Learning CW Progress (Update 1)

So today i finally started to learn morse.
I have downloaded a couple of audio files and i started off with K7QO’s Code Course. The K7QO Code Course teaches the the alphabet from A to Z in sets of two letters and then a test of the letters learned so far.

I don’t know if this is the best way to learn the code, but a s a first attempt, this is what i do:
I listen to the audio files and try to repeat what i hear using my paddles.
The audio  files i listen on my Macbook, the radio produces the morse audio i create with my paddles. Like this i not only learn the code, but also learn how to handle the paddles.
The good thing is that the radio doesn’t transmit as long as it is set to USB. When i set the radio to CW, the radio transmits what i send with my paddles, but for the next 4 months or so, this is not needed yet… So you can think of it that USB mode is my “learning mode”.

Today i have done a-b, the a-b test, c-d, the a-d test, e-f and the a-f test. The audio files vary between 12 and 20WPM and i have set my radio to 20WPM.
About two hours of practice and i can tell you that the last test, the a-f one, was not easy.
I hear two code sequences, the one from my Macbook and the one from my radio, both with a different pitch. And while i’m sending my code i have to listen to the next sequence i have to repeat. This, when the speed goes up, needs some practice, i can promise you that!

Also the handling of the paddles is not easy. As well as learning an audio “rhythm” for each character, i also have to learn a paddle “rhythm” to actually send the letters.
Maybe 20WPM is too fast to begin with. Not for recognizing the letters, but for sending them. I very often send an extra dit or dah because i don’t handle the paddles well. Also if i would spend some time on the squeezing technique (see below), maybe this would make my life easier, don’t know.

Anyway, this is my first progress report. I guess this will be my longest article ever. If now, with 6 characters, i already get confused, how could i ever learn 26 characters, 10 digits and a bunch of signs and special codes?
How? I don’t know yet, but i definitely keep you informed.

Learning CW

So, now that the exams are done, CQ Contest is done, so what’s next? I recently bought a set of Bencher paddles, so i guess now i have to start to learn morse.

What and Why morse?
Morse is a communication language that is much spoken about lately. It’s not a requirement anymore for your HAM Radio Amateur license and many novice amateurs look at it as a old-fashioned way of communicating. Why use Morse if there is Phone? Well, why use the radio at all if there is Internet?

From what i read CW (Continuous Wave, a, in HAM Radio world common used synonym for morse) is much more efficient that SSB for its low bandwidth requirements. Therefor it’s much more probable that you can “read” a CW signal over a long distance than an SSB signal.
This is the reason why modern radios have a much more restrictive filter set for CW than for SSB. If an SSB filter gives you 1.8kHz bandwidth as a minimum (below that it gets very difficult to read the signal), in CW filters can go down to 500Hz or even lower and signals are still perfectly readable.
Try it! Look up a CW signal and close your filters. You would be amazed how much noise you can eliminate and focus in on only the signal that you want to hear.
Now, CW is also the only “digital” mode you can use with just your ears and brain as decoding devices. No PC needed.

And you know, it’s fun to learn something new. If you’ve made so many contacts already, it’s time to move out of your comfort zone, isn’t it?

Learning morse
Apparently there are two generally accepted ways of learning Morse.
The first one is the Farnsworth Method. W6TTB Russ Farnsworth teaches the morse code at full speed (20 wpm) but with long pauses between the letters to give the operator time to think about what he heard. Once the operator is comfortable with the code, the pauses between the letters get reduced.
The second method is Koch’s method. I get the impression that this is the most commonly accepted way of learning. Ludwig Koch (psychologist and as far as i know no radio amateur) teaches the code also at target speed, but one letter at a time. Once you get 90% of the decoding right, another letter gets added.
Inside the Koch method there are people that prefer to learn the code in alphabetic order or in order of complexity of the code, starting with e, i, m and t and sub-sequentially adding letters like a, n, etc.
I’m not sure yet which method to use. I guess the Koch method is a good starting point.

Getting on the air
Nobody wants to look foolish. And neither do i. So when are you good enough to get on the air and make your first QSO? K4OSO Milt wrote this article about it. It’s called “8 good reasons for NOT getting on the air”.

“8 GOOD REASONS FOR NOT GETTING ON THE AIR”

By Milt, K4OSO 

1. I CAN’T COPY VERY WELL Copy skills get better with time and practice. Nerves is certainly a factor at first. The answer to nerves is exposure. Get on the air and practice those skills. After all, you’re not copying vectors for a brain exploration surgery, just fun stuff. What if you do miss some? Eh? 

2. I MAKE MISTAKES IN SENDING Who cares? Everyone does! If you show me an op who sends flawless CW, I’ll eat my hat. Even keyboarders make mistakes. Its what you do when you make one that is the measure of an op. A good op corrects his mistakes. When you glide past mistakes it leaves the other guy guessing. 

3. MY CW IS VERY SLOW Accuracy transcends speed! Accuracy is absolute, while speed will increase/improve over time. What you DON’T want is to get faster at sending poorly. Fast and poor are an awful twosome. Practice sending well, at a speed which is comfortable for you. You WILL make mistakes, just correct them and move on. 

4. I GET LOST IN QSO’S As many have suggested, by writing down the parts of a typical exchange/qso, you will be better able to get through a qso. Its really funny how few comments are directed to spelling. Spelling slows us down and trips us up in many qso situations. When you practice off-air, its fine to use a sheet of text, but I find that sending as if in a qso is much more helpful. Practice this by sending out of your head. You’ll get used to sending off the cuff and your spelling will improve tremendously. 

If ragchewing is your goal, keep your exchanges short, at first. Don’t try to say too much in one exchange. That way, it will give you time to think about what you’ll say next, and will slow the other op down as well. That will make his transmissions easier to copy. Keep it casual, and don’t let it become hard work. 

5. MY PALMS SWEAT Keep a hand towel at your operating desk. My palms sweated on my first date too but, it didn’t stop me. Remember, no one can see you! Try PRETENDING you’re as calm as a cucumber. Think of yourself as a “take charge” op who can handle any situation. As an op thinkest, so shall he be on the air. 

One particular activity that improved my confidence and ability to handle most situations was learning traffic handling on the Maryland Slow Net. Net speed was maximum 10 wpm (and flexible), the instructors were patient and considerate. That training gave me the confidence I desperately needed. I’m now an Instructor and Net Control Station on that Net and watch the transformation of new ops from tentative and unsure to ops who would be welcomed on NTS traffic net throughout the country. Its easy and painless and proceeds at the new op’s own pace. Even if you don’t become an active traffic handler, the training is invaluable for learning general operating practices. 

6. PEOPLE WILL THINK POORLY OF ME Bull Crap!!! Everyone expects new / inexperienced CW ops to be somewhat tentative, make some mistakes and miss some copy. They expect it because THEY PERFORMED THE SAME WAY WHEN THEY WERE NEW / INEXPERIENCED. Some well-meaning ops, in an attempt to sooth the nervous new op will say, “Aw, no one will notice your mistakes” Bull crap! Of course they notice them! They’d have to be idiots not to. BUT, no one cares about a your mistakes. This is a hobby, a means of having fun. It WILL be fun if you stop agonizing over it. The amount of fun you have at CW is inversely proportional to the amount you worry about it. 

7. I’LL DO IT WHEN I GET BETTER That’s fine if you like spending your time procrastinating. “He was gonna get on the air tomorrow” would make a unfortunate epitath. “He really enjoyed his ham radio hobby and his CW” is a much nicer one. I waited until I was over 60 to finally get started in Ham radio. I often think of how much fun I could have had over the years if I had just bitten the bullet and jumped in. Now, I’m trying to make up for lost time. But, we all know that’s impossible. 

8. I HAVE PROBLEMS WITH THIS OR THAT TYPE OF KEY Ok… use whatever you’re good with, and develop your skills on the others at your own pace. Whatever you do, don’t try to swage your fist into a type of key that frustrates you. Learning new skills, while not easy, should be fun. Measure your progress in small chunks. Don’t set your goals too far ahead. You must be able to see progress. If speed improvement is your goal, measure it one word per minute at a time. Don’t try to go from 5 wpm to 10 wpm. That’s doubling your speed! It would be like me trying to go from 35 wpm to 70 wpm. Never happen, go from 5 to 6. Then to 7, and so on. 

73, Milt