Morse Code lives!!

“From No Code to Know Code”

by Dave Kelley, AI7R

I’m not going to start out by telling you that learning the code is fun. I’m not going to tell you there is an easy way to learn it. But, like just about everything, there is a right way and a wrong way to do something. I hope to give you some ideas that should help you learn the code and get all the way to the top. Like many, you may learn to love the CW mode. Don’t believe it can happen? Listen to the CW bands on any day and compare the number of QSOs going on compared with the phone band. You probably will find more people chirping than yapping.


Here are some points to think about. People all learn differently so use what you think will work for you and discard or modify these ideas for your own use.

Don’t learn it at a slow rate, even from the start. If your goal is to get to 20, or even 13 words per minute set your learning speed accordingly. For example, if your goal is 20 then try to copy with a character speed of 22 wpm with a long space between characters. As you start to recognize the letters quicker you can simply close the spacing between the letters until your at full speed. This allows you to get used to the sound of the characters at this speed. Hearing code at a slower speed later will be easy to recognize opposed to the other way around.

Listen to the SOUND of the characters. Learning code at a higher speed helps you avoid one of the biggest problems we all have when starting out in code. We tend to “count” dits and dahs or visualize the letter on paper with the code next to it (A .- ). If you learn code by doing any counting, memorizing code charts, or even thinking about the pattern of the sound you will find those ‘plateaus’ you may have heard about. These are blocks that you’ll find at about 10 and 18 wpm. Our minds can do these conversions only so fast.buga

By learning the sounds of the character we can learn to copy almost automatically. If I were to recite letters to you in English you would be able to write them down without thinking about how to form the letter or even what it looks like. You just know that when I say “Double-U” you would write W on the page. Code should be learned the same way. No conscious conversion processes in between.

NEVER use crutches! In keeping with the above paragraph you should stay away from crutches. One that comes to mind that is the worst way to learn code is the Sound=Catchy Phrase=Letter technique. This is were you learn little rhymes that go with each letter. The letter C is “Catch-it Catch-it”, like the sound of the C. THIS IS A VERY BAD way to learn the code. Can you imagine using this to copy at 20 wpm? You’d hear the sound, have to think of the phrase, then think of what letter it was from that phrase and then write it down. Ooops, you just missed 5 letters while you were doing all that mental converting. Chances are, you’d never make it to 20 wpm using that crutch. Frankly, I think learning it simply by the sound of the letter would be easier than learning little rhymes anyhow.


My key and keyer. Super Keyer II and Bencher.

Learn to drop the pencil from time to time. Some of us can’t write at 20 wpm. I can, but my hand gets mighty tired in a long QSO. So, drop that pencil and close your eyes. Listen to the letters and let them form behind your eyelids instead. You’ll start seeing whole words there. Then you’ll get the hang of hearing complete sentences without forgetting letters as fast as you hear them. Think about this. The only conversion we have really talked about (that’s okay) is from hearing the sound to writing it down. If we take away the part about forming the letter on paper our brain has even more time to just listen and comprehend the code…leaving it time to remember the order of the letters. People who have learning this can listen to the CW band as easily as they can the phone band. As you tune around you’ll hear what people are saying very clearly.

Without the pencil pushing to get in the way your code speed will jump several notches too. You might find yourself listening to a couple guys or gals talking at 30-35 wpm and copying without much effort. You sure couldn’t write it that fast. So, drop that pencil and just listen for a while.

Taking the test. Being a VE for many years I have seen everything in our code sessions. Stress is always present (no matter how many jokes I tell first) and people usually react negatively to stress. You should have a skill level of 2-5 wpm over the actual test you are taking. Your comfort level will be better. If you have heart problems or get sick under extreme stress let the VEs know this so they can work with you.

The code tests are nothing more than a sample of QSOs like you might hear on the air. It sends call letters and information about things like RST, QTH, name, rig, weather and other standard chat stuff. Knowing how we talk on the air can be a big advantage so if you have a way to receive HF or even better, if you can get on the air by all means do it.

When taking the test You might want to decide if you want to go for the 100% copy. This might be good for some people. If you copy on paper and know you are doing well from the computer, tapes or on the air then this would be good. If you have learned with the ‘pencil down’ method you might want to just take notes. When you hear key words write them down. He has to QRT for lunch, his antenna is a dipole, or he has a schedule with his mother in Botswana. You might write lunch, dipole, mother, Botswana. You can then answer the questions on the multi-choice sheet rather easily. This is not cheating in any sense of the word either. The idea of knowing code at a particular speed means you can comprehend what the information is..and we are doing that here.

Well, there you have it. I have known many people over the years who have used these key ideas to gain a mastery over the Morse code. Most of them you can meet…the next time your on the air…in the CW bands. Enjoy.

copyright 1996 by Dave Kelley, AI7R


It’s more than dots and dashes,
It’s a place.
A sanctuary for those who’ve learned
To love the mysterious magic of
Thoughts arriving in mile-long strings
On roads of ether or wire.
Even more, it’s peace,
A shield from the disordered sounds
Of traffic, angry people
And industrial clutter clatter,
Within its warm mantle
We find soothing respite.
And the patter of bright ideas it is,
The sharp focusing of others’ thoughts

From miles beyond our vision’s range,
As in a dream we sit so still,
It floats in our ears and stirs our minds
With concern, remembrance, speculation
And mirth.
And code is music,
In the shack to each sender’s inner clock,
And comes butter-smooth, deliciously swinging,
Or choppy staccato from a “fist” praising definition,
Or perfectly metered, flowing exquisitely

From the gentle hand of an artist.
A place,
And peace,
Intelligence and
Code is more than dots and dashes.

by Troy Weidenheimer W0ROF


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