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

Good thread and lots of very valid input.
My learning was probably different from many others.
I was taught “professionally” at a marine radio college.

The very first morse lesson was looked upon, by all of us, with a little trepidation and some excitement.
The instructor sat down, handed us a sheet of paper containing a paragraph of text, place his hand on the key (everything HAD to be performed on straight key), and sent the text at 25wpm.

It was, to all of us, just noise!
Then he said, “to pass the 22wpm test (no errors allowed) under the stress of exam conditions, you will need to be able to comfortably copy that passage at 25wpm. What’s more, you all will!”

We were then all asked to open our operators “Bible”, Handbook for Radio Operators, of which we all had brand new, pristine copies and remove pages 152 to 154. This was the appendix which listed all the characters graphically, e.g.

a .-

à .–.-

ä .-.-

b -…


We were then given the warning, "NEVER write morse or try and learn it as written! An A is not dot dash, it is a sound like de dah.
The lesson continued.
We turned to page 178/9 and were asked to study the phonetic alaphabet for 5 minutes. (crickey this morse is easy so far!).
The instructor then ran around the class shouting out letters at people and we had to reply with the phonetic or vice versa, e.g. H would get the response Hotel, Alpha was responded to by A etc.
Crikey this is still easy :smile:
This morse lesson had now taken 30 minutes and we had not learnt a single character!
To round of the final 15 minutes, the instructor went back to his page of text.
He asked us all to open our blank transcription notebooks, sharpen our pencils (pens were banned for transcribing morse), and get ready to copy his dictation.
He then started:
sierra oscar tango alpha_india sierra_ alpha november_ alpha whiskey alpha romeo delta_ sierra charlie hotel echo mike echo …etc…
Most of us were lost within about 30 seconds and could only produce a page of random gibberish.
We should have written SOTA IS AN AWARD SCHEME…
“That” he said, “was dictated at 25 wpm. None of you can even currently write that fast!”
End of lesson one!

Lesson 2.
The first 20 minutes were in teaching us how to quickly and unambiguously print upper case letters!
For example an E was written like a back to front 3, and lots of variations so that D, O, Q, P etc could not be mistaken when transcribing at high speed.
We then attempted the previous days dictation at slower speeds using our new found skills.
Getting better!
End of lesson - this morse is easy!

Lesson 3.
The instructor went to the black board and wrote the following:
A E O S T.
we all put on our headphones, he pointed to A and he sent de dah.
This was repeated many times. We all wrote it down waht we heard (A!).
As a test he then sent 5 figure groups containing all the characters we now knew.
This morse stuff is easy!
Then he pointed to E and sent dit.
We all wrote it down and after the 5 figure groups we now all wrote down
Now he mixed them up for test #2 so we got stuff like
Still quite easy!
Now it was turn for O.
when it came to AEOAA AAOOE OEAOA
it all started to become a bit more difficult :frowning:
This was the methodology which was now continued twice a day (45 minute sessions) every day, and an hours practice tape to listen to at night.
It was probably 5 days before we moved on to the next 5 letters, H I L N R. We only moved on when everyone could copy, error free, the previously learnt letters.
Characters were formed at about 18 wpm, but sent with a spacing initially of perhaps 8 wpm.
The end game was to learn the entire character set and be transcribing error free at 12 wpm.
Then it was just a question of pushing the speed up. The learning had been done.
The ear was connected to the finger tips, the brain was redundant, there was no translation of dots and dashes, no counting etc.

Reading what was sent was discouraged. If taking plain text it was best to cover up the words as you went along and think about what beer you were going to drink tonight etc.
If you missed a letter put a dash and move on. Never ever dwell on a missed character.
Reading would lead to guess work about the upcoming letter, which would of course throw you out if it wasn’t what was expected! We very often copied foreign language text to keep us on our toes (and obviously to make use of accented letters). Stocks and shares (which could be picked up off air) were the ultimate; they contained accented letters and figures with lots of % and fractions.

Reading in your head only came in year 2 when everyone was already comfortable at 20 wpm.
This came about naturally during normal operating.
Normal ship to shore or ship to ship chat was much like your normal amateur exchange, eg. GA OM TR QTO LIVERPOOL BND ROTTERDAM QSA? QRU?
Even signing off had the obligatory TU (and normally see u) to make a nice rhythm, TU SEEU.

So what am I trying to say?
Never learn morse by counting dots and dashes or looking at it written .- fashion.
Take it slow and steady with regular short practice.
Don’t move onto new characters until your brain has been wired for the current batch.
Write everything down with a pencil.
Never read what you are writing.
Let your mind wander - the brain should be bypassed.
Use morse all the time - transcribe in your head road side signs, newspaper headlines, car number plates etc etc.
You can sleep eat and breathe morse and it just becomes an automatic non thinking part of your life.
Don’t send anything until you properly identify all the sounds of the alphabet.
That’s how I learnt, steady consistent short lessons.



Great stuff Pete. Many years ago when I was teaching CW, (I did it for several years as a night class in a local school), I used to deliberately mis-spell words when sending plain language, it didn’t half sort out the bluffers from those that wrote what they heard.

Victor GI4ONL


In 1965 I visited Catterick Royal Signals Camp (as a guest) and watched a group of rookie squaddies learning Morse Code. They were locked in a room for 10 hours a day with Morse keys and buzzers. They were only released when they were able to send and receive at 12 wpm minimum. EVERY ONE of them succeeded within 2 weeks.

Anyone can learn Morse. It’s a matter of will-power.

Walt (G3NYY)
[I learned it when I was 11 years old.]

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Interesting points in that. Thanks.

Shades of “Dead Poets Society” there. :wink: The trouble with those lists and charts is that they’re hard to avoid, and hard to set aside once seen. I first encountered Morse in Cubs and Scouts, as a table of letters with dots and dashes (and semaphore as well)…

One of the pitfalls I fell into was trying to learn faster than I could write or type.

That’s two and a half hours in all every day, which is quite a bit more than the fifteen to thirty minutes often suggested to amateurs…

So “Farnsworth” style…

That’s probably my biggest source of difficulty.

That’s not so hard for five-letter groups, but when you’re using Morse to have a conversation it’s a different matter…

I learned to read and write at the same time. The one fed the other. Likewise with Morse, or so it seemed to me.

Some folk clearly have a harder time learning Morse than others, just as some folk have a harder time learning to read and write. I’ve been beating my head against Morse for nearly five years, and I can’t yet pass a 12wpm test.

73, Rick M0LEP

I can recall hearing that wartime training of RAF radio staff included the NAAFI and canteen only allowing the trainees to order their food in Morse. That should certainly give you a hunger to succeed!



This is a classic, sure many of you have seen this. The story goes that they used to stand behind you with a stick and if you got it wrong Whack!

Another good video is the “Night of Nights” is a commemorative station to commercial CW, if this doesn’t fill you with Joy then well … watch it :wink: That one key is operating about 20 transmitters at once.


I’ve never seen that before!
Thanks :laughing:


I had this emailed to me by a club member a while ago. Not sure if it will help anyone but worth a look.

73 Chris M0RSF

The rhythm is a bit suspect on that one!

This is better.

Just adding my 2 cents:
A lot of people say go straight for Koch method. Well, that may be useful, I’ve never used it myself, but, on a computer you will ultimately be limited by the speed you can type. As for myself, that’s about 20 wpm. If you can touch type then you may get over 30 wpm. However, after that, if you want to go on training with a computer you will have to go back to Farnsworth. I’m up to 45 wpm character speed at 18 wpm Farnsworth speed. To be honest, I’m still crap at reading even slow morse, however, it is great for copying callsigns in a pile-up, not to mention signal reports. After all, if you are interested in SOTA, that’s all you need for the time being. I am at the stage where I may start listening to Ebooks in morse, as it is clearly time to build the ability to understand whole words and sentences. That said, I always worry about losing my top speed if I slow down to a good dialogue copy speed. In my experience, pushing your character speed as high as possible never has an adverse impact on copying morse at a slower speed. I worked all summer whilst dreaming of getting my KX3, sometimes the desire to master something is as important as how you go about mastering it. If you’re looking at transceivers, I would hold off till you can at least activate a summit using CW. Pour you desire into practice, it really helps.

:arrow_up: This :arrow_up:

Or just listen. There is plenty of cw rag chewing going on on 40,60 and 80 metres.
It’s worth a tune round in the evening and just listening.
It usually rattles along in the mid to high 20s, but you’ll hear about everything from growing beans to lower abdominal pain.

It’s great for keeping your ear in.


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I feel there is a link there…

The Van Gogh method…

I’ll get me coat…


Hehehhehe i feel that already!

Oh dear :cry:

Well, I suppose I do ok at 12wpm. I’ve only been at it since last May. We’re really lucky here in Graz, where there is a dedicated morse school set up by the local radio amateurs. With such support it is a lot easier to get enthused and get practicing. We also have a weekly QRS net on 10 and 80m. If you are interested in what we do, have a look here:
On this page there are lots of handy cheat sheets you can download:
Our teacher Gerhard recommends 5 minutes listening then 5 minutes sending on Just Learn Morse at least morning and night, more if possible. We all use iambic mode b and from personal experience I would say, if you’re going to learn full iambic (not a hybrid of squeeze and slap), make the change asap (it only takes a week or two to get back up to speed). Also, I would try push your character speed to about 30 asap (again, it’s not that hard). Then start upping the word speed until you hit your typing limit (I was able to increase on average 1wpm a week until I hit 21wpm). Once you hit your typing limit, you will have to start upping the character speed again. I think it gets quite hard after 40 wpm, so 30 is a good target to get you on the air. If you have an android phone, the Wolphi Morse Trainer is well worth a couple of Euros. I use it on the bus to work to get my ears used to higher speeds, when I get home it all feels a lot slower. Well, it’s time I had breakfast and did my first run.

            Matt M0FEU / OE6FEG

I suspect folk who’ve been using Morse for a long time often forget what it was like actually learning it. I guess the rag-chew conversation may come with time, but for a beginner, especially for someone who’s having a hard time learning, keeping things short can make it much easier. It’s seriously discouraging having someone go off into a great long rambling over from which you manage to pick about one word in ten, especially when you can sense them struggling to keep their sending slow enough for you to follow. A short (RST, name, reference) set of exchanges is a better start…

I use LCWO’s word and callsign training to do that. It only sends one word at a time, so typing speed isn’t an issue, but it increases the speed each time you get a word correct, and decreases it each time you get one wrong. I’ve once or twice managed to push the callsigns (heard twice) over 30wpm, and short words (heard once only) over 40wpm. It’s practice of a sort…

73, Rick M0LEP

Absolutely not, but if you go on air and have simple QSOs (i.e. non SOTA) as you suggest RST, name, qth etc, then you will learn a lot faster than the 579 73 exchange.

I’m sorry but I just cannot understand this fascination with hyper speed, why not get proficient at 20 to 25 wpm, (or less), and enjoy using CW as it was intended :wink:

What ever happened to the good old fashioned pencil and paper? (much easier to use on a summit ! )

Victor GI4ONL

Incidentally this is what I was referring to in my “Oh dear” comment.

SOTA QSOs are usually nice and simple (with just callsigns, RSTs, a SOTA reference, and maybe a name), but somehow, whenever I try having non-SOTA QSOs I seem to end up with the operator at the other end sending me something like War and Peace, and by ten words in I’m lost…

It’s not a fascination with hyper speed. It’s about trying not to get stuck at a single speed (and a single pitch, come to that) by practicing at a variety of speeds. To my ear, a given character sounds quite different when it’s sent at different speeds (and pitches), so I need to practice with a variety of speeds and pitches if I’m to stand a chance. The exercises I mentioned are one way of doing that. Another is to listen to the practice broadcasts from GB2CW and W1AW, but they’re sent to a timetable, and not always receivable. Last night’s GB2CW was, at best, 319 here. (And before anyone pushes them, the W1AW recordings available on the web are at pretty much exactly the worst possible pitch for my ears, so I can’t use them.)

It makes very little difference whether I type or write, though in the shack (or on a summit) I’m much more likely to be writing, but computer-based Morse training usually expects you to type in what you think you’ve heard, so that’s the word I chose.

73, Rick M0LEP

Rick, I’m really sorry but the key to this whole thread is in the title “LEARNING MORSE CODE”

IIRC this topic was discussed at length in a previous thread and now as then I cannot over emphasise the only way to learn morse IMHO is practice.
I have encouraged, and still do, many operators to learn CW and I’m very aware of the effort required.

Victor GI4ONL