the general consensus is on using such tools. That said, if you want to use it, by all means do so, and you may find no issues trying to increase your speed.

    Hope to finally QSO with you on the air, via any mode, someday soon. 🙂

    73 de KB7QOA
    Jeremy

  • Tom, AB9NZ:

    Jeremy,
    My guess would be that thousands of hams have downloaded the free programs, tried, and abandoned learning Morse code. People learn in different ways. Using Code Quick I didn’t experience any plateaus and can now copy in the 30’s, so to me it wasn’t a gimmick, just an alternative (and fun) way of learning Morse code. Very best regards, Tom AB9NZ

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