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CW-Morse Code

Morse may seem to be outmoded — and if you read around, you'll find a lot of people who think it's an unnecessary relic. But it remains the one mode that will get through if anything can.

Although it is no longer required to learn the Morse Code to get a U.S. Amateur Radio License, it is still widely used and will continue to be in use for a long time to come. In fact, there are in actually more Amateur Radio Operators using Morse Code today than ever before.  Morse Code or CW is a preferred favorite of many Amateur Radio Operators because of how very effective it is at long distance communications. CW is 100 times more effective in getting through the noise than any other form of communicating. Consider the fastest CW signal may have a band width of 30 Hz where a SSB voice signal could have a bandwidth of 3,000 Hz. The same power output is spread out over an area 100 times as wide making it that much less efficient. This long distance efficiency makes Morse Code often a preferred method of communication for distant stations on expeditions to very remote parts of the world such as the South Pole.  The best explanation I have read on the efficiency of CW over other forms of radio transmission is written by W8JI here

CW transmitting equipment is easier to build than any other equipment.  Many Hams build their own radios that can send and receive Morse Code, and since they can be low power (or QRP) stations they are simple to build and easy to transport out into the field for backpacking or operating from a park bench. New Hams are encouraged to study and learn the Morse Code because it will open up many doors for communication in this incredible hobby.

A good read about learning Morse Code is The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy by William Pierpont, N0HFF, now a silent key. You can download it as an Adobe PDF file here.

A key point is to learn the sound as "a unit", so writing the character becomes reflexive response to the group of sounds, almost like a musical language. Thinking in terms of dots and dashes will cause problems in your head and doing some sort of counting will cause problems and keep you from being able to get past very slow code speeds.

The best way to learn CW has been proven to be learning the individual characters at their FULL speed of your target, such as 15-20wpm.   Then learning to copy these characters by adding additional space between them to slow the speed down to an effective speed much lower and then keep practicing to work your full speed up higher and higher.  This keeps you from the temptation of learning to count dits and dahs and just "hear" the letter as a grouped together series of sounds associated with that letter.

In this new high tech world, code practice is available on mp3 files, podcasts and computer programs for PC's, iPhones, Blackberry's and just about any other computing platform that you can download for free that generate code practice.

Here are some good programs for Windows PC's for learning CW:
  • The Koch Trainer from G4FON is named for a German psychologist who developed this training method in the 1930's. The basic idea is to learn at full speed, starting with two letters, and adding more as you go.  FREE.
  • Another good free program is Just Learn Morse Code. It can use the Koch method and supports Farnsworth timing.  A nice feature of JLMC is that it teaches you to type in the code as you receive it and it will grade your accuracy based on what you type
  • Commercial CW learning software is available from Nu-Ware.  Their software is pretty good and has more features than the free programs, but if you don't want to pay for software, you may find the free programs available will get the job done just as well.
There are several good programs available for the iPhone/iPad to learn CW, the big benefit being the portable and take anywhere with you ability of these devices.
  • Dah Dit - Morse Code Tutor - has a pretty good system helping to learn each character, but does not have any features for learning to copy code such as simulated QSO's etc or even random series of letters.   It focused mostly on learning characters at full speed.  Also has a good function to play random letters and then say the letter in english.  This is handy for playing in the car while driving to assist in learning the characters.  It sort of supports Farnsworth spacing, at a fixed 50%.  This program is one of the best to start learning CW with on the iPhone until you have mastered the letters themselves and are ready to move on to copying words which it can not assist with.
  • Ham Morse - this program is a code 'generator' that can be used to read rss feeds in cw, generate simulated QSO's to practice copying.  Supports the Koch method.
  • MorseTest - a very basic code generate for code copy practice.  There is something to be said for it's simplicity though.  
  • Morse Mania - good practice code generator and can generate random letters, random letter groups, can send random english words, as well as simulated QSO's. Also has a guess the character where it sends and then you use the keyboard to input what you hear.  It supports Farnsworth spacing and the Kock Method.  Also has a few other features such as a practice key, and a keyboard type->cw output feature.  One of the best iPhone apps for code practice.
  • Morse Elmer - a recent addition to the crowded field of morse code apps on the iPhone.  It is focused around practice of random letter groups.  It has an interesting feature that you copy the code send, then enter in how many letters you got correct and it will graph and track your progress.  Supports Farnsworth Spacing.
  • Koch Trainer - another recent addition to the app store, it is totally focused on teaching the Kock method of lesson progressions.  

K7QO developed a MP3 based learning corse that is quite good for learning CW.  These MP3's are very good to load into an ipod and listen to while driving in the car.

Recently a new web based learning site dedicated to learning CW has appeared called Learning CW Online (lcwo.net) and it is quite good.  You have the ability to track your progress online and you can continue where you left off from anywhere you can access the web via a web browser.  This also works inside many mobile phone browsers so you can also practice anywhere you have internet connectivity with lcwo.net.