Learning morse

Ok so i know it’s been covered to death but thought I’d briefly mention my latest go at trying to learn the code.
I’ve just received my new F817 and have only got round to admiring how tiny it is and to charge the battery that came with it. I also was told that CW really helps bring this amazing looking rig to life. So for about the fourth time in my life I’m going to have a go at learning the code. I have the G4FON program at home and have used lcwo.net in the past.
One thing I have learnt from reading all your advise on here is that I only need to do a little bit every day. i thought in the past I had to do 30minutes or more every day and i just didnt end up finding the time constantly to do it.
Another thing i did in the past was to learn it truly using koch method. This i don’t think helped.

This time its different. . .so far.
This time i have taken your advise and am currently doing around 10-15 minutes a day and currently using the IZ2UUF Morse trainer app on my Android phone. I have set the characters to around 15-20wpm but have spaced out the words and the timing between the spaces are slower. I think this helps me personally as I think getting the full alphabet in my head is the first thing to do then concentrate on increasing in speed(lowering character spacing etc)
So far its been an easy thing to keep up. I can do 10-15 minutes during my lunch with my phone and headphones on and could even put a short bit on a night if i have time.
So far I have gotton upto 3 characters( M K R ) in a couple days but thats probably because thats the first letters in most koch strings and i have done those levels before.

So far I’m enjoying it and realising i dont have to do hours a day to learn it has put a positive spin on learning the code and that eventually i’ll have the full alphabet in my head.

Another thing i’m trying out at the moment, again from advise read on here and adapted, is to try and read the bcc new site whilst doing the morse code training. I have found it easier as it keeps my mind occupied and stop it thinking about the morse and the morse flows to the paper more easily. Putting my brain in the way just slows and confuses the morse.

thanks for the advise and I’m currently still enjoying the 3 or 4 days I’ve spent starting to learn the code, again.



As well as the actual training, I found that regular listening was a massive help to me. I had an HF rig installed mobile in the car at the time, so on my commutes to and from work I used to tune to a busy 40m frequency and listen to that. Mostly subconsciously, so my brain was just getting used to “accepting” morse. But as time went on, I increasingly found myself decoding the odd letter, then the odd word and so on. Things like CQ, 73 and TU soon start to jump out at you!

I’d highly recommend doing this.


It’s an emotive subject. Little and often seems to help most people most of the time.

It also helps if you accept that when you first try it on a summit you may well find everything that happens is so different when 20 people are all sending at once! You need to not worry about finding real SOTA massively harder than all your practicing has suggested. It should just make you more determined not to give up.

The best advice I ever received was from Roy G4SSH who said something along the line of “Don’t worry about making mistakes, don’t worry about appearing a fool. The chasers don’t care, they want the QSO and the points.” As you will discover, the switched on chasers will spot a new CW user and will adjust their speed and sending so you can copy them and they get the points. Some will insist on showing you how enormously clever they are by calling you at 40wpm when you are calling at about 8-11wpm. You can ignore them as they are obviously far too clever for people like you and me.


I agree with Tom and Andy.
I think little and often is the correct approach too. I taught myself at first from a book -'The Morse Code for Radio Amateurs". I also had some training cassettes (gosh it really was some time ago!) from the ARRL.

After a while, I started going to a friend’s house once a week and we did CW practice via 145 MHz FM and code oscillators over the air on a net (I’ve never had a shack and I used to operate my friend’s stations).

After a year or so, my friends persuaded me to take the Morse test at a rally, mainly as a trial run to get used to the test, so I’d be more relaxed when I took it for real. To my surprise, the examiner actually declared my test a pass!

I had a couple of very shaky CW QSOs and then I didn’t have any more Morse contacts for years! Somewhere around 5 or 6 years ago, Kjell LA1KHA had the idea of a challenge to see how many contacts could be made using only a single, standard alkaline 9v battery, I was fascinated by this! I built myself a RockMite type rig and started taking part in the challenge.

At first, like Andy says, I was going slow and the clever chasers were making it very easy for me to work them by slowing down to my speed of 10 wpm. Actually using CW for proper QSOs brought my speed up quite nicely.

The problem I’ve always had is that I don’t have a shack and hence opportunities to get on air. I’m just starting to get my confidence on the air, but I do make plenty of mistakes! It really is true that nobody really cares about the mistakes!

So, yes, short learning sessions, and often, followed by QRS QSOs once you’re happy that you know all the letters and numbers.

GL, 73!


I already can here cq in Morse and that’s about it on the air from the many many years doing jota, first as a beaver listening all the way up to being the station call holder. I’ll have a listen on HF sometime.
I could make some mp3 recording s and play them in my car.


stick at it a couple of times a day and it will happen. You just need to get to the stage of reading a callsign, sending that callsign and report - then learning the rest on air is fun. I helped a guy learn a couple of years ago and the method below worked for him.

When you have a rough knowledge of the characters with the app, try downloading MP3 practice files from LCWO. Use Callsign Training at 18 or 20wpm, start the effective speed down at 10wpm then build it up. Print out the text and try to follow it, then start listening to it without looking at the text. Don’t bother writing it down. Start listening on air when you can get bits of callsigns, plus play around with iambic sending which keeps your interest up.

GL & 73

Ill have to google iambic sending. I know the difference between straight key and paddles and that paddles can be 1 or 2 paddles but that about as much as I know. I’m not entirely sure how the electronic cw keyers in rigs work, I’m assuming they sort of work in line with they key to standardise the output or something I’m purely guessing. I’ve only ever been SSB or PSK operator so that’s my excuse.

I wouldn’t worry about keying at this stage, learning the code is the first step!

A paddle is useful for higher speed a little bit further along. Regarding an iambic key, I suspect that most of us don’t use iambic keying. I prefer the spacing of a twin paddle but I only use Iambic for sending ‘CQ’.

It’s literally taken me decades to get where I am with CW, it becomes a part of your life and the more you do it, the more you enjoy it.

I was still a teenager when I did the test - :laughing:

Well I agree the Iambic is the second step, but also the sooner the better.

There are at least 2 versions of Iambic, Curtis A and Curtis B. B puts the dot in after a dash such as an N. Curtis A sometimes leaves a pregnant pause but if you get used to Curtis A stay with it. The internal keyer in the 817 and 857 are both Curtis A. I carry a small electronic keyer called Bugambic featured in Radcom 20 years ago. There is another simple keyer with memories from Kanga but I make mistakes with that chip and it eats batteries (3months). My Iambic key is an old hi-mound with the addition of a plastic cover to keep the Dreich out. I operate with the key strapped to my right leg with an old boot lace. Nice. Still no cure for old cloth ears though!

(PS ask Andy about the Dreich)

Ah yes, not too much about today. Of course I was working so the WX was good!

My big tree (abt 30ft now) … soon to support a new antenna. Lots of strange blue stuff under the clouds today.

Sunset across the cul-de-sac… and there’s some cloud.


Hi Anthony,

Good luck with learning CW. Plenty of others have started threads about learning CW before and have had plenty of advice from them. I thought rather than this turning also into a long learning CW thread here are the links to the other learning CW thread. I suggest you read through these as there are loads of advise of different methods on how to learn CW. You will probably be bored after reading through them, I know I was :slight_smile:

There are probably other threads about learning CW as well, but these were the ones I could find.

I hope from all the CW advice, you find a learning method that is suitable for you and you make some successful CW contacts in the future.

Jimmy M0HGY

He said he’s up to reading M, K and R at 15-20wpm. Why are we recommending iambic keying at this stage? :wink:


Just like to say thanks for this thread after several months of radio desert due to employment-related disruption it’s inspired me to get back to the practice I need to develop the confidence to take to the key again… perhaps catch you on CW on of these days! Another tip - once you’ve got it don’t let it go… I find it hard to believe I could do it in 1984 but I’ve got a piece of paper that says I did :-s

73 de Paul G4MD


One you need to learn to send but now is far, far, far too soon.

As you asked Iambic keying is squeeze keying. You are familiar with a normal Morse key, press it, close the contacts and normally the radio switches from RX to TX almost immediately and starts to send a continuous signal (continuous wave). Let go of the key and one of two things happens. If the radio is full break-in it immediately switches to RX and if it is semi-break-in it stays in TX for short period but not sending and then reverts to RX. If you press the key in this not sending state then it will start sending again until you let go.

Full break in allows you to hear what is on your RX frequency in the gaps between you dits and dahs. My head explodes when I try to do this! Semi-break in allows you to send a series of dits and dahs without the radio switching from TX. You can adjust this delay to a value you like.

Apart from the types of break in, you will probably be fully aware of this. A paddle has either 1 or 2 side swiping switches and normally now has an electronic keyer controlled by the paddle switches. The purpose of the keyer is to make all the dits and dahs the same relative lengths now matter how ham fisted you are at pressing the paddles unlike a normal key where you have to control the up / down motion to make the dits and dahs and try and send constant and consistent characters.

A single paddle has a dot and dash set of contacts. Press it one way and the dot contact closes, the key sees the switch closed and sends a stream of perfectly timed dits and inter-dit spaces until you let go when a spring opens the contacts. Press it the other way and you send perfect dashes and inter-dash spaces. A speed control alters how fast the dits and dahs are sent. You waggle the paddle left and right and you get perfectly spaced characters. All you have to time in your head is the inter-character gap etc.

A dula paddle is Iambic which is Greek for squeeze. You have one paddle for dots and one for dashes. Press one and you get dits, press the other you get dahs. If you squeeze and press both together you get a stream of di-dah-di-dah-di-dahs until you let go. If you squeeze the dash fractionally before the dot paddle and hold long enough you get dah-di-dah-dit. Hold it too long and dah-dit repeats one too many. Likewise dit before dah sends dit-dah (and repeats).

So you can send with fewer motions by pressing the dit or dah or squeezing both. To send my call MM0FMF/P I can

  1. For M press and hold dash to get dah-dah
  2. For M release and press and hold dash to get dah-dah
  3. For 0 release and press and hold long to get dah-dah-dah-dah-dah
  4. For F release and press and hold dot and when second dot starts squeeze dash at same time then release both for di-di-dah-dit.
  5. For M press and hold dash to get dah-dah
  6. For F release and press and hold dot and when second dot starts squeeze dash at same time then release both for di-di-dah-dit.
  7. For / press dash release and press dot and hold when second dot starts squeeze dash as well then release both for dah-di-di-dah-dit
  8. For P press dot release press dash hold then release then press dot and release for di-dah-dah-dit.

Sounds hard but is easy with a bit of practice. I can never remember the Mode A or B rules that David wrote about. But the above is how my keyer is set up.

Now you know, forget all of that. You don’t need to consider sending for some time. Not until you know the alphabet/numbers and few punctuation chars forwards, backwards, upside down and inside out. Then and only then should you even consider sending. From personal experience and many others if you start to soon you will pickup all sorts of bad habits and traits.

Yes, you have to learn to send. But not yet. Capish?


Thanks. We used to have 2 cw operators at Jota and one had a straight key. The other from your description had a iambic keyer which I believe he made himself.
I’ve got a straight key but nothing else so can’t send anyway. If or when I know the numbers and alphabet etc I’ll start sending.

Even that is too soon Anthony. Wait until you are reading words and sentences at around 8 wpm before having a go at sending.

Well done in taking the plunge Anthony, learn what ever way is easiest and best for yourself there is no rush try to enjoy it.
Probably done the same as you are doing started with 20wpm with large spacing, once I learned the characters I reduced the speed to 17wpm and shortened the spacing until I reached a stage were I could copy correctly writing it down on paper 14 wpm with a character speed of 14 after that I started learning words.
Nearly three years since I took the plunge and still learning today, having no antenna at home made it a bit harder. I had to go back the other month and re-learn a few characters correctly kept getting a few callsigns wrong on activations. I didn’t start using CW till ater 18 months from when I started to learn.

Set a few goals like the purchase of a cw key or a date for your fist activation with CW.

Best for luck

Don’t forget the ARRL code practice files for listening to in the car and elsewhere http://www.arrl.org/code-practice-files. Many hours of good fun there. I agree with the others about listening to on-air. It’s really the best way to learn.

Learning to send with a straight key is helpful, if you have a decent key and have it set up right. Look at some youtube vids about good sending technique. It’s a “wristy” sort of movement that isn’t intuitive, but will pay big dividends in speed and stamina. I actually prefer the “elbow off the table” style, despite being American. The big Swedish style keys are wonderful, but maybe a bit large for SOTA work. :grinning: A Navy Flameproof is a fine key, and pretty small, even with a small base attached.

My personal opinion is that learning to send with a straight key helps your brain incorporate the code better, since you have to make all the sounds yourself without any help. It gets the rhythm in your soul!

Congrats on your current progress. You’ll be there in no time!

Well that was an interesting drive to work.

Last night I downloaded a few files of LCWO.net onto my phone to play on the way to work in the car. I kept to 3 characters.
I played the first one and out the speakers came half gibberish. I thought what on earth is this? I could make out m, k after a shirt period as it was a little faster than the app. Then after a minute I thought the 3rd character might be s but then my mind worked out it was a u. I didn’t think to check to see if the app I use and lcwo use the same character sequence. I now know they don’t. So that took a bit to get used to as it was a 3 character set I’m not used to.
I also found that saying the letters out loud slowed me down and I missed characters, so in the end I just tapped the steering wheel with 1 of 3 fingers each I assigned a character to or just remembered the word it sounded out and said that.
I think lcwo character sequence is harder. Personally MKU is a little harder than MKR as the first 3 characters to learn.

As for sending, I remember watching and talking to the cw ops at the JOTA I used to be at that it was in the wrist with a straight key and I think I can send a mean cq on a straight key with my wrist.

So in future I need to make sure any practice files I have are for the same 3 characters.
I would zone out of the morse when I actually had to drive but sat in queues I think I did reasonably well with the different 3 character set than I’ve been doing.

Up to 4 letters now. M k r s.
I first do it at 18wpm character speed but 8x slower character spacing and word spacing. Then once I’m happy with that I do 5 or 10 minutes at 20wpm with 10wpm character spacing and word spacing, then move onto 4 characters. Just did the first slow copy 5 minutes of 4 characters and got 1 mistake.
I’m enjoying this so far :grinning::grinning: