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Sunday, December 23, 2012
Learning the Code
My Thoughts on Learning the Code:
First off I start with a disclaimer. I am learning too, only passing on the information that I read and get from my elmers. Everyone learns differently so these are my thoughts on how to learn Morse code. I got my information from a lot of sources, I am an Instrument Ground Instructor for flying, I was a military Instructor in the USAF, I have taught classes on Software Engineering, listened to my mentors, read a lot of information and used common sense in places. My methods might not work for you, that’s OK, hopefully you will still get something out of the things I say. Good Luck and above all have fun!
First rule: Until you can hear the proper spacing of a Morse code signal DO NOT USE YOUR KEY; especially a straight key. Reason: sending CW is like playing an instrument by ear, so if you listen to a bad musician play a piece and copy it you just learned how to play the piece incorrectly. You do not want to teach yourself improper spacing by hearing improper spacing; it is very difficult to unlearn something learned wrong. Listen to well formed CW to hear what each character sounds like. Many resources are available from the free G4FON program, CD’s, ARRL downloads and radio broadcasts. Do yourself a big favor and learn to hear the characters before trying to send. More than likely you will not send correctly and will reinforce the mistakes by listening to yourself making them.
Second Rule: Practice every day! I will say that again; practice every day! They don’t have to be marathon sessions, unless you’re having fun, then practice as long as you are having fun. We are all busy, that is for sure, however just five minutes a day is all that is needed to make progress. Five minutes, I am sure we can all spare five minutes to achieve a goal in our radio hobby! The time you practice should be a quite, relaxing time so you can concentrate solely on the code. If you have had a really bad day and are frustrated or in bad sorts then skip the practice; you will not do well and will only get frustrated for no reason. If you’re having so many bad days that you only get to practice once in a while – time for a life adjustment! Every day you miss is a loss of two days of practice, especially in the beginning. Practice! Practice! Practice!
Third Rule: Get on the air even if it is only to listen to others. Try to copy characters, make notes as to how stations operate. Rag chews, DX, contests are all different in the way they operate. Not hard and fast rules and not always the same but you will get a better feel on how to operate. Here is a tip for the brave (Thanks to W7BRS): I am sure you know what CQ sounds like if not get that sound in your head, it is what tells you someone is calling, pretty important. Learn your call sign at speed, say 25WPM, learn the individual characters of you call, what 5NN sounds like, TU, UP and ?. When you hear a DX station in a possible pile up, probably working at 25WPM or greater, try to work out the call, listen for the 5NN and TU. Send your call and listen for your call 5NN. The DX station just replied to you. Send back 5NN TU for short or UR 5NN de your call TU for a bit more chatty exchange, most like the quick fast one though. You can use your rigs memory keyer if your rig has one if you can’t key yet. The only problem is if the DX station only gets part of your call, they may respond K9? or VD? that is your signal to send your call a couple times in a row. Another thing that they may do is send back your call with a question mark: K9VD? the DX station thinks this is your call but is not 100% sure, if it is your call send back RR fro Rodger Rodger or QSL. If he has the call wrong, send your call twice and wait for the response. Hopefully the DX station will get your call and complete the contact. If not do the best you can, they will know you are new and most will try to work with you to make the contact. If not they will TU, CQ whatever and move on. Nothing to be ashamed of, you tried, next time you will get them because practice makes perfect.
There are several methods to learn Morse code; I do not believe in the listen for the dits and dahs method at all. Some instructors actually tell you to throw away the dit and dah charts as well! Reason: You are supposed to be listening to the sound the pattern of dits and dahs make for each character, not decoding dit and dah patterns in your head to the character associated with those dits and dahs! When starting to increase speed most brains will not be able to decode the dits and dahs at that speed, hence the speed wall is hit. In a nutshell you taught yourself to read the dits and dahs instead of the sound and now you have to relearn a new method of listening to Morse code; remember what I said about unlearning, it’s a bugger. Most folks get frustrated and give up at this point thinking they can never succeed, not true, you can if you start out the way you mean to go on! All I can say is that a lot of people just don’t believe that they can learn this way and wont even give it a try. These folks will fall into the pool of learners that don’t have very high success rates, high frustration and even higher “I am never using that CW @^&*# ever again”. You got to have trust, especially in yourself, that you can do it!
I believe that learning the code at a slow speed is not practical. Reason: Again, you are listening to individual dits and dahs. The characters of Morse code make a distinctive sound you are trying to listen and hear that sound not the individual dits and dahs. Speed is then nothing more than training your brain to recognize these sound at a faster pace.
I like two standard methods for learning the code: Farnsworth and Koch.
Farnsworth: In this method you play characters at a speed of not less than 15WPM, the faster the better. If your goal is 25WPM then start there it will save a lot of time in the long run. With this method you have individual characters at your target speed but with a gap of maybe 5WPM. The methodology behind this system is that you learn to hear the characters at speed and your brain has time to process the character before the next one starts. Once you learn the sounds of the individual letters you start to shorten the gap between them, your brain can process the letters quicker as you learn the sound each makes, until you are at full speed.
Koch: In this method you play two characters at full speed, the target speed you want to learn, with normal spacing. You practice copying these two characters for five minute runs until you achieve a 90% copy. Then you add another letter and repeat the process until all characters are learned. This method is the fastest way to learn but can be frustrating to some folks; those that stick with it are rewarded!
There are going to be days when for whatever reason you just can’t seem to copy the letters that you have already learned. From what I have been told this is normal. Don’t add any new characters that day and repeat the same characters then next day and see if you do better. If you do, great, add another character and move on. If not, don’t fret, just don’t add any more characters until you are comfortable with the ones that you have. I try to identify the characters that I am having problems with and do a repeating run of those characters with Just Learn Code. This can help you concentrate on the characters that are giving you trouble without all the other characters in the mix.
Tricks I Use
Once you get up to about six or seven characters create words from your letters and use Just Learn Code to copy the words.
Copy the most common digraphs, trigraphs, double letters and two, three and four letter words in the English language. (To be added…)
Copy the most common used English words. (To be added…)