Monday 20 November 2023

LEARNING CW (MORSE CODE)

  MY CW JOURNEY (so far)  

Let's not pretend that this is anything more than a diary of a simpleton trying to learn a new language! I've just downloaded an app for my iPhone and iPad called MorseMania. It starts out free but you have to pay a small fee to fully open it up (which I did), but even the free version is a really useful start. 

I'm not expecting this to be an easy journey - in fact I think it's going to be pretty tough - I'm almost 65 and I've never considered myself good at learning new skills. People keep saying that if you have a musical talent, you will find CW more easy to grasp -  well I don't know a quaver from a crotchet, so there's no hope for me, lol. People also say you need good rhythm and timing - oh dear!

Anyway, I'm not trying to join the Royal Signals Corp - I just want to make some contacts on the CW portions of the bands. I want it for that reason and for the accomplishment - the challenge! I'm curious how far I'll get by the end of the year, not least because I've got 11 days off work over the Xmas period.

I've noticed that there are lots of people with lots of conflicting advice on how best to learn the code. Everyone has an opinion on the subject and some opinions are really quite strong. At the end of the day, you just have to go with what makes you comfortable I guess, because you know your strengths and weaknesses.

I've made my mind up that I intend to learn by listening to the sound of the characters if I can - this is quite a popular method anyway and not many people argue against it. There are a few letters however that just don't seem to stick with me, possibly because they're so similar to another letter, so for those I will use other techniques.


One thing's for sure! I will try to benefit from the time I spent learning how to paint and will use the same positive mantra to get through the tough parts...

  • Practise often!
  • Accept there will be lots of mistakes.
  • Accept that you may progress slower than others.
  • Don't try to over-achieve.
  • Red wine helps everything (lol).
  • End sessions on a high, never on a low.
  • Don't tell yourself (or others) that it's impossible!
  • Create and stick to a practise schedule.
  • View it as a fun activity and enjoy it!
 

20th November 2023  DAY 1  

Day-1 saw me learning a few letters of the alphabet. MorseMania has a few set-lessons and they start with two letters - E & T. Simple! At the next level it adds A & N, then I & M, then S & O followed by D & U. 

Some letter are ridiculously easy to remember, like E, T, S and O and some others can be made to be easy by associating them with something - like "Dawg Did It" for D (-..).  Similarly, I used "The Dawg Did It" for the letter L  (.-..). For others, it seems that you've just got to muscle it. 

I was managing these 10 characters pretty easily and was impressed with myself, but as soon as I moved onto the next level (adding R&K) it all started to unravel. Grrrr! I couldn't understand how 10 letters felt so easy and adding just another couple had such a big impact. It was like I'd used up all my RAM and needed an upgrade. And this was just in the first 20 minutes!!

Obviously, I was expecting too much and that was my first real lesson - don't do too much, too quickly. Softly, softly, catchee monkey. So I went back to the start to get the first ten firmly in my head so that the introduction of an extra two wasn't such a burden on my little old brain. 

In-between MorseMedia sessions, I was using my Iambic Paddle to send a few strings of code. I learned to send "CQ TEST CQ TEST M7MCQ" for the purpose of seeing how far my signal reached via the RBN (Reverse Beacon Network).

Most people reckon that you shouldn't touch a key until you can receive CW at 8-12wpm. I can see the logic in that, but not everyone's the same and I didn't think that getting comfortable with the key would be a problem, but a trusted friend (G0VGS) explained that one needs to understand the cadence (the rhythm) of the letters before you can properly send them.

I thought about this and started to understand. We all know the unmistakable call of CQ in morse. It isn't just -.-.  --.-,  it has its own sound and shape!  So it was decided; I would keep away from the key until I had learned the characters and could reliably decode slow morse.

21 November 2023  DAY 2  

Another 20 minutes in the evening. Rather than move onto another level, I rather boringly repeated the efforts of the night before.  I felt that I needed more muscle memory. 

Had a coffee and then got up to Level 10 with no errors (fourteen letters including the R&K and C&P). Repeated this level over and over. I felt like carrying onto the next level but decided it was best to finish on a high.

22  November 2023  DAY 3  

Best to start each new session by repeating the previous level and making sure you can still do it error free. If I made any mistakes, I did the level again. Then onto Level 11, adding B&G.  Oh dear, this felt like a step up, but soon enough the new letters sank in. Up to this point I hadn't really used any techniques to recall letters, but for the letter B (-...) I decided to write it down on paper as shown below and that really helped me to get a grip of it.

Trying the same method for the letter G didn't really work out for me, so I just had to muscle it into memory. At this level I found that it was taking me longer to recognise some characters. I wasn't making any mistakes, but I was definitely slowing down.

23  November 2023  DAY 4  

I know this might sound a bit odd, but there are many occasions where I'm trying to study something in-depth and I suddenly feel very tired! It's weird, but it happens quite often and it's usually in the evening after I've finished work.

I guess it's my body's way of saying "Hey fella, give me a break"!  

And that's how I felt tonight after I'd had my evening meal and sat down to practise - I felt real sleepy, real quick! I don't think it helps having eaten quite a big meal either, so I've now adjusted my schedule so that I only start my practise session when I'm rested and wide awake.

So, after a short Nana-Nap 😂 I started work again and managed to complete Level 13 of MorseMania. Now up to 18 letters without errors - albeit quite slow again. Onwards and upwards! 


MY THOUGHTS SO FAR... 

So I've finished Day-4  and I'm thinking - Hey, you're doing pretty darned well.  I've gone from believing CW was an impossible dream, to being able to recognise 18 letters with just a couple of hours work!! 

Yes, I know there's a long, long way to go, but I am so pleased to have conquered that first barrier and reached the stage where I'm actually excited and looking forward to cracking off those last eight letters of the alphabet. 

At this rate I'll be selling my PreppComm MMX 😂

 

24  November 2023  DAY 5  

20 minutes of practise this morning saw me complete the whole alphabet - yes!! I'll be honest though - the full 26 letters has slowed me down somewhat. When I hear some characters I really have to think about it - and then I'm quite annoyed because it turns out to be a letter that I previously found very easy to identify! Grrr.

But, I'm happy that I've got this far with so little effort. I've decided that I'm not going to move onto numbers and punctuation yet - I'm going to stick to the 26 letters of the alphabet and focus on increasing my recognition speed and learning the sound instead of counting the dits/dahs.

A friend (Chris, G4HYG) told me about the CW WorldWide Contest running this weekend and recommended listening in to it, to see if I could pick up any of the code. It'll probably be too fast for me but I'll give it a go.

Speaking of speed, I chose to complete all the MorseMania exercises at 15wpm right from the start because there's something about very slow speed morse that just doesn't work for me. I think it's better to learn at a pace you hope to later work at.

I'll update this page when I have made significant improvement and moved onto the next stage.


73, Tom, M7MCQ.


KQ2RP wrote a New Years Resolution list on his blog - not for himself - but for others to adopt. Here's the list...

  • I will remove the mic from my rig and put it in a drawer. 
  • I will unhook the computer from my rig (so I don’t run digimodes) 
  • I will learn all the Morse characters by sound and memorization, building my Morse reflexes - NO associations, shortcuts, tricks, gimmicks, songs, visualizations. 
  • I will use Koch method trainers (see ref list at bottom) to ensure I don’t get stuck under the '10WPM hump.’ 
  • I will commit myself to practice receiving code for no less than 15-30min a day. 
  • I will not let myself get discouraged. 
  • I will listen to the code practice sessions on W1AW and write down what I copy on a pad to check myself As I get the characters down pat, I will practice sending them I will hang out on the CW portions of the bands and listen in on other QSOs to get a feel for how they go. 
  • As soon as I am comfortable that I know all the characters in my head, I will get on the air and make QSOs - just me, my radio, my key, my headphones a pencil and a pad. 
  • I will be very nervous. I will make many, many mistakes. In the beginning I will miss a lot of the information the other station is sending. If I miss a letter/number, I will forget it immediately and focus on the next one. I will probably be able to fill in the blanks later. 
  • I will ask them to QRS and repeat if I am having trouble. I will probably be embarrassed. It will be OK. 
  • I will do this over and over again…and I will get more and more confident. 
  • I will make use of NAQCC QRS nets and SKCC Elmers to increase my proficiency. As my comfort level increases, I will push myself to have QSOs with stations sending a tad faster than I am comfortable with. 
  • I will participate in CW contests and events as often as possible. My speed and accuracy will increase. 
  • I will be a CW operator!!


4 comments:

VE9KK said...

Good morning Tom, thanks for the updates and its great to read your day to day adventure with CW. Your going to find the learning groove that works for you regarding CW. Slow and easy wins the race.
73,
Mike
VE9KK

MadDogMcQ said...

Slow and easy indeed Mike, lol. I'm very much enjoying it (so far). No doubt there are plenty of frustrations ahead, but I won't quit.

Many thanks for the visit - appreciate your comments, as ever.

73, Tom, M7MCQ.

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hello Tom, it is nice to read you started to seriously learn CW just like me. I think you're right, just learn it the way what feels best for you. You probabely did read all the comments on my post and there was a lot of advise for software and websites and even a CW kit build. Of course I've tried some but it didn't help me much. So far I practise every day with "morsemachine" which really trains you to listen to the sound of the letters. At this moment I train about 10-15 minutes a day on a speed of 28wpm. That suits me best at this moment. I also try morsemania sometimes. At this moment I train with words. The problem is that I get confused when I hear words longer as 2 or 3 letters. I really need to think for a second and that is too much because when I decoded the first letter the next two have already been sent. Knowing all the 26 letters and 10 numbers is not enough, the problem is you need to know them automatically. That takes time, at our age.....a lot of time. But we will succeed in the end, I'm shure. Good luck OM ;-) 73, Bas

MadDogMcQ said...

Hey Bas, thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement - much appreciated. I’m a looooong way from a QSO, I know. But I’ll get there before I pop my clogs :-)

73, Tom, M7MCQ.