Beginners Guide to CW

The Wrong Way to Learn CW

A common mistake that alot of people make when they decide to learn CW is that they will look at a sheet with all the Morse characters on it and they will try to memorize all the characters. ie. That A is dot-dash, B is dash-dot-dot-dot and so on. The problem with this is that when you hear the CW for the first time, you will end up counting the dots and dashes and then converting this in your mind to the relevant character. This is a double conversion process and you will find it difficult to increase your speed.

The Correct Way to Learn CW

The correct way is to listen to the sound of the character from the very start. You need to get used to hearing the character, not the number of dots and dashes. For example, when you hear the letter C in CW, the dah-di-dah-di should sound like C in your mind, not dash-dot-dash-dot. By doing this, there is only a single conversion process at work, unlike the double one above. This will allow you to increase your speed alot easier.

Getting Started

As I said above, you need to get used to the sound of CW from the very start. The 3 usual methods used to learn CW are .............

1. CD / Tapes
2. On a PC.
3. Pocket Morse Tutors
Available from the ARRL and the RSGB One of the best software CW programmes that I have come across is Morsecat Like the MFJ-418
Small and very portable
Link to RSGB On-Line Store Morsecat MFJ Morse Tutor
While the price is reasonable, the only problem with these is that you can get used to the words on the tape/CD.
Excellent and FREE!!
Very handy and portable although a little pricey.


What you need to do is to find 15 minutes every day that you can devote to learning CW (Before work? / During a lunchbreak? / Before bedtime?). Dont try and spend hours on your first day trying to learn the code. You will only get frustrated. All you need to do is to stick to these daily 15 minute sessions and you will soon learn the morse code.

Character Speed

You can have as big a gap between the characters as you like but make sure that the speed of the characters is in the region of 15 WPM (Words Per Minute). Again, you need to get used to what each character sounds like. The letter C sent at 5 WPM sounds completly different to the letter C sent at 15 WPM. This method of maintaining the character speed at a high level is called "Farnsworth Spacing"

Overall Speed

Take your time!! Make sure you can copy all the CW characters (Letters, numbers and the relevant prosigns) before you try and increase your speed. Every house needs a good foundation, CW is the same. Once you can copy everything, increase the speed in 2 WPM increments. The idea is to listen to CW that is slightly faster than you can read. As soon as it gets easy, go up another step.

Useful Links for beginners

Try some of these links for more help.
Links for Improving your Speed

On the ARRL Website, there is a large selection of Real Audio files that cover 5 to 35 WPM.
Getting on the air

There can be huge difference between the CW required for the CW test and what you will hear on the bands. What you need to do is to find some slow CW so that you can build up your speed and confidence.
A good place to look is near the QRP frequencies of 3.560, 7.030, 14.060, 21.060 and 28.060 MHz. Try and avoid the bottom parts of each band (CW DX portion of the band) and CW contests until your speed builds up. Another good place to check is between 21120.0 and 21150.0 MHz.

For more info, try .......

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The URL of this page is Last Modified : 14th July 2001