Learning Morse Code - Contradictory Advice

If you say you want to learn Morse Code you'll very likely get plenty of advice. Quite a bit of it is likely to be contradictory, and some will be less than helpful. Here's a summary of the most common contradictory advice that gets offered:

Contradictory Advice

"At least so much time" vs. "Not more than so much at a time."

The universal point is that you must give the exercise enough time each day. Advice on that varies, but something between fifteen minutes and an hour a day is probably reasonable. Several short spells a day may work better for some, while a single longer stretch may work better for others.

"Learn fast characters with slow spacing" vs. "Learn 'properly spaced' characters"

I found that having too much space between characters was counter-productive because I had time to break characters into their component dots and dashes and mentally look them up. Unfortunately, the damage was done long before I realised this was a problem, and I'm stuck with trying to un-learn the deconstruct-and-look-up mental process. I guess the ideal might be "Learn fast enough but also properly spaced."

"Use 'Koch'" vs. "Use 'Code Quick'" vs. "Use 'Morse Machine'" vs. various others.

There's no absolute right method. If one doesn't work, drop it and try another, or use a combination, but be sure you've given the ones you try a fair crack. If you're giving yourself enough time each day then you should be making significant progress within a few months. If you're not, then stop wasting your time, and try something else.

"Learn to receive before you try sending." vs. "Learn to send and receive at the same time." vs. "Learn to send first."

Sending and receiving are different skills, but they do reinforce each other if you're doing both at the same time. Receiving will likely take most of the time, though, at least in the beginning. One reason given by both "receive first" and "send first" advocates is that only by going their way will proper code rhythm be learned. I suspect learning both sending and receiving at the same time is probably the better course, and that could tie in well with the "Get on the air as soon as you can." school of thought mentioned below. If you're having QSOs on-air then you'll inevitably be practicing sending and receiving in approximately equal measure.

"Get on the air as soon as you can." vs. "Stay off the air until you can send and receive perfectly."

There's some sense in not trying to engage in a Morse QSO until you are reasonably comfortable with sending and receiving, but you have to start somewhere, and you won't start off perfect. However, it is definitely worth listening to as much Morse on the air as you can. One or two of the training programs do a half-way passable job of simulating real Morse, but most of them produce pure clean Morse tones. Sometimes the tones are so pure they're painful. Chances are none of the Morse you hear on the air will ever be quite like that. Get used to hearing Morse as it actually sounds. It'll be less painful to listen to, too.

"Use a straight key" vs. "Use a paddle."

A good Morse key is not likely to be particularly cheap, and a cheap key is unlikely to be good. If you try to learn with a poor key you won't be helping yourself. It's probably a lot more practical to learn with whatever equipment you're going to use when you get on the air. If your rig has a built-in keyer and you plan to use a paddle, get a decent paddle and learn with it from the start.

"Write it all down." vs. "Write nothing down."

Folk who're trying to push "head copy" insist that writing down anything more than the essentials down will hinder your copying, and Morse will never become a conversational mode unless you stop writing. Others will say that if you try to understand what you're receiving then that will slow you down a lot, and to make progress you should write everything down without thinking about it, and then only read it back in order to understand it when the over is done. I know that I can only write so fast, so to go any faster than that I'll have to "head copy", but I also know that I'm bad at anticipating what's coming next, so writing it down is a better exercise for developing "instant recognition". Either way, there will always be some essentials in any QSO that will need to be written down (or typed).

A Question of Pitch and Volume

The default pitch for Morse is often somewhere between 600 and 700 Hertz, and this is sometimes presented as if it was some sort of 'standard pitch'. It is not, and for many folk a lower pitch may well be much better. It took me way too long to realise how much trouble that was giving me. It's so much easier if you find a comfortable pitch range, and then also set the volume as low as you can and still hear the signal. At present I prefer something around 450 Hertz or so. I've seen research that ties in with this quieter lower pitched approach.

© M0LEP (First version June 2013. Last updated September 2022.)