How To Learn CW

Up How To Learn CW CW Abbreviations Prosigns UR 1st CW QSO Iambic Sending





First, it will take DAILY practice. I stress the word DAILY. If you skip a day or two in your study to learn Morse Code, it will be similar to "taking 2 steps backwards, and 1 step forward". The net gain will be a deficit.

A very important thing to remember when you are studying is to HAVE FUN!! Don't stress yourself on thinking that you are not learning it at a quick enough pace, or get down on yourself thinking, "I'll never get it!" ATTITUDE is everything!! If you have a positive and successful attitude, YOU WILL BE SUCCESSFUL! There's no doubt about it. The only people who fail will be the quitters.

When you sit down to study, do your best to free yourself from distractions: telephone calls, "nature calling", television going in the background, or other interruptions. Try to go to a place of solitude. Loosen up, do not work yourself into a state of anxiety, or becoming "too focused", or in expectation of copying every character you hear like a runner on the starting block waiting for the starting gun. Be relaxed.

Break your study sessions up into approximately 5 to 10 minute study sessions. If you go longer than 5 to 10 minutes, many people start to lose focus and concentration. Sometimes you need time to let things "soak into the gray sponge" in your cranium. Try to find time in your daily schedule when you can study, preferably 3 sessions daily. After breakfast or lunch, when you come home from work, and before bedtime (but not when you are too tired). Be relaxed when studying, again do not study when tired or hungry. Your mind will be elsewhere.


Another way to reinforce what you have been learning by hearing, is by sending. Pick yourself up a CW practice oscillator. Tap out letters and numbers on street signs when driving around on your steering wheel. (Blowing your car horn might not be the best thing to do when driving around).

I would like to express my personal opinion: I do not believe it is a good idea to learn CW by audio from a recorded source such as an audio tape or CD that you will replay over and over. The reason is that once you have listened to the CW it does not become random characters to what you will have to recognize. You end up memorizing what the characters are BEFORE they are even sent. For a random source of CW practice, you may also choose to listen to the W1AW CW practice once you have acquired most of the CW characters under your belt. If you wish, you may download mp3's of audio from W1AW at different speeds. ........................(Provide links to url for W1AW es W1AW CW mp3's)

I would recommend to learn CW from properly sent CW, like from W1AW. Here is a link for the schedule of times and frequencies, as well as more info: < following links provide a source for mp3 recordings of the W1AW code bulletins. <W1AW CW bulletin mp3's> or <Index of -w1aw-morse-Archive> You can hear other stations on the radio, but not all may be sending properly spaced characters and words. This may teach you bad habits right away....give it'll develop your own bad habits by yourself without anyone teaching you them. ;-) W1AW has code practice bulletins with text from QST magazine. (See the link above for times and frequencies). You may use this text to grade yourself, or view the sent text online. The W1AW CW bulletins are also recorded into mp3 format. You can use this file on your computer or iPod to study at a time you wish. There are different files corresponding to different speeds.

There are 2 major ways to learn CW: the Koch method and the Farnsworth method. Neither one is wrong, it's a matter of preference. My personal opinion is that the Farnsworth method is easier to learn by introducing the characters to you; from my personal experience it may hamper you from copying at progressively higher speeds. There are other hams with other varying opinions on which is the "right" method.

The Koch method is to learn the CW characters at the desired speed you wish to use it on the radio. You start off with 2 characters and once you have about 90% recognition you add another character. Then keep progressing by adding another character once you have about 90% recognition of the characters. Both the character and word speed are rather high in comparison to learning via the Farnsworth method. The word speeds you may want to aim for may be in the area of 20 to 35 WPM.

The Farnsworth method is the way I learned, and the way I was instructed to teach. The Farnsworth method keeps a high character speed and spaces the word speed out. By this I mean, that the sounds, or elements (the dits and dahs) of the individual characters are sent at an approximate speed that you might hear from others in use on the radio. The individual characters (the letters, numbers, or prosigns) are spaced apart more than you would encounter in use. When studying CW by the Farnsworth method, the character speeds are set about 18 to 20 WPM, and the overall word speed is set @ 5 WPM. In general, what this does is keep the character speed up to what many people would use on the air, but it extends the time between characters to give you more time for recognition.

We taught this way to prepare hams to take their CW test for upgrading their amateur radio license when the CW test was a requirement for the General and Extra class. This was just to enable a ham to pass the test to gain access to HF privileges. Further studying would be needed to become more proficient at CW when using it on the radio.




15 WPM

35 WPM


5 WPM (10 WPM for the character speed and 20 WPM for the character speed)

15 WPM

35 WPM

Notice for the character speed, the whole character, or more specifically, the individual elements became shorter as the speed went up. Now as the word speed increased, it was the spacing of time BETWEEN the individual characters that decreased. I have provided an example of 2 different character speeds at 5 WPM to illustrate that the spacing between characters (Word per minute) did not change, only the character speed did.


Another fundamental issue with learning CW is to practice the way you will be operating. When studying CW, WRITE DOWN the characters as they are sent. VERY IMPORTANT: IF YOU MISS A CHARACTER AND DO NOT RECOGNIZE IT, DRAW AN UNDERSCORE OR SOME MARK ON YOUR SHEET OF PAPER TO INDICATE THAT A CHARACTER WAS THERE!! GO ON AND BE READY FOR THE NEXT CHARACTER!! DO NOT DWELL ON TRYING TO THINK WHAT THE LAST CHARACTER WAS!! Fah-get-a-bot-it. If you try to remember what the character was, you will most likely miss the next 2 or 3 characters sent. 

Once you become more proficient at CW when using it on the air, chances are that you will not write down every character, but will start to head copy and learn to recognize whole words by it's sound. In these cases, most operators only write down certain parts of info, like names, QTH's, or other items they may wish to log. You can transition over to this practice later, but start off learning CW one step at a time.

When studying any of the CW characters, don't worry about recognizing all of the characters 100% of the time.

Don't sweat it!! Even many experienced CW ops when sending at higher speeds do not copy 100% of what was sent to them. For example if I were to send to you: "EN_OY L_AR_IN_ CW A_D YO_ WIL_ BE SUC_ESS_UL. I bet you will do as well as Vanna White in filling in the missing characters. Once it was all sent to you, you can then come up with your corrected copy to get the message as saying "Enjoy learning CW and you will be successful".

LISTEN TO THE WHOLE CHARACTER AS ONE UNIT OF SOUND, THEN WRITE IT DOWN. Some people teach and learn the CW characters by silly "mnemonics" to help them remember. Do NOT do this; it will only make it more difficult for you in the long run. It will be one more step to slow you down. With your ear, hear the sound; with your brain, think that was this particular letter; with your hand, write down that particular letter.

Practice your CW copying the way you will actually use it, by writing it down. I prefer to take a sheet of paper and turn it lengthwise. The reason I like to do that is when I am copying, I have to lift my pencil up to start a new line less times. When you gain more skill you most likely will not write every character down, you will probably write down certain items like callsign, name, QTH, and RST. Later on, you may even head copy where you write nothing down. Don't worry about this yet. 

You will also have to determine what frequency of CW audio you prefer. This will come into play when you zero beat another station. Many operators prefer around 600 Hz.


Download a software program called NuMorse @ This program is actually shareware, but will work just fine to teach you the Morse code characters.

Once you have the program installed. Read the help to become acquainted with how the program works. It's fairly simple to do.

Set the character speed to approximately 17 to 20 WPM. Set the word speed to 5 WPM. 

We start our studying of characters by learning the alphabet characters that have 1 element in them, and then will progress up to characters that have 2, 3, and 4 elements. We start off without biting off more than we can chew.

The 1st 2 alphabet characters (and for obvious reasons, the only 2), that have 1 element in them are the letters "E" and "T". Before we go on, let me give my definition of an element. In CW, each of the characters, whether they are letters, numbers, or prosigns, are composed of combinations of dits and dahs, (or dots and dashes). These dits and dahs are the elements of a CW character.

A dah (or dash) is 3 times as long as a dit. There is also a proper amount of spacing of time between characters and words. There is 1 "dit" space between elements in each character; there are 3 "dit" spaces between characters; there are 7 "dit" spaces between words. See more details on PARIS and the standard word here: CW

DO NOT LEARN CW BY ANY VISUAL METHOD. It is an audible "language". (Although it can also be a visual language in the form of light blinkers as employed by Navy signal men.) There are some methods to learn CW by hearing, that "filter" a direction to take, depending on if each succeeding CW element is a dit or a dah. Don't do it...hear the entire sound, think the letter. It will pay off later for quicker character recognition.

Filter NuMorse so that it will send only the letters "E" and "T" for your drill. You do this by selecting E & T and keeping them at 100 as shown below, while you make all of the other characters "0". You will have to select each character separately.

Once you feel more comfortable with your recognition of the letters "E" and "T" it is now time to add more characters in. There are 4 letters that have 2 CW elements in them. These letters are: I, M, A, & N. Try adding only 2 of these letters in your study with E & T. Then again, when you are comfortable with those characters, add in the remaining 2 letters.


Keep progressing in this fashion: Study the characters, once you have good, (but not perfect) recognition of the characters, add in a few more of each of the groups. Add in 2 or 3 more from the 3 element characters until you know them all fairly well. Then progress onwards with 2 or 3 characters of the 4 element characters.

The 3 element characters are: D, G, K, O, R, S, U, & W.

The 4 element characters are: B, C, F, H, J, L, P, Q, V, X, Y, Z

Now you have all of the characters of the alphabet. Numbers are fairly easy.

So again here is a breakdown of the various 1, 2, 3, & 4 element character groupings. Provide character sounds of each letter & number at 20 WPM character speed and 5 WPM word speed.

1 element character groupings

E E                    T T

2 element character groupings

A A                  N N

I I                   M M

3 element character groupings

 S S                  O O

R R                 K K

      D D                 U U  

 G G                W W

4 element character groupings

   C C                Q Q

  J J    Y Y

                  F F                   L L                   

         B B                  V V   

       P P                 X X  

                H H                    Z Z                



1  1  6  6

2  2  7  7

3  3  8  8

4  4  9  9

5  5  0  0




There are certain groups of characters that sound alike. For example a 1 and a J, or a 5 and a H. Don't worry about getting these perfect. When you are copying a signal report, and you copy H99, it's fairly easy to tell that it should be 599; the same applies if you copy that I am running J00 watts.

I'd also like to state that I should practice what I preach. Earlier I stated that you should study the way you would use writing it down. In this manner I did not always stick to what I stated. I also practiced learning CW with NuMorse by typing in the characters it sent during a drill. I liked doing it this way because of a useful tool that NuMorse provides. It will "grade" you on how many characters you get incorrect and also the time it takes for your recognition. When you click on a certain button in the drill window, it will send these characters that you have problems with more frequently during the next drill. I liked this since it helped me learn those characters I had trouble with. I would not recommend this if you are a two finger typer.

If you wish, once you start learning CW characters with multiple elements, you can progress in groups of 2 characters that are reversals or "mirror images" of each other. For example, the letters D & U. D is -.. and U is ..- See how they are reversed ? You can also pair off D & W. The pairing of Q & F can be thought of as reversing the dits for dahs, and dahs for dits; or Q & Y of a mirror image of character elements.

I hope I have covered material to answer your questions regarding how to learn Morse code. I myself asked many questions from many hams. A few like Arpad WY8M and Paul W8KC pestered me (in a friendly manner) to quit asking questions and just do my studying. Once you get going with a set routine, I'll bet you'll be surprised at just how easy it can be. Yes, it will take some time, effort and dedication, but it's well worth the goal. Again, remember to HAVE FUN with CW, not only with learning it, but in using it on the radio.

Below is a link to the FISTS organization. FISTS members are active in the effort to preserve CW and are willing to elmer hams along on the air with CW. There are nets and in my opinion, more importantly, calling frequencies that will help you establish contact with FISTS members or other hams also learning CW.


Another amateur radio club that has one of their objectives also to Elmering new hams who are just learning CW is the NAQCC, the North American QRP & CW Club. They also have suggested calling frequencies that will help you make contact with other hams to guide you along with learning CW on the air. There are also QRS (slow-speed CW nets) for those of us advancing with our CW skills. Membership is free, and a member number is given to you. One of the other goals of the club, besides QRP (low power) operation, is to exchange numbers with the hope that you will do more than exchange your is hoped that you will make a new friend and open doors to other items of conversation. The NAQCC link can be found below.

Both clubs offer other operating activities, like contests and special events.

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