CW – Learning Morse Code

Update August 2018 – More Practice…  I suppose to become proficient in anything, it takes lots of practice over time.  Here is what I have settled into for a routine.  Consider this unofficial information from an unqualified operator 🙂 

  1. I’ve been using a key to practice running through the alphabet and numbers so I can get these memorized and get the muscle memory with the straight key.  I am doing this both on my radio with BK=off so I dont transmit and with an MFJ practice Key:
  2. I’ve been practicing spelling out words using dits and dahs vocally – mostly while I drive
  3. Now that I know the alphabet and numbers fairly well (I still have the think and it take a few seconds sometimes), I have started listening to the AARL 5 WPM slow code practice files and trying to copy the message.  This is very rough so far (I still have to pause the 5 WPM audio often) but it is getting progressively easier with each attempt.  AARL files:

Update 7/18 – Practice…  So, I’ve been doing a combination of playing with an app on my iPhone (MorseZapp), and doing time on the MFG practice straight key following along with an audio Morse Code soundtrack while I drive (safely lol).  Tonight I plugged in the iambic key that Dave/AC7FF loaned me… Oh man this is really nice.  A lot less hand fatigue and sort of an automatic spacing between dits and dahs in a charecter.  That is pretty nice (see pic)!  We also did some practice listening and copying CW tonight as part of our weekly 2m net.  Man that was rough.  Of all the “sentences” that Dave sent, I was really only able to copy a few charecters here and there.  Its gonna take some time for sure…

June 2018 – Start CW?  Why?  Why now?  Will it stick?

That is what I am asking myself right about now.  Back when I first got into the Ham radio hobby in early 2014, CW was not an interest nor on my radar.  Sure, being a fan of languages, whether its Java, C++, or Mandarin, it did peek my interest, but only for a microsecond.  There were too many things to learn in the hobby, I just wanted to get on the air and make some contacts with people.  A couple of years later, in a conversation or two, CW was brought up again, and I approached it  again with an equally unenthusiastic, “meh, not for me”.

Fast forward to 2018.  As I started to get plugged into the EVQRP group and the Gathering of the Willing ventures to the park (see other posts), and definitely made some new friends in the hobby, CW was for the first time firmly in my realm of influence.  Out of the corner of my ear at the park I could hear Dave/AC7FF paddling away making contacts on CW.  Hmmm… I went from “meh”, to #madrespect for those that have the CW skill.

But then, how did I then go from respecting those that have the CW skill, to actually wanting to obtain the skill for myself?  After all it is a bit daunting to think about going down this rabbit hole of learning CW and taxing my brain to such an extent.  I mean, geeze, I haven’t even passed my Amateur Extra exam.  Good question to ask myself…

It really came in two waves.  The first wave was to witness the effectiveness of using CW during the 13 colonies special event (see other post on this event). Its definitely, as Dave likes to say, “Another tool in the toolkit to make contacts”.  Clearly that proved true as Dave (and Jay) leveraged their CW abilities to make “Clean Sweeps” and contact all of the colonies during the 13 colonies event.  So that’s the first wave, the lure of the practicality of the skill in the hobby as it relates to contests.  This is really what got me past the “oh my this is crazy to even think about starting” paralysis.  The second wave (of interest) came from digging into “how to learn CW” online and watching some videos and reading some blogs.  Something clicked with me about “don’t worry about the visual of dits and dahs on paper, its all about the sounds”.  The sounds…

I’ve always been a air drummer, finger drummer, toe tapper, knee bouncer, or whatever you want to call it.  I always have some body part thumping to the rhythm when music is playing.  I clearly enjoy that.  It might partly be ADD, lol, but whatever it is, I do it.  Well, when I started exploring a CW on an iPhone app, I started to realize that this is actually different than I expected.  It has a rhythm to it.  Sure I have no idea (yet) what I am really listening to since I haven’t learned the letters, numbers or phrases, but it feels different.  It resembles music in a way.  There seems to be some sort of sound to hand connection that feels right.  I watched a video on the difference between different types of CW keys.  Straight key, paddles, Iambic, etc.  The author (clearly he was giving his opinion or bias) stated for him, that the straight key was more of a direct “sound to hand” connection that felt more natural to him compared to the paddle or iambic keys.  Its clear the straight key is not as efficient (or maybe not as accurate) as these other types of keys, but for him the way his brain works, CW made more sense on the straight key.  Well, I know absolutely nothing about nothing when it comes to CW, but this seemed to also make sense for me and how I think my brain is going to work with CW.  So, I decided I am going to start on a straight key and see how it goes…

To wrap up for now, here I am a week later from the 13 colonies event and I am enjoying the start of my venture into the KOCH method to start learning CW – just using a simple app on my phone and online.  My interest is high and so this is in the euphoria/fun stage.  I realize it can only come down from here…  I’ve been here before…  The key (pun intended) is to stay the course if the course is worth staying on.  I am also trying to figure out all the mechanics of how a key, and what key I will use, will connect to my radio gear, etc.  Its par for the course for me to go all in or do nothing at all.  That part of me is a blessing and a curse I suppose.  I dont really know how this is going to play out.  Will this be interesting enough for me to go all the way and become efficient enough to make QSO contacts during contacts on CW?  Dunno yet.  I am going to be getting some great Elmer’ing from our group, and Dave/AC7FF, Jay/N1RWY and Jim/KF7E have already turned on the firehose for drinking.  I also will have the ability to borrow a few different keys to try them out.  It’s great to have the support and also have other Hams in our group (Christi/KG7NAD for sure, and I think Rick/W9JRF) venturing into learning CW at the same time.  We can share in the ups and downs for sure.  I decided to buy an MFJ practice straight key from Amazon with hopes that I can be pounding away at the thing while away from my radio – more on that device in another post after I’ve had time to play with it.

But, the journey has started.  Time will tell.  More to come…

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