Category Archives: QRQ

Code practice: It’s starting to pay off

It’s been many weeks since I began working to increase my code copying speed. This week I noticed that I can now get nearly 100% copy in my head at 25 wpm. I’m at 65-75% solid copy in my head at 30 wpm. At 35 wpm I’m consistently able to copy longer stretches of code. In fact, tonight, while doing my 35 wpm W1AW code practice I began to experience what it feels like when you begin to really hear faster CW as a language and not simply dits and dahs flying past your ear drums. I was actually able to relax a bit and hear what was sent more like a conversation vs. translating as I listened. And, with longer words (e.g. antenna, or communications, or transmitter) once you hear the front end of the word and recognize it sound or signature, you know what’s coming and so can relax a bit and take in the overall context to confirm what it is.

I must say that after all these weeks, it’s very gratifying to get to this point. Of course, the more I read about high speed code, the more I realize that speeds between 25 and 45 wpm are considered below threshold of high-speed. They’re more like medium speed to guys that are real speed merchants. High speed is probably more in the range of 50 wpm and up.

Naturally, just as I thought 30 wpm was way beyond my reach but realize it’s within my grasp, I still wonder how I can ever reach 50 wpm, but the experience I had tonight made me realize that copying in my head is the way to go. You’re free to sit back and just listen and focus on what’s being “said” instead of worrying about being able to read what you’ve scrawled down, or typed on the “mill.”

My ears are gradually getting tuned for higher speeds.

In the end, like many things, it gets down to practice, practice, practice. And then, practice some more.


QRQ code practice update

I continue to practice CW at higher speeds. My strategy is to practice 3-4 times per week as follows using the ARRL code practice archive site. I begin at 35 wpm in listen-only mode during the text portion of the practice. Despite the fact that I can only copy up to about 5 words in a string at a time my goal is to be able to copy 100% without using paper or a mill. At 35 wpm I may only get 5-10% correct. Once practice shifts to sending numbers and call signs, I switch to writing it down, since (at least for now) it’s very difficult to hold random numbers in my mind and understand them. During this portion, ARRL is sending call signs and scores.

After that sessions ends (about 7-8 minutes), I shift to 30 wpm practice and repeat the same process for another 7-8 minutes, then move down to 25 wpm.

After several months I’m copying much better at 30 wpm, consistently able to understand what I’m copying, getting many phrases correct but, on the whole probably only copying (hearing not writing) 40% of what I hear. I’m getting probably 80-90% of the calls and scores during the 30 WPM sessions.

At 25 wpm I’m copying correctly in my head at probably 80-90%. I’m able to copy nearly 100% correct on the calls and scores at 25 wpm, which feels great now.

So, over time I really am improving. You just have to stick with it to see the pay-off.

The challenges of high-speed CW sending

Now that I am working to increase my CW copying speed to up around 30-35 wpm, I have also begun practicing sending at those speeds. I’m finding that high-speed sending is more challenging than I expected. Carefully adjusting my Bencher BY-1 iambic paddle is key to being able to sustain both speed and quality. I used to think that keeping the contacts extremely close together would enable faster sending, but, I now realize that adjusting the contacts farther apart allows for more relaxed sending because the sending hand can be more relaxed. Less tension on the key contacts setting equates to less hand tension. When sending more than a few characters (e.g. in a contest) it’s important to maintain relaxed muscles in the hand.

At any rate, now my daily code practice includes listening sessions running from 35 to 30 then to 25 wpm for 7 minutes at each level. After that, I practice for about 5-10 minutes sending at about 30 wpm.

To master CW at higher speeds: stay behind to get ahead

After reading more of The Art and Skill of Radio Telegraphy I agree that a good way to be able to read (and copy) high speed CW is to resist the temptation to write (either literally or in your mind) each character as you hear it. Instead, let the code you are receiving get 1-2 characters ahead of where you are actively hearing, so you are always “copying behind.” Your mind has a buffer you can tap into. Use that buffer to store those few characters being sent just ahead of where you are actively listening and copying.

By so doing, you can relax. But you must remain calm and confident you’re not going to worry about missing a few characters along the way.

It takes a little practice, but it can be done.

I’ve also bumped up my practice to include 35 wpm, even though I’m only able to get a word or two here and there. As the book says, listening to code well above what you can copy is also beneficial. I agree. One thing for sure is that after listening to 5-7 minutes of CW at 35 wpm, 25 wpm is practically a breeze.

Improving CW receiving speed

I’ve been reading “The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy” by William G. Pierpont, N0HFF (SK – 2003), 3rd revised edition July 6, 2001. According to Pierpont, a “skilled” operator can copy and send 35-40 wpm (p. 37). Although I realize this is a somewhat arbitrary measure, I’ve decided to set myself the goal of solid copy and keying at 40 wpm by December 2013. I’m already feeling more comfortable at 30 wpm, although I still have a ways to go before I am copying 100%. Still, his point is well taken, that to learn CW well you must take practice regularly and from a source sending perfect code. By so doing your brain learns the true sound of words sent.

I agree. A comparison is trying to learn to speak a new language by speaking with someone who has sloppy speech habits such as slurring words, mumbling or mispronouncing words. You may learn the language, but your own skill and accomplishment is diminished because what learned is defective.

As a lifelong devotee of CW it’s exciting to think of mastering code into the 40 wpm range and beyond. I first learned Morse code at about age 11 or 12. My Dad bought a code practice oscillator for me and would send me code to copy, then ask me to send code. He had saved or obtained a 1963 ARRL booklet, “Learning the Radiotelegraph Code” (see below) which, at the time cost $0.50. In it are lessons sung code practice groups. That’s where it all started for me.



My desire to double my receiving and sending speed is really a new chapter for me in CW. I’ve spent years stuck in 2nd gear (20 wpm), which, now that I am knocking at the door of 30 wpm (3rd gear), seems relatively slow. That gives me the impetus to go for 40 wpm, knowing with that accomplishment, 30 wpm will seem relatively slow. I guess 50 wpm would be overdrive.

An ultimate goal is summed up in the book for as, “The “pro” in
code is completely relaxed: he knows he can read and copy it, even while doing something else.”

The book makes important points about best practices to improve CW skill and speed: “first, listening at any speed where we can understand all or nearly all of what is sent; next, there is listening at speeds where we can “read” maybe 75% of it; and finally there is listening to sending so fast that we can only catch some letters or a word here and there. Each kind is valuable.” And, “The essence of code learning, like language, is familiarity that means over-learning. That is, learning to the point where it is automatic, without thinking about how we are doing it: the dit and dash, or even the words.” And this too, “…the less hard we try, the better
we will receive. Don’t ever stop to try to figure out something you didn’t catch. Keep following the sender – keep listening and you will soon be getting enough to make sense out of every sentence, and in time you will get all of it.”

One final note. I’ve found Ham Morse to be an excellent app for CW practice (at any speed). This iPhone app provides multiple types of practice (words, pro signs, numbers, callsigns, QSOs, alphabet, punctuation, BBC news clips, or everything) along with fully adjustable speeds: from 5-50 wpm in 1 wpm increments. Highly recommended.



72 for now. Back to practice!

Breaking the 30 wpm barrier – update

It’s been nearly 2 months since I set a goal of being able to copy CW at 30 wpm. I’m now doing 25 wpm at nearly 100% copy. At 30 wpm I’m about at about 50% copy but improving steadily.

I practice 3-5 times per week for about 15-20 minutes per session using the W1AW code practice site which offers practice up to 40 wpm. At some point I hope to reach and exceed 40 wpm, then I’ll need to find another code practice resource.

Now that my speed continues to improve it’s great to be able to copy at higher rates completely without writing anything. At these higher speeds CW becomes much more like conversing in a language and not just “copying code.”

I find that the W1AW code practice is more challenging than copying CW in a QSO, because it’s more difficult to anticipate what is being received. Concentration is crucial. During a QSO, especially brief QSO’s containing standard information (RST, OP & QTH) it’s much easier to copy at high speed. My sense is that if I can copy even at 50% at 30 wpm from W1AW, I can probably hold my own at 30 wpm in a QSO.

Of course when it comes to contesting, higher speeds are even easier on CW since the exchange is so brief, typically just a few numbers or a location abbreviation.

Perhaps by year-end I’ll be up in the 40 wpm range!

I just stopped by K0RU’s site and listened to a sample of 50 wpm CW. It’s hard to imagine copying at that rate, but Rob notes he can copy above 70 wpm for brief periods. For him CW is a language not a mode. I would have to agree.

Breaking the 30 wpm CW barrier

I’ve recently begun listening to the pre-recorded W1AW code practice to improve my receiving speed. For years I’ve been kind of stuck at around 20 wpm for most QSO work and up to about 25 wpm for contest work where the exchange is quite brief and writing what’s being received is not necessary.

I decided to move beyond 20 wpm and try to crash the 30 wpm barrier. Once above about 25 wpm it’s difficult to hand write what’s been received. Of course it’s always possible to copy using a keyboard, but I wanted to accomplish two things: First, improve my code receiving speed to 30 wpm and above and, along with that, learn to copy without writing or keyboarding.

I’ve made good progress. I can copy about 70% 25 wpm and probably 30-40% at 30 wpm. The toughest part is letting go of paper and pencil (or the keyboard). Forcing myself to listen carefully and fully concentrate on the code takes some discipline but it can be done.

My strategy is to do 3-4 sessions each week. Session one is copying at 30 wpm for 8 minutes, immediately followed by 8 minutes at 25 wpm. By copying 30 wpm first, 25 wpm seems relatively slow…and 20 wpm seems really slow. It’s just a way to trick your mind really.

The other advantage to learning to copy code all in your head is that, on the trail, it’s much easier to adapt as condx may not favor holding a writing instrument and pad of paper. Keeping it all in your head lightens the load and simplifies the operating position to the rig, key and phones.

The photo in this post shows the keys I use. The Bencher BY1 is my favorite, although the KX3 key is surprisingly good for such a compact key.