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Learn CW Morse Code – Get Started
If you are reading this article, then in all probability you either wish to learn CW Morse Code from the scratch or are one of those who learned it earlier in life but still find it an uphill task to copy CW by the ear. Whichever might be the case, do not fret. We will guide you through the process of mastering CW Morse code with a set of scientifically designed lessons in this section of the website. The method that we employ is proven to help learn CW as if it were another language and not a code. This is the crux of the matter. People often make the blunder of memorizing the CW code set consisting of dits-n-dahs. Never ever do that…

Those who are absolutely new to CW will be beginning from the scratch. Hence, they do not carry any baggage of bad learning practices. The others who might feel uncomfortable copying CW by the ear beyond a limited transmission speed because they perhaps learned it the wrong way will get an opportunity to now learn it the right way. This Getting Started article is followed by a comprehensive set of hands-on CW Morse code training lessons. These lessons will enable you to comfortable copy CW by the ear, in the shortest possible time, at speeds up to 25-30 WPM without fail…

The trick is to learn CW Morse code in a natural way while treating it as just another simple language with a short vocabulary of 40-45 different sound sequences. When a toddler begins to speak for the first time, he/she simply does it by constantly listening to what he/she hears his parents and other family members speak. He doesn’t start by learning the spelling of words but the entire word sound as a whole. Similarly, you are not supposed to learn CW by memorizing the dit-dah sequence of the characters but the entire character’s sound as a whole… The toddler does not hear his parents speak at very slow rates or drag the words to sound long and slow. He hears people conversing in a regular way at normal word speed, yet he picks up the words and learns to understand and eventually speak… That’s exactly the way to learn CW Morse code too… Therefore in our lessons, we will teach Morse code at a regular speed of 25 WPM, with of course, a slightly altered procedure known as the Farnsworth Method. Meanwhile, if you wish could browse through the article CW Radiotelegraphy – A Robust mode to help understand where we are heading.

Tighten your seat belts and get ready for some action. However, before that let me present below a self-assessment test for all those who might have learned CW before. This way, one would know where one is placed.

Are you a skilled CW operator? Test your skills…
Can you comfortably decode Morse code radiotelegraphy transmissions on HF radio bands? Go on, test your skills to find out if you need some more practice, or perhaps might need to learn from scratch.

Wireless HF radiotelegraphy environment can often be far from ideal. HF radio DX circuits are subjected to a variety of propagation phenomena that might lead to some or all of the following to make life difficult… Are you geared up to negotiate these conditions? Of course, there are many other effects beyond what I have listed below…

  • Deep fading (QSB) – It may either be slow or fast in nature that could at times sink the RX signal below the noise floor.
  • Background Static Noise (QRN) – At different time, band, and operator’s QTH, the magnitude would vary. Lightning and thunder would further add to the noise and crackle on the channel.
  • Man-made Noise (QRM) – Not only could the channel be affected by local electrical noise sources but adjacent channel or co-channel interference from other transmissions could produce adverse effects to compound difficulties.
  • Multi-path Propagation phenomena – Signal arriving at the receiver could be via multiple ionospheric skip paths that produce amplitude as well as phase distortion on the received signal.
  • Selective fading and non-uniform Group Delay – This could drastically alter the tonal quality and the pitch of the signal at the receiver. The effect could be time-dependent and result in pitch alteration and flutter.
  • Polar Cap Distortion – Many of the intercontinental DX paths have to pass through or adjacent to the polar region. At times when we experience CME and similar solar activities, there is a tendency for increase in Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis. These result in producing a very hollow sound at the CW radiotelegraphy receiver.

The question is, are you ready to comfortably handle these situations and continue to copy a CW radio transmission with ease? … Forget the CW decoder software. They will do no good. You have got to be skilled to copy by the ear.

Test your skills below by trying to copy the following recorded transmission.

It is nearly a 35 minutes plain English passage comprising of alphabets, numerals, and a few basic punctuation marks. I have not included pro-signs for the sake of simplicity…

The transmission speed is approximately 25 WPM… Now don’t say that it is too fast… 🙂 If you can’t copy at this speed then it means that there is a fundamental flaw in the way you were originally taught how to copy Morse code. You need to address this flaw. I will help you do it with a comprehensive set of CW lessons on this website.

The recorded transmission below simulates a moderately weak-signal HF DX path that follows a 14000 Km Great-Circle path over the polar region with a moderately disturbed ionospheric condition… There is deep QSB, tonal distortion due to pitch dithering, manual keying using a straight key resulting in a slightly variable weighted character stream, etc… This is as real as it gets. TRY to copy it ALL…

Learn CW Morse code

25 WPM using Straight Key manual keying
Deep, slow QSB,
Great Circle Polar path with Auroral pitch dither distortion

Play the above Audio Clip

Could you copy all of it? Probably not in entirety... That's OK...

Some might have tried to use software decoders. In all probability, they failed miserably... All other genuine CW operators who attempted to copy by the ear, here is how you could realistically assess yourself...

  • More than 90% copy in one go - You are truly a MASTER of CW Radiotelegraphy... My Respects.
  • More than 50-70% copy in one go - You are pretty good but maybe a bit rusty. Practice to sharpen your skills.
  • Could copy a few sentences at a stretch - You can copy CW, no doubt. However, You are very rusty and mental fatigue sets in quickly. You need to seriously practice.
  • Could copy only a couple of words in succession - You have the basic underlying skills. But you tend to lag behind the transmission rate and hence loose it after a few words... Practice at 25 WPM, preferably using Farnsworth method.
  • Could only copy occasional alphabets but not complete words - You learned CW the wrong way. You tend to mentally break the characters into dits-n-dahs and do not register them in your mind as a single and homogeneous character sounds. You have hit the speed barrier which can only be overcome be following a proper code learning process... Follow my Morse code lessons that will come up very soon on this website... Stay tuned.
  • Could not copy anything. It all sounded so alien - That's very good. It means you have clean slate. You are therefore in a position to learn CW in the proper way from the scratch, if you try... Comprehensive CW lessons are coming up on this website... Stay tuned.

CW Morse Code Lesson Set - A brief introduction
Here are the 5 Lesson Sets that are coming up one by one after this article. These lesson sets will walk you through the entire process of making you a very good CW operator. We will learn to copy 26 English alphabets, 10 numerals, 7-8 commonly used punctuation marks, and a set of special transmission characters called pro-signs... More on that later... When you are done, you should be able to copy CW Morse Code, by the ear, like a breeze at any speed from low to as high as 25-30 WPM, or even more. Not only will you copy perfectly formatted Morse code, but also easily copy hand keyed CW with variable symbol weight, speed and pitch dither, etc., under difficult HF propagation conditions where many others who rely on software-based CW decoders might be completely lost...

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE - Do not attempt to try practicing sending CW till the time you satisfactorily complete at least Lesson Set -3. Do not touch the key or the paddle before that. If you do, you might do yourself irreparable harm. Till the sounds of all CW Morse code characters get firmly embedded in your brain, any attempt to learn how to send will spoil the accent of your Morse transmission. If you develop a bad keying hand, it might be very difficult to correct it later... So, please don't jump the gun.

  • Lesson Set 1 - You will gradually learn to copy all the 26 English language alphabets, words and sentences.
  • Lesson Set 2 - 10 numerals and 4 important commonly used punctuation marks as per the International Morse Code will be progressively added to the already learnt Lesson Set 1.
  • Lesson Set 3 - Words, phrases, common character strings, amateur radio CW abbreviations, etc will be introduced and added to what has already been learnt so far. The transmission speed would gradually be ramped up to attain 25 WPM with 20 WPM Farnsworth timing.
  • Lesson Set 4 - Important Pro-signs will be introduced and merged with the lesson at level 4.
  • The Takeoff Finale! - This is the final set of practice lessons where we will simulate typical amateur radio QSOs, wean you away from Farnsworth timing as we present lessons at regular 25 WPM speed. We will also practice copying transmissions under a variety of adverse HF Ionospheric propagation conditions, etc... By this time, you should be good to fly on your own.

Hope you enjoyed the exercise. Go to the next step and start learning CW... 73, de Basu VU2NSB

Learn CW Morse Code - Get Started 1

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(8 votes, Rating: 5.00) - Please vote the article with your valuable star rating. Thanks! Basu (VU2NSB)

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