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Learning morse code (what?!?!?!)


hehehe I was born in Greece :slight_smile: rioting is fun for us :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

(your wording is right, advising)


There’s a point. I guess the thing that discourages me most in a CW QSO is when all I’m after is a signal report (or a name, or a QTH), and the other operator sends a long string of stuff I can’t quite follow, so I lose the thread and miss most of it. Was it important, or just the equivalent of a PSK brag macro? I’ve no idea, and chances are I end up flailing. So it (for now) is probably getting to the point at which I can usually cope with that.

On a somewhat meta note, I find it fascinating just how much of the common advice about learning Morse I’ve received from various places is contradictory. Some of the common ones are:

  • “Start slow, and work your way up.” vs. “Start fast.” which ties in with:
  • “Learn fast characters with slow spacing” vs. “Learn ‘properly spaced’ characters”
  • “Learn to receive before you try sending.” vs. “Learn to send and receive at the same time.”
  • “Stay off the air until you can receive perfectly.” vs. “Get on the air as soon as you can.”

I’ve heard reasonable-sounding justifications for all those options (and quite a few others), some of them quite vehemently expressed. Figuring out which courses are best for me has been… interesting… and I’m sure I’ve made sub-optimal choices along the way, even without counting Koch.

I came to the conclusion quite a while ago (and long before this thread) that Morse is one of those things you have to find your own way through, often despite the advice and encouragement folks will throw your way. About the only certain thing about learning Morse is that it will take is lots of your time…

73, Rick M0LEP


Opinions are like bottoms (*), everybody has one.

(*) This is the polite version.


I think that sums up a lot of things in life!

Further up this lengthening thread the following was mentioned

I would love to play the guitar like Joe Bonamassa.
I can play the guitar. My muscle memory can create chord shapes and rattle of pentatonic scales, but only slowly and with concentration. I hit a wall trying to improve years ago.
Youngsters with only months playing are better than me!
Why, after all these years, am I not Joe Bonamassa?
Answer - commitment and time to really learn and missing that elusive natural born musical ability :frowning:
I’m not giving up, but I know improvement is a long hard slog. I’m probably not far from my personal summit and that I can accept.



He’s only got 1 original solo in him… the one with the Arabic sequence of notes, every else he appropriated off a certain E. Clapton Esq. :slight_smile:

Still he can rattle it off quite well.


Only one? :wink:

Aye, some are more equal, others less… :wink:

73, Rick M0LEP


Never heard of the bloke…maybe I am not one of cogniscenti…Eric Clapton, yes I know his music of course.

Back to the CW…from my experience, if I was a phone man considering learning CW for use in SOTA without any experience now, I would give myself around 6 months at 30 minutes a day and I might just be capable of knowing what was going on when I put your headphones on and listened to a SOTA activator stuck up a hill somewhere on this planet, you should know when to call and how to recognise when the activator is transmitting - then I might just be competent enough to chuck my own callsign in and attempt a CW QSO.

Following the thread I don’t see any of those learning the code telling us actually how much time they are putting in to learning it, day by day and over what period. So please tell us - how long are you spending learning to receive the code, before you are considering giving up?

There is no easy way, Little and often as has been said is the key - at least one session, however short, every day. Going back to when I learnt it (self taught), when I was a young man of 29, it took exactly 5 months at 30 minutes a day receiving practice to achieve an accurate receive speed of plain text and figures at 12 WPM.

Was I typical? I know not… but it was worth it then if you wanted an HF licence - you needed to put the time in and just do it, without complaint, you just got on with it, pencil and paper, no computers then, RSGB Slow Morse Transmissions were very useful, and I had the loan of a Datong random Morse code generator from G3XUH, my mentor, who rarely used the mode, he was a phone man. No classes, no computers, just dogged determination, working on your own, overcoming the barriers that come to us all from time to time in learning it, but you got there eventually.

It was worth every minute believe me, and after that, using it almost every day on the ham bands, rag chewing, in contests, chasing DXCC countries and then later in SOTA - pure enjoyment and satisfaction, as using the mode remains to me today.

73 Phil


Yes please, some average time over some period would be great. We can get some sort of (non scientific) stats :smile:


Read the rules !
Oh sorry, wrong thread.:grin:


Well said Phil, even today with all the gizmos that are available, a strong application of the above should result in success.

I think if you could define the length of a piece of string you could answer that. Seriously, it depends on the individual but I would have thought about 6 months of hard work should see you well on the way.

Victor GI4ONL


Been learning for the past year using just learn Morse code software on a PC, after playing about with settings I spent on average 10-15mins six days a week learning the basic characters @ 20wpm and 8 character speed. I also had breaks away from learning on holidays with the family.

Listening to online SDR’s I realised I was no were near ready, so I now try to spend two 10-20 min sessions morning and evening. I have been using the K7QO discs and just learn morse code software.
After learning the alphabet using a keyboard I changed to paper and pencil, within a month managed to improve to 20wpm and character spacing of 14.

My new plan is to carry on learning the characters but to decrease the wpm and increasing the character speed with a goal of 16/16. Current settings are set to18wpm and character speed of 14, then will change to 16/16.
I have been using the K7QO disc in the car for word training or listening to some of the QSOs files.
If I was to start over again I would aim for 40-60mins per day split in to 2-3 sessions with a computer based software and the cw discs. Learning CW has took a lot more dedication and time than passing the advance exam.

Only just purchased a Capacitive Touch paddle kit to start practising my sending, it cost aprox £16 and I didn’t want anything to expensive in case I changed my mind to a straight key.


Thats more than I can do every day for sure. As I see know I manage 1 session around 30mins, until brain meltdown as its evening.

Where did you get that?
I was going to ask here for recommendation on paddles. (one not very expensive and with good review is the Palm Radio, around 90GBP on sotabeams). 16p is a good start know that I don’t know what I want too.



It took me a bit less than a year of self teaching to pass the mandatory 12wpm test in 1972. I can’t remember how much time per day, but not a lot.
I learned the characters from paper (but forming them in my mind as tones, not “dot dash”).
Then I started practising sending, using a straight key. I recorded myself sending random groups of five onto quarter inch recording tape, then made that into a loop. By the time I could copy that without error, I had increased my sending speed, and so made a new loop. Repeat as necessary!

Getting the element ratios correct didn’t seem too difficult, as I could hear the rythm of morse from my receiver - just too fast to copy!

The final push was motivated by booking the test!

My main goal was to get a licence, and once achieved, I rarely used CW for years. By dabbling, though, it continues to soak in, and I can now copy fairly comfortably at 18 to 20 WPM, and basic exchanges faster than that.

Stick at it,


[quote=“M6VAR, post:72, topic:10046”]
Thats more than I can do every day for sure. As I see know I manage 1 session around 30mins, until brain meltdown as its evening.[/quote]

`The 40-60mins per day I split in to three 15-20min sessions morning, afternoon and evening. Currently managing 20mins in the morning before work and 20 mins in the evening, if I can find the time in the afternoon I will try for another session. Since giving up on my nicotine habit I don’t find it hard finding the time.
A 30mins session would be a bit a long for my brain, after 15 mins my brain does starts to wander and I start worriying if my pencil tip is sharp enough or do I have enough space left on the page.

The Palm paddles look nice was nearly on my Christmas list but will have to wait till my birthday if all goes well. I purchased the touch paddle kit from this place price included P&P. If you check M0UKD website there is U tube clip and may also have a few boards for purchase.


My tutor did the same for me - I was told at around 9pm to be at the Coastguard in Aberdeen for 10am the following day to sit the test.
Definitely concentrated the mind (and my CW is still useless even though I passed!!) :frowning:


I seriously don’t recommend following the course I ended up taking…

For about 6 months from May 2010 I was doing an average of 10-15 minutes a day of Koch exercises on LCWO. Then I booked an Advanced exam, and (mostly) set Morse aside for a couple of months while I concentrated on preparing for the exam. For 13 months (from just after the Advanced exam) I resumed the average of 10-15 minutes a day of Koch exercises on LCWO (with some extra time using G4FON). I then took a hard look at the progress I wasn’t making (I’d got as far as lesson 12 by then), and gave Koch the heave-ho.

For about six weeks I spent time listening to a CD full of Morse, ABC/123 style, some days a lot more than others. I guess it probably still averaged out at about 10 minutes a day, but while the Koch exercises were broken up into chunks a couple of minutes long and involved writing/ting what was heard, the CD played continuously, and I aimed to just “say” every character I heard. Some time around the end of that six weeks I stumbled through a CW QSO or two. After that the CD got less use, but I tried to spend time listening to Morse on air. I also worked through an on-line set of Morse lessons, but there wasn’t enough in then to call it regular practice. At some point I started making occasional use of the LCWO word and callsign exercises, but often only one or two of them a day. Practice, outside of listening to Morse on air, was sporadic, and the on air practice wasn’t that effective.

In February 2013 I finally discovered the Thursday morning GB2CW broadcasts, which have given me a weekly checkpoint since then. I also sometimes catch W1AW, but it’s usually at the wrong time of day (and, as I’ve noted before, the recordings available for download are painfully pitched for my ears). In between the weekly GB2CW I practice however I can, trying to maintain the 10-15 minutes a day. I’ve hit the classic 10wpm wall.

I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten to mention above.

73, Rick M0LEP


My experience was learning the letters, numbers, and a few symbols like comma, stop, slash and so on with the help of a YL teaching 3 or 4 students at a time (I don’t remember) for about an hour at 21h local on 2m FM.
She started teaching us E, I, S, H, then mixing them in series of letters. Later T, M, O, then mixing them and once we were copying them right, mixing them with the first learnt group. Then A, U, V and mixing them with the previously learnt ones. Then N, D, B and so on until covering all the alphabet, the numbers and the punctuation symbols.
After one month we had covered the whole alphabet, the numbers, the punctuation symbols, etc and we were given the basic standard CW QSO guide:
CQ CQ callsing1 callsign1 PSE K
callsign1 DE callsign2 PSE KN
callsing2 DE callsign1 GM TNX FER CALL = UR RST IS 599 (or whatever) = MY NAME IS XX = MY QTH IS XX = HW? BK
callsing1 DE callsign2 GM TNX FER RPRT = UR RST IS 599 (or whatever) = MY NAME IS YY = MY QTH IS YY = HW? BK
callsign 2 de callsign1 TNX FER RPRT = MY RIG IS XX = MY ANT IS YY = WX IS WW = HW? BK
callsign1 DE callsign2 TNX FER INFO = MY RIG IS XX = MY ANT IS YY = WX IS WW = HW? BK
callsign2 de callsign1 TNX FER QSO = MY BEST 73 ES GD DX = 73 73 SK TU E E
callsign1 de callsign2 TNX FER QSO = MY BEST 73 ES GD DX = 73 73 SK TU E E

As soon as I got the basic CW QSO guide, since I was already able to copy without errors most of the series our teacher used to send us during our classes, I decided to make my first CQ call on air with a very simple straight key that I still keep with me. The first QSO was a bit of a disaster as I lost most of the infos and I was only able to copy the callsign, and fill a sheet of paper up with lots of disconnected sensless letters and numbers.
Later, after the QSO was finished, I looked at all the mixed letters on that paper and started to link some of the letters in a way that made me guess the name, the QTH and so on.
The morse bug had bitten me and I soon found me calling CQ again for a second QSO hoping it to be a bit less messy than the first one and so it was. Then a third QSO came soon after this second one and soon later a fourth, a fith, a sixth and many, many, many others.
The more QSOs I was making the more I was improving my copy, my sending, I was feeling more relaxed and already enjoying very, very much the new skill I was starting to practice.
Learning CW was indeed for me a very nice challenge and gave me lots of satisfaction.
I spent months making regular standard basic QSOs. This was 1985 and I think I didn’t take part on any contest or pile-up until 1986 or 87.
My recommendation is to follow this same way I followed. While making QSOs with another ham you’ll feel adrenalyne flowing through your veins and this with make your brains work at 100% concentration. One or two QSOs per day will make miracles in your skill, much better than spending one hour listening to a boring program sending series of letters or whatever.
As soon as you can recognise and copy at a slow speed (8 WPM) all the alphabet letters, all numbers from 0 to 9, punctuation symbols and you know the basic QSO exchanges, please, start CQing in a clear frequency and I’m sure you’ll get a response at the low speed you will be sending. Then you will start experiencing the fun and the challenge of CW.
Good luck and best 73 de Guru - EA2IF


Interesting story Guru.

There must be a hundred ways to learn Morse, so whatever works for you is good.

A back of the envelope calculation shows it took me about 500 hours over 3 years to pass the PMG 14 wpm test - rx 5 minutes plain text receiving 3 (or 5?) errors allowed and tx 21/2 minutes 2 uncorrected errors allowed.

I did not have a QSO before passing the test but had been practicing sending once I was able to copy at 5 wpm. Mostly I concentrated on receiving. I had a HF receiver and could listen to practice transmissions on air. 15 minute bursts even if I was missing most of the stuff suited me. More than 30 minutes in a session left me wrung out and a bit off the planet.

In VK most of us have an interest in sport (some say an obsession) and the government has responded by creating an Institute of Sport. Their research says that to be really good at something, like throwing a discus, requires 10,000 hours of repetition - of the right kind.

So if I had continued at my initial rate it would have taken me 50 years to be a really really good CW op. 35 wpm?

However I made a choice of using phone for HF dx and contests and VHF weak signal and field day work. CW averaged an hour per year. I really haven’t progressed much in the last 50 plus years because it didn’t matter to me. Andy is on the button there. Long rag chews on CW about nuclear fusion reactions or the best feedstock for cattle are not in my bucket list

Now, in an act of contrition I am trying to help others to get to basic SOTA QSO competency. Last night four of us had a round robin QSO in which call signs, reports and a sentence or two on weather, rig in use or progress in painting the house were covered. The effective speed was between 10 and 14 wpm. We will drop to 5 wpm if required. There are lots of errors and the spacing of letters and words is not good and the spelling was crook. But it does help build the confidence to later have a SOTA CW contact

The sessions last from 45 minutes to 1 hour. We have some who listen in to improve their rx proficiency.

I strongly recommend committing to some formal training periods each week. Whether you listen to tapes or a computer program or off air, pretend you are off to school for a post grad course and will be unavailable for 30 minutes at least 3 times per week. You will need to double the days to get 500 hours in over 3 years.

It is harder to learn by yourself. That’s where having a tutor or a partner is a great help.

For most of us learning CW isn’t easy and the duration of learning is discouraging. However unless you realize you won’t achieve even 14 wpm proficiency in just a few weeks you could become discouraged at the rate of progress.

I can assure you there is a rush of adrenalin when you find something has clicked and characters at 10 wpm are copied as if they were being sent at 5 wpm.

We all have troublesome letters. I had trouble with telling Y fro Q until I heard the rhythm of CQ. Numbers and punctuation marks were also a problem because I didn’t put the time in learning them slowly over time.

Note: Once you can send and receive CW you are officially a polyglot!

Keep up the practice guys.
Set goals. Make time.



well that will be three levels deep (similar to Inception’s recursion :stuck_out_tongue: ) … My brain probably does Greek<—English<—CW

ok not happening like that as I no longer thing in greek before saying something in English. It probably took me many years of training for my brain to think directly in English though.

Doing the 4 letter exercise again :smile:


I figure (back of envelope guestimates here) that over the last five years I’ve spent maybe a hundred hours on Koch exercises, twenty hours listening to Morse on CD, fifty hours listening to GB2CW, ten hours listening to W1AW, fifty hours doing LCWO word and callsign exercises, and an indeterminate time spent listening on air, practicing on car registrations, road signs, and such.

I’ve heard the 10,000 figure often enough before, usually relating to musicians and muscle memory, but as “10,000 times” rather than “10,000 hours”.

73, Rick M0LEP