Learning Morse Code
January 20, 1997


Now why the hell am I writing this ? I never liked CW, or to be more precise, I was pretty much indifferent to it. Today, I am still not a big fan of it, but I must admit that its nice to know. Over the years many have tried to study Morse code, many have failed. Even I tried to study Morse a few years ago, but gave up after a while. Today I can decode Morse at a rate of 17 Wpm. I am writing this paper as a study guide for people that want to learn Morse but find it challenging. This paper does not reflect in any way about the necessity of Morse Code to the Amateur-Radio service nor does it reflect upon the licensing requirements set by most governments. The only thing I want to achieve in this short article is to help other people to successfully master this old art.

Get on with it, how do we do it ?

I think that the first thing you should learn are the following two statements:
  1. Learning Morse takes time and effort.
  2. Each person has a different comprehension level.
I think that by accepting these two statements you are ready to begin your journey into the DI-DAH world. The idea behind the first statement is that Morse code is a physical skill, not an equation you have to memorize (this is probably why engineers find it hard to study Morse Code). In order to master it you have to do three things: practice, practice again, and practice even more. There is no humanly way to master a good skill without practicing. So if you have no intention of putting time and effort into it, don't even bother trying (seriously).

The second statement comes to make you aware of the fact that each of us has a different learning curve. In practical terms, this means that there is no right or wrong way to learn Morse Code. If someone suggests a system and you are not making progress, then the system may be wrong for you, but this does not mean that you cannot learn Morse Code.

Here is my list of suggestions that may help you:
  1. Study a couple of times a day. I think that practicing a couple of times a day helps us by being frequent enough to remember, but not too frequent to burn out.
  2. Make each study session about 20-30 minutes long. Don't force yourself to cram for two hours. Most people I know (including me) get distracted after about 30 minutes, and if you force yourself to continue the beeps will start sounding like machine guns. Lets face it, after a while, your brain just shuts down. When that happens, it's time to put the headphones down.
  3. Pay attention to what characters you are having a hard time with, and practice with just those characters until you feel confident. I found out that I had a harder time with the four sign characters, so I practiced them for a week, and then added them up with everything else. Sometimes having a problem with just one character could cause you to loose a couple more while receiving.
  4. Use headphones, it will make it easier to hear the code. With headphones you will not suffer from multipath distortion created by the room you are in. This is greatly appreciated when you reach speeds of above 12 Wpm.
  5. Use the Farnsworth method. This means that you set the character speed to the speed which you want to achieve and the letter spacing to your current speed (which will be low at first). This way, when you get better, you will only change the character spacing leaving the characters length the same. When I studied for 13 Wpm, I set the character speed to 18 Wpm and worked up to a character speed of 13 Wpm. Now that I am working on my Extra class, I set the character speed to 20 Wpm and am working up to a letter speed of 20 Wpm.

Now What ?

Now that you know my secrets, its up to you to adapt whatever works for you. I think that the most important thing to keep in mind is that you need to find the system that works best for you. If some of the suggestion don't work for you, drop them, and if you have some new techniques - use them. I think that once you have established your own system, its not such a big deal to get ahead. It will just take some time.


I did not discuss the tools I used in this article because I don't think or know enough about all the tools that are out there. Some of my friends swear that using the computer is best, and some just love the pre-recorded cassettes - but I have ended up using both. I bought Radio-Shack's cassettes (by Gordon West) and used them to learn the basic characters. When I was done with them, I was ready for a 6 Wpm novice exam. At that stage, I started making my own cassettes using Morse Tutor Gold, and a small program I wrote. The program I wrote generates random fives of the characters I want, and I use MTG to play it on the computer so I can record it onto a cassette. Again, I do not suggest any vendor or media. Try a couple out and see what works best for you.

I hope this short writeup helps you learn Morse Code!
If you have any comments I would be happy to hear from you!

January 9, 2007: As of late last month, the FCC has eliminated Morse Code as a requirement for General and Extra class licenses. Some are happy, some are in mourning. One thing is for sure - our hobby is evolving. Who knows what the future may hold for it?

Copyright 1996-2007 KiloXray.com
To contact me, send an email to webmaster (at) kiloxray (dot) com
Page last updated January 9, 2007

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