Learning CW


In 2015, OH8STN challenged everyone in his now defunct Google Group to start learning Morse Code when he introduced a new Android App called "Morse Machine" on his channel.

I picked up that challenge and fully expected to be having QSO's online by the end of the year at 20WPM...  To say "I didn't know what I didn't know" is an understatement!

While I jumped in both feet first and started working the Morse Machine app and LCWO.net, I soon put it on the back burner.   I'm glad to say that I did come back and practice a little every few months, but the one thing lacking most in my approach was / is the most important factor in learning CW or any other language... Consistency!!!

I kept reading about this "break-over point" that I would soon reach and all of a sudden CW would be easy or I'd finally "get it" but to be honest, it didn't happen that way.

I can look back now and see that there was a point in learning the alphabet that I learned how to "listen" properly which made learning it much easier.

So here's what I know so far and hopefully I'll be able to explain a bit better and you will get it better than I did reading the comments from online guru's.


I'd read these rules but the sad part was I didn't think I was violating some of them until it was almost too late.  Pay attention here...

Never look at charts with the dash-dots for each letter.
I mean don't even glance at them!!!

Every time you do, your mind is imprinting them.

I know it's tempting, I know it makes you feel like you have accomplished something by memorizing a letter by "seeing" the dash-dot sequence, but it's KILLING your future speed.

If you never look at one Morse character like "--.." or "z", tell me you didn't look? ;)  It will not be an issue AFTER you learn to receive and send.  Your mind can translate it from sound / send to the dash-dot which is OK, but going the other direction is not OK.

Learn using the Farnsworth Method with your speed at 20-30WPM.

It sounds crazy, but it's a huge point and one I didn't do until I learned half the alphabet.  I worked up from 15WPM to 20WPM then tried 30WPM and while my Morse Machine correct percentage dropped from 90% to 75% initially, it did two things almost immediately.

It made me realize that your can actually listen to 20WPM and count the "dash-dots" or "dah-dits" at even that speed.  30WPM, not gonna happen. It made listening to live QSO's instantly easier because I was hearing the QSO's at 20WPM now and the "jingle" of each letter is easier to detect at a slower speed if I learned it at a higher speed as opposed to the same or slower 20/15WPM.

Don't Let Farnsworth Slow You Down!

Get away from Farnsworth copy as soon as you can. Over the airwaves it's never heard, so the sooner you can copy 12CPM/12WPM and faster the better. If you are always practicing at 12CPM/4WPM Farnsworth, then you are not preparing for live transmissions.

Once you have the Alphabet down using Farnsworth, start listening at 12-20WPM on your phone/laptop so it is close to what you hear over the airwaves.

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency!
Practice at least every other day with an app or online at LCWO.net.

Put that spare time to use.

About the only thing positive about my 60min drive to work is it allows me time to practice code.  Using my Android phone through the car speakers I play characters via another great app CW Trainer that allows you to set CPM to 30 and WPM down to a comfortable 5WPM so you can hear the character and then say it and see it (set font to 42) for confirmation.  I average 400 characters each way to work.

Don't worry about how long it's taking.

It's not going to be a quickly learned skill for most of use and you truly have to "want it" to learn it.- Stick with it, and come back if you burn out on your slow progress.

Send clearly!

I've started to practice sending now that I have all the letters and some punctuation down. I've been using Morse Trainer again in this area to feed me characters then repeat them back while monitoring in fldigi for accuracy. I'm not sure if it's correct, but it seems I'm faster and more accurate if I float my wrist a little and concentrate on the motion coming from the wrist hinge, not finger or arm.  Still not natural though.

That's all I got for now, hope it helps and if you have been slacking or waiting to start...

UPDATE: 01.23.19

I wrote this a year or so ago and came back to it today because I had given up on morse due to it's difficulty for me.

I still make a hour long commute to work and while listening to the "The Doctor is In" podcast during the commute, W1ZR was talking about propagation and how CW gets through and his "hump" of getting past copy > 25WPM. It motivated me to start using CW Trainer during the commute to keep listening and decoding CW as much as I could again.

It's amazing how much you loose if you don't use it, but you also tend to pick it back up a lot quicker when you get back on the horse.

UPDATE: 02.03.19

I've started practicing sending at the same time when using Morse Machine.

I let the machine send me a letter, then I repeat it back on the paddles with 0W output on the TT-599. It allows me to send by mimicking the sound instead of thinking what paddle to hit or seeing a dit-dah pattern in my head.

Because Morse Machine will keep repeating the character until you hit it on the screen, you can make multiple attempts until the hearing and sending sound the same.

I listen at 20WPM and send at 12WPM for now, that seems to be a good balance. Once I get back to all the characters on Morse Machine, I will increase it to 30WPM but stay at 12WPM sending as it seems to be a good easy to read speed.

CW is like a lifelong process for me I guess, as long as I don't give up totally, I know I will eventually make it, but it's definitely the hardest thing I've tried to learn in my life.

What a great reward though when you do, eh?