Learning Morse Code

It probably started when I was around 7-10 years old… I had a neighbor who lived down the street and our cheap walkie-talkies just couldn’t reach but we devised the plan that if we could just learn morse code we could use our flashlights to communicate.  The only problem was… learning morse code!

My desire to learn it died down until around High School when I first started learning about amateur radio from my electronics teacher Dan White (KB6TDW, silent key) and first started studying for my Technician when it went to no code.  I studied for a while but never took the test and didn’t come back to amateur radio until 2006 when I finally studied, passed the test and got my Technician.  But the desire to still learn code was still there.

I wanted to mention here a few of the tools and applications that have been helpful to me as I worked on learning code. Obviously some of these are quite old and I doubt many of you are running Palm anymore, but they were a part of my journey along the way.

PilotMorse: [Windows] The primary application that taught me the letters. I just wish it had adjustable speed.

Smart Morse: [Palm] Used it to practice learning the letters.

Morse-it: [iPhone] Allows you to practice receiving, or sending via tapping.

There are a lot of guides online about learning code, and though I have all the numbers and letters down, I still don’t feel confident that I “know” morse code since I haven’t worked hard on receiving audio and writing it down… I spent a lot of my time learning by sending via Morse-it… figure if I can learn to send I can probably pick up receiving quickly.

My one tip would be to NOT learn by memorizing each letter individually, and don’t learn the code at a slow speed.  Tune up your tutoring application to have it send the letters quickly, even if there are large time spaces between the letters so you can write them down.  But I keep hearing that if you learn the letters really slow, or by having to do a mental lookup of each letter as you hear it, you’ll be stuck in the 5-10 words per minute range and never be able to progress higher.  I think a goal for me would be in the 15-20 words per minute range, but alas, I have no radio to send or receive code on the HF bands, so I don’t even know what the “real world” code speeds are to be useful.

I still have a lot more work to do in geting my sending and receiving speed faster. Since I got my Yaesu FT-817ND for Christmas I’ve been monitoring more HF and finally being able to hear real-world morse code in use.  I’ve been “cheating” quite a bit by using the free Mac OS X application CocoaModem to decode the code for me. I’ve been using that application for decoding PSK, so I pretty much have it running all the time anyways.  I still think I have a goal of 15-17 wpm of sending and receiving without the aid of a computer… we’ll see what happens from there :-)  Practicing with my DinKey has been a huge help and allows me to send much faster.

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