As a kid I remember having toy walkie talkies that included an orange bar, depressed it would send Morse code to the receiving walkie talkie. Written on the hand helds were the letters and numbers in code. That was my introduction to Morse code. Years later, when I got interested in my father’s [N6SV] ham radio shack I would play with his Vibroplex Bug, which transmitted through an electric keyer, not that I ever knew what I was doing.

After successfully passing Element 4 to become an Amateur Extra I returned to study CW or Morse code. While there is no wrong way to learn code, some methods might be more advantageous to advancing your fist and learning to receive and send at higher speeds or words per minute [WPM]. Before the FCC revoked Element 1, which required an applicant to receive CW at 5 WPM, all amateurs had to learn code in order to advance in their training and gain more access to the HF bands. Prior to that you also needed to learn 13 WPM and 20 WPM in order to gain your General and Amateur Extra.

There are many programs available to an amateur in order to learn CW. You can Google ‘CW Trainers‘ and find many programs that essentially accomplish the same task, learning to receive Morse code. One thing trainers cannot replace is the on the air QSO experience using CW. Many operators will slow down [QRS] to your sending speed.

There are also CW groups ham operators can join online. For example SKCC, the Straight Key Century Club has a list of CW elmers available to assist your learning. SKCC also has a web based utility that allows you real time scheduling of QSOs with other hams. A great tool! FISTS is another established organization that “furthers the use of CW” in the amateur radio community. Both groups sponsor contests and promote the use and preservation of CW.

While the FCC no longer requires amateurs to learn or know code, the ARRL provides a basic overview of Morse code on their site, Morse Code Made Mild for the New Millennium! The ARRL also transmits code practice (slow & fast) and bulletins from W1AW. Code practice is from transmitted text from archived QST magazines and is noted prior to the practice session beginning.

The ARRL also sponsors qualifying runs for CW. “At the beginning of each code practice session, the schedule for the next qualifying run is presented. Underline one minute of the highest speed you copied, certify that your copy was made without aid, and send it to ARRL for grading.” If successful, you can receive an initial certificate, followed by endorsements for faster speeds you are successful in copying.

Rod Dinkins (SK), AC6V provides a wide variety of links for CW trainers.


The January 2009 issue of QST ran an article titled, Morse Code: Efficient or Over the Hill? by William E. Packard, NN9U. The article discusses the “art” of CW and if it an out of date communication technology. The ARRL removed the 5-wpm requirement in 2007. It’s not my position to make the decision for you to pursue CW or another mode in amateur radio. What I did find interesting about his article were some of the tools he created in order to learn CW.

Some of his recommendations (which might also be recommendations of others who have taught CW), “For speed, copy words instead of letters.” Learn letters that appear in groups, for example, ‘ING,’ ‘ER’ or ‘OUGH’. These two letters represented by a single sound are called a digraph, while three letters are a trigraph. Learn certain words that appear more frequently, such as ‘THE’.

He then created 7 tables in order to build your CW skills up. The tables are:

  1. Most Common Digraphs
  2. Most Common Trigraphs
  3. Most Common Double Letters
  4. Most Common Two-Letter Words in English
  5. Most Common Three-Letter Words in English
  6. Most Common Four-Letter Words in English
  7. Most Common and/or Frequently Used Words in English.

These are some great tables and come from Deaf and Blind dot com. By making these tables in to text files you could incorporate them into a program like G4FON and learn all the tables.

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