Learning morse


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:

I like the idea of tapping on the steering wheel. How about actually tapping out the code for the letter? If there is still enough space between them, that might be another way to help cement them in your brain.

Glad you are having fun! Only 22 letters to go… :thumbsup: It gets easier once you have enough to muddle through some plaintext and QSO format exchanges.

found this thought it was kind of neat and some of you diy qrp lightweight enthusiasts may think its a good idea.
a lightweight diy iambic key.

not for me though. my training today was at 10wpm spacing/timing and character speed of 20wpm with 4 characters over 2 minutes i can get 89% copy correct over 5 minutes only 79.6% correct. will have to stay on 4 characters for a few more days. with my slower timings i can get 100% copy rate.

I like that you are listening to CW while driving to work! Filling that otherwise redundant time with CW definitely accelerated my own progress. The driving is the most important thing, so of course you will “zone out” for much of the journey. But it’s still going into the subconscious and doing you good.

I burned k7qo cw course onto CD and listened to that one way home. It goes up from a,b,c etc it has 1 track of a then 1 track of b then 1 track of a+b etc. Got up to a-f test before I got home and started to have issues copying it at 100%. Hopefully doing different character sets in car and at work on phone will not be detrimental.

Well done so far Anthony, but be wary of expecting too much too soon. Take your learning at a nice steady pace & don’t burn yourself out by trying to go too far ahead of where you are.

Learning to read before learning to send is generally accepted as the best way to go. One tip I haven’t seen mentioned in this thread yet is that to read (& send) Morse well, you really need to recognize the rhythm of the characters. An easy way to get your brain recognizing the rhythm is learning how to “speak” the characters correctly.

Basically, instead of saying “dot” & “dash” which are both around the same length when spoken, use “Dit” & “Dah” as they are closer the the 1:3 ratio of standard Morse.

For example, rather than saying “dot-dash-dot” for the letter R you should say “dih-dah-dit” as your brain will take in what each character should sound like much easier. This really comes into its own once you know all the letters & numbers as it can be used for practice anywhere there are words or letters to be read. One example would be during a journey to work where there will be registration plates on other vehicles that you can say out loud.

As Tom mentions above - Driving the vehicle safely should be your top priority

Even at your stage of learning this may help with the rhythm:
For example with the 4 letters you have learnt so far, if you see any of those letters in a number plate simply say them out loud:

M = "dah-dah"
K = dah-dih-dah"
R = "dih-dah-dit"
S = “dih-dih-dit”

If you find this helps you now then keep it up, if not then maybe leave it until you have all the characters under your belt.

In any case, don’t give up, you will never regret learning Morse, It’s Brilliant! :smile:

Best of luck & best 73,

Mark G0VOF