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Learning the CODE

posted Jan 11, 2010, 11:10 PM by Brian Lawler

The program for the 1/12/10 MBARC Meeting will be learning Morse code and the club contest for the month of February.

Getting started with CW (Morse Code)

Listening and understanding (decoding) is the key.  Sending will come naturally once you learn to “copy” the code.  Resist the urge to break a letter down into it’s “dots and dashes” to convert it.  Learn to hear the letter as one unit. “dit-dah-dit” is  the letter “R”.  Not: A “dot” followed by a “dash” followed by a “dot” is an “R”.  It may take a little longer to learn this way, but you will be able to increase your speed much more easily than if you are taxing your brain by trying to count each “dot” and “dash”.  CW operators that become proficient at very high speeds decode entire words as a unit rather than by each letter.

On line tools and programs are the best way to learn.

Resources compiled by Mert AC7KY:


Learn CW online:


Iphone app (not sure if it's free):


Pocket PC app:


PC apps: 

CW4all  (English+German)

cwplayer (windows+Linux)

eh0cw (keys radio + converts text to mp3 or wav)

Super Morse

Morse.exe  win/lin/mac/dos.  I've used this one and it's excellent.

Morse Machine  update of morse.exe

Precision CW tutor

Morse Runner  pileup trainer for contesters (fun!)

RufzXP adaptive speed trainer


Linux apps:



Sending the code:

You will need a “key”.  You want to start with a “Straight Key”, a traditional “telegraph” key.  MFJ makes the model 550 which sells for $15.  It is not very sturdy, but it is probably the cheapest entry-level key aside from finding something at a hamfest.  Leave “bugs”, “sideswipers”, “paddles”, and electronic keyers for later on.  If you have a transceiver with CW capability, you can use the sidetone feature to hear yourself practice.  Just make sure you have the VOX or QSK set to “OFF” so you do not transmit your practice session.  You can also buy or build a simple tone oscillator to use with your key for practice.  You can even build your straight key out of a hinge and a spring or other creative materials.  Anything that creates a momentary closed circuit when pressed can become a code key.


Just get on the air.  Don’t be afraid to answer someone calling “CQ” that is going too fast for your current ability. “Brass pounders” are the most gracious operators in the ham radio hobby.  They will note the speed that you are sending to them, and slow down accordingly.  If they start drifting up in speed, just send PSE QRS QRS (Please SLOW DOWN!). There are also special “slow speed nets” that cater to new folks. is the home of the International Morse Preservation Society where you can find a list of NETS from a link on the front page, as well as a lot of other information on CW operation.

The code with-in the code

You hear hams on voice communications talking about their “QTH” (home) or going “QRT” (off the air) and many other curious “codes”.  This shorthand is a carryover from CW operations, where a short “Q code” can save a lot of Morse sending.  Be prepared for some “Q” codes and other shorthand that you will not hear in spoken communications.  Learning things like “GN = Good Night” and “WX = Weather” will come with time.  If you get stumped, you can find a cheat sheet at   Most of them make pretty good sense and can be inferred from the context.  Some very common ones like sending “es” (dit  dit-dit-dit) instead of “and” are headscratchers.  “es” is short and fast but I don’t know how it came from “and” J

Every February

The MBARC runs a friendly “low competition” QRP CW contest for the whole month of February.  Your fellow club members would be happy to arrange a “sked” (schedule) to make a contact with you at a nice slow pace.  You can even use a tone oscillator to make a contact on two meter FM and count it in the contest.