Need advice on learning code

Just starting out or wanting to learn about something new. Need help setting up your first station. Want to meet others just starting out. This category is for you.

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Joined: Wed Dec 14, 2016 6:26 am

Need advice on learning code

Post by VA3TTB » Thu Dec 15, 2016 6:21 am

I could use some wise counsel about how best to approach the learning of code. Let me explain…

I am a newly-licensed ham (Canadian basic qualification in October and Advanced in November) but have no experience with operating a station. Because of a recent move and being in the midst of major house renovations, all my newly-acquired ham gear is still in boxes; I don’t expect to be able to set it up for a few more weeks. In the interim, I decided to learn code as I am quite interested in using code on the HF bands, perhaps with QRP when I am more experienced. But with no station setup, I am not yet been able to listen to code on the amateur bands.

I started learning code a week ago using AA9PW’s website, which is most helpful. I have learned half the alphabet but no numbers or special characters yet. I am running about 95% accuracy at 10 to 12 WPM with the characters being sent at 15 WPM Farnsworth method. I do not own a key so I have not practiced sending, just receiving.

My questions are twofold:
1. Should I spent time learning the rest of the characters, or should I push my receiving speed to a higher level than 10-15 WPM, and learn new characters afterwards. I have found that there seems to be a wall in getting past 15 WPM, almost as if I can’t write fast enough for the code I'm receiving. (Besides which, my handwriting as a retired doc is atrocious!)
2. Should I not concentrate on learning received code and instead acquire a key and a practice oscillator to try sending code to myself? If so, what is the best key for a learner?

Other suggestions for an enthusiastic newbie? Thank you for your consideration.

Charles VA3TTB
SKCC #16369

Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Dec 26, 2016 5:35 pm
Location: Central Florida, Lakeland

Re: Need advice on learning code

Post by KM4FOS » Mon Dec 26, 2016 7:26 pm


I am no expert, in fact have been trying to master the code now for most of a year (off and on, not steady). I am currently on a plan to have the alphabet, prosigns and punctuation mastered by the end of January, so maybe we can have some QSO's later.

Everything I have read so far says learn to copy well before trying to send. The theory is that once you can "hear" code well, then your sending will be better. This is even more true in Straight Key sending where the rhythm of the dit and dah spacing is completely up to you.

Good for you to have mastered a large part of the alphabet at 15 wpm. For straight key QSO's that is a fine speed to operate at (again from what I read and have listened to).

Another source of code to listen to once you have the rest of the alphabet is the ARRL Code Practice. You can listen over the air, the schedule is here: They also have mp3 files you can listen to over the web.

My vote is to get the rest of the alphabet and a few punctuation and prosigns mastered at 15wpm before anything else. Then your choice either go back and try to get to 20wpm and/or try some on-air QSO's.

Good luck and keep at it.

John - KM4FOS
SKCC #15156

Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2017 4:04 am

Re: Need advice on learning code

Post by kj7xj » Thu Jan 12, 2017 4:09 pm

Hi Charles -

I am also in a similar situation however I actually learned code back in the 1980s to get my General class license and never used it. Here I am some 20 plus years later and I have regained an interest in it. I don't own a key yet so I figured this would be an excellent time to reacquire my listening skills. I spent the holiday time in between family things to listen to the K6RAU files just to get the sounds of the letters back into my head. I also downloaded the G4FON and Just Learn Morse Code programs and have yet to dive into those. (All of which I found here on the beginners corner page.) Good luck on your studies and I hope those files help you as well!

Eric KJ7XJ

Posts: 11
Joined: Fri Jan 01, 2016 6:30 am

Re: Need advice on learning code

Post by KC6CNN » Sun Jan 29, 2017 5:41 am

Count me in too.
I always go to 7.055 at night when I need to get someone to send slow for me.
This group does a great job slowing down to help you out.
Thanks all

Gerald - KC6CNN
SKCC # 14827

Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2017 9:20 pm

Re: Need advice on learning code

Post by K1KKY » Tue Feb 14, 2017 3:42 pm

I've been playing around with this off and on for some time and having a blast !

The History, Cool keys, etc. I even went and took the test to prove to myself that I could do it.

Knowing the alphabet and numbers is a big accomplishment worthy of a pat on the back.
Having the skill and finesse to implement them properly and cleanly is a whole other level.

I would suggest the purchase of or building yourself a keyer that shows you real time what you are sending.
(ie: MFJ-464 or others, many others)

Some may be surprised how much more there is to learn about timing and spacing of letters and words.

I feel like I'm starting all over again....
I should have had one of these from the start before some bad habits formed.

Start slow and stay slow till you got it down. Then kick it up a notch !

Sign me

No BS, No Stories, No Disappointments

Posts: 11
Joined: Fri Jan 01, 2016 6:30 am

Re: Need advice on learning code

Post by KC6CNN » Fri Apr 14, 2017 6:19 am

You can download the free program CW Teacher from this link.

Hope this Helps.
Gerald - KC6CNN

Posts: 5
Joined: Wed Dec 30, 2015 3:06 am

Re: Need advice on learning code

Post by Ki4ezl » Thu Apr 27, 2017 3:19 pm

Another little thing you can do, which does not require your station, is to use a notebook, write down a column with all the alphabet, numbers, etc... in it, then go up and draw the dits and dahs in after that column over and over. Do this several times per day. Eventually, you will not need that first column to keep you straight. You will be able to write the whole alphabet, numbers, prosigns, Q-codes, and other phrasings without help. You will be surprised at how well this will help you learn code.

Getting on the radio and using CW is the best way to build your self confidence and skill. When I used to help teach at our club, we always had folks write in notebooks, and without a lot of work, a person could pass the 5 wpm code test easily, back when we actually had to pass code tests. This method still works to learn code, but practicing CW is what makes you better, faster, and more confident. There are some great pieces of advice in this forum on how to get practice, like those listed earlier in this very thread.

Good Luck and Hang In There :D

Steve - KI4EZL
SKCC# 12343

Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Apr 24, 2018 2:28 pm

Re: Need advice on learning code

Post by K8BYP » Sun Jun 17, 2018 12:51 am

" Should I spent time learning the rest of the characters,"

Learn them first. Make them all the same. Its not good to advance speed and have 'gaps" in receiving ability because some characters are unfamiliar. For some odd reason, after coming back from a 20 year absence, I have trouble
with "E" and "I" - and they are the simplest characters!

Receiving is MUCH more difficult than sending. You can make up ahead of time what to say, but it is difficult to anticipate whats being sent to you.

Most senders on the air do not send plain text, abbreviations are common. Its important to (IMO) learn the 'old standard abbreviations' (if anyone has settled on what those 'old standards' are) HI

Especially with a SK, there can be large variation in sending styles, spacing, tempo etc. Its one thing to just learn the Code, but another to be able to 'read' another Operators style.

The first thing to do is get a good code practice tape, website or better yet, listen to WiAW on the air if you can receive it. W1AW code practice bulletins are perfect code.

I can read the W1AW 30 WMP plain text bulletins with ease, even when doing something else. But, a real on the air 'fist' at 30 can be QUITE another matter!

Most of us cannot send 'perfect code' manually. Its not easy even with a keyer.

Not only practice sending and receiving, but when reading something, think Morse Code.

See a letter "A" in a book" Thats not an "A", its a ". _ "

We must think the code. As speed gets above 13-15, there is much less time to decode it. It must be automatic. there is absolutely no time to think "A= . _" at 30 WPM +.
and little time to write it either, so ability to "think" the code is a major benefit to get over 20 WPM.

The main thing Ive used to get over the dreaded "plateau" is FIELD DAY. Thats a 'no second chance, no time to slow down, no do-overs, it has to be right and fast the first time'

Im forced to get it or quit.

I personally need three things to get over plateaus:

1. Being pushed to go faster, Field Day, working a station thats sending faster than I think I can receive, high speed CW DX...
2. A time AWAY from it. I dont know why, but thats WHEN I get over the plateau. Im away from it for a week, and when I go back, that next higher speed is just "there" and I cant imagine how it was difficult.
3. The correct key settings, mechanically. That makes a big difference. I had trouble with 30 (granted thats with a keyer) until I tried 30 and got the paddle settings just right.

The single most important thing besides learning the characters is SPACING. Lack of spacing, irregular spacing, attempting to send faster by running characters together is very not good. Better to send characters a bit faster with a little more
spacing between characters and words/abbreviations- it makes the RX operators day MUCH easier. Ive actually been complimented on the air that 'your CW is so easy to read'= thats because I use plenty of spacing.

If practice gets boring, try getting a practice oscillator and key, and sending along (off the air) with a received station. Try to anticipate whats being sent, especially if its plain text. Try to key right in time with the RX station.
Its a real challenge!

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