(Re)Learning Morse Code

When I first received my amateur radio license in 2019, I barely thought about Morse code. Older hams reminded me that Morse code was once a required part of the exam for obtaining a license, and that new operators should be thankful for the much easier tests of recent years that don't require it. A few months after I received my technician license, a fellow ham (one of my Elmers) invited me on a hike for Summits on the Air (SOTA). He worked stations around the world on CW using 8 watts of power and a key made from paperclips and spare wood pieces. I was intrigued and decided to begin learning Morse code.

After a few months of studying, I purchased a decent Morse code paddle. By this point, I was a general class operator with HF privileges. I called CQ on 40 meters for several nights using CW. When a station replied to my call one evening, I discovered, to my horror, that I could not understand the code transmitted by the operator on the other end. The speed was not excessively fast, and yet I could not complete the QSO. I was frustrated and didn't understand what had happened.

When studying during the previous months, I had relied on visual reference materials to learn Morse code. I had a reference guide with the dots and dashes representing each letter and number on it. When I listened to pre-recorded audio clips of QSOs, I diligently followed along with my visual aid, mentally translating each sound into pictures of dots and dashes. The proper way to study Morse code is to listen to the sounds, translating them directly into letters and numbers. The extraneous step of visualizing the dots and dashes in your head significantly slows down comprehension and response time. Additionally, I had focused too much of my studying on transmitting instead of receiving. This was the cause of my inability to complete my first Morse code QSO! I needed to relearn.

In many ways, relearning Morse code is harder the second time around, especially since I'm coming to it with my existing visualizations. I've now been using a mobile phone app called MorseZapp to help me break my bad Morse code habits. The paid version has a lot of practice exercises for both transmitting and receiving in addition to exercises on Q signals and common CW phrases. I highly recommend this app if you have an Apple device.

I practice with the app at least once or twice a week, and I've now completed several successful QSOs on both 40 meters and 20 meters. It's a huge improvement from where I was in 2019.

Tags: amateurradio cw


N2QFD//Mal - Fri, 19 Apr 2024 11:19:12 GMT

Very Similar here Alex. I was an early No-Code Tech and realized after getting saturated with the VHF/UHF scene and reaching the limits of what it would do and what I could afford I started to upgrade. I can remember getting Tech after testing in Rochester NY and a State Trooper who gave the code exam and acted like a DI in the military graded me in-front of the room. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BEING THE 1ST ONE DONE IN MY EXAM! pause...I HAVE NEVER NEVER SEEN THE LIKES OF THIS, SUCH YOU HAVE A LOT OF NERVE COMING IN TO MY EXAM ROOM AND SCORING 100%!... I got out of work early in 2001 and stopped at a testing session on my way to meet my dad N2NRA and cousin KB2KFL for hilltopping adventure... passed my General! CW became my thing for many years and sometimes digital. My TenTec Rebel is still the nicest radio I've ever had. best 73 AR..SK..


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