Selection of Morse Keys Image courtesy of Electronics Notes

Given my interest in CW, a number of people have asked some advice for learning CW. Below are some tips I prepared for someone recently.

At the end of the day, however, everyone learns differently so don’t take what I say as gospel…

1) Any practise is better than no practise. For a while when I was learning, I would have twice weekly skeds with G0DVJ on 2m. We’d chat on SSB and then he’d send on CW. For some weeks in the year he’d be on holiday and there would be no CW. So I didn’t do any practising. When he got back, I’d have regressed in my abilities. I was learning c12yrs ago and Morse apps weren’t quite as prevalent as they are now. So even if you can’t practise in perfect conditions, anything is better than nothing.

2) Introduce numbers and grammar early on. It is tempting, and seems logical, to learn all the letters first, then numbers, etc, but I’ve found (while teaching others) that doing it this way makes the numbers seem much harder and ‘scary’ than they really are. It is best to get them in your head at the same time as the letters. After all, if you know all your letters but no numbers, you won’t be able to make many contacts!

3) When teaching folk, I tend to use CW at a speed of 13wpm, slowed down using Farnsworth to whatever speed we need. That way people start to learn the Code at a reasonable speed but have plenty of time to decode it in their heads. In time you can increase the code speed and decrease the gaps until you’re at the speed you want.

4) If you are anything like me, you will have plenty of projects on the go, but often see little progress! I suggest you set yourself reasonable targets. Try and increase your Morse vocabulary by two characters each week. Perhaps start off with the shorter characters (e, t, a, m, n, i) to begin, then move on to slightly longer ones. That way there isn’t a huge amount to learn at each time.

5) Try and practise with other people. Tip 1 notwithstanding, it is always best to train with other people. Are there any hams nearby who are learning or willing to teach you? Are there people you can work with on air? Could you and I do something on 40m/80m? Try taking a look at the RSGB’s GB2CW scheme.

6) Although it is tempting, my advice (which some may disagree with) is don’t touch a key until you can copy. Otherwise you may risk getting into bad sending habits which in turn may feed into your receiving. Once you’ve mastered receiving, you will have the rhythm in your head and sending will be far easier.

7) I started with a straight key before moving on to a paddle, and I think this is the best way to do it.

8) Remember - although there is a definite goal to learning CW, we should think of it as a journey and not a destination. We should be able to enjoy learning CW, particularly as we see the little milestones we pass along the way. In your learning journey, you will have good days and bad days - this is absolutely normal and part of the learning process.

9) Finally, when you do move on to sending, remember that you do not need to be perfect before you can make a QSO, but you do need to make a QSO before you can be perfect! ‘Stage fright’ is perfectly normal, but until you are able to overcome it, a) you won’t perfect your technique, and b) you won’t realise how much fun communicating in CW is!

As I say, some may disagree with this advice. If so, why not contact me? After all, I want this to be good, solid advice. Email address below.

G0DVJ, who taught me CW, has written a far more comprehensive guide which can be found on the CRA webpage - I really recommend you take a look.