You have two ears but only one mouth

Listen more than you send

In honor of Mothers Day this weekend here in the U.S. we recall what our wise Mothers told us... 
Listen more than you talk because God gave you two ears but only one mouth
Learning CW is more about learning to copy what you hear than sending.  So listen, listen, listen.

Listening to on air CW QSOs using your own HF radio... 

Of course the best CW copy practice comes while listening to stations using your own HF radio and having on-air QSOs. So make the most of your opportunities to listen to live QSOs from your home station.

Find conversations that are at different speeds for your practice copy.  In my experience, when I only practice copying higher speed CW for a time, my ability to recognize slower CW gets rusty so practice copying all speeds.  I was worked by a station some months back when I was sending at only 13wpm who came back on the second exchange and replied that I was too slow to copy and he quit the QSO.  I don't want to be like that.  

Along with copying QRS stations, practice copying stations that are well above your comfortable copy speed in order to stretch yourself. You will likely miss much of the conversation but your ability to start recognizing common words and abbreviations will increase. Another side effect I find is that when I listen to a 25wpm (well above my present copy speed) exchange between two operators who have equally strong signals, I'll usually copy one station better than the other.  I try to figure out why that's the case.  Something about that operator's style is easier to copy and when I discern why that is, I try to emulate it.

I want to be able to copy all speeds of CW; both to encourage new QRS operators and ragchew with the QRQ old-timers.

On Air Practice

Listen to on air CW QSOs using remote radios

When you don't have hands-on access to an HF radio or when propagation is poor at your QTH web SDR stations are great resources for CW copy practice. 

Web SDR stations are accessible from and allow you to listen to CW anytime you have access to the internet.   Web SDR stations are available from around the world, potentially from countries you haven't been able to regularly hear from your QTH.  So it allows you to hear different sending styles from around the world.

Web SDR station

Listen to machine generated CW

When live CW is unavailable you still have machine generated CW as an option.  Practice copy of machine generated CW is a pale comparison to actual CW QSOs but it has it's uses and it's always available.  The Morse Trainer App for Android devices offers most features standard in other learning applications plus a built-in list of randomized top English words and an e-book reader.

Morse Trainer app for Android

Sights and sounds

This following video demonstrates the copy methods above.

So listen more than you send and your CW copy, as well as your interpersonal skills, will improve with practice at listening.

That's all for now

So lower your power and raise your expectations

Richard Carpenter, AA4OO, is a regular contributor to and writes from North Carolina, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

One Response to “You have two ears but only one mouth”

  • Harry K7ZOV:

    Very good article. In 1963 when I got my novice license 5 wpm was a must do. To get a General 13 wpm was a must do. In AZ we only had FCC examiners come though the area 3 times a year. I was sick with the Flu and at 16 yrs old not way to drive no General and I was about a month away from loosing my call, so my Elmer gave me the Tech test (In those days it was the same test as the General, but at 5 WPM). No tech plus for a long time and no not one contact on 6 or 2 meters with CW so. Combined the fact I learned the code wrong and no activity I lost all my skills, limited as the may be.. Fast forward..I am retired and relearning using the code using your technique… Radio(s) as in IC-706mkiig in car, IC-756PROII workshop, my K3 and FT-991 in the shack corner in the house, WebSDR and the Morse Trainer in my Samsung Note 5 phone… This time, from day one, NO PAPER and PEN. I am doing it in my head and it is not easy building sentences at low speed,… but it can be done. I am now comfortable at 13-15 WPM and working on 20 WPM. As you said, listen, listen and do more listening, even at speeds that much faster and you will pick up common words and shortcuts… Thanks for sharing your insight…Hope others will also and there is no shame is being a QRS operator, but speed takes time… Also not my hearing is going so it is very easy to miss dit and confuse a dash for a dot… I know I will never be able to do any real speed, but so what..It’s all fun

    73 Harry K7ZOV

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