Stuck at a Morse Code Plateau?

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This topic contains 2 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by Fred Kemmerer Fred Kemmerer 1 year, 6 months ago.

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    Layne AE1N
    Layne AE1N

    Stuck at a Morse Code Plateau?

    Somewhere along the leaning curve, everyone learning Morse code hits a plateau. Here is a great article from WZ8C, not a Silent Key, written 10 years ago but still very helpful!

    Instant Recognition                         by Nancy Kott, WZ8C (SK)

    Some Hams are content to rag chew at slow speeds and don’t have a desire to go faster. This is fine! As long as you are getting on the air and having fun with Morse code, this is what is important. However, many frustrated Hams want to go faster. “How can I increase my code speed?” is the most commonly asked question. After learning the alphabet, Hams seemingly reach a “Plateau”, a period where they can’t make further progress. Usually they can copy 5 or 6 WPM fairly well, but they go to pieces above 7 or 8 WPM. The answer is simple: they have not adequately learned the alphabet.

    They may deny this is true since they obviously must know the characters to copy 6 or 7 WPM.

    However, to copy CW at higher speeds required more than merely recognizing characters: the recognizing must be instantaneous. By instantaneous recognition I mean the ability to recognize a CW character within a half-second after hearing its completion.

    Bill Pierpont, N6HFF, author of “The Art and Skill of Telegraphy,” puts it this way: “Associate the code signal with the printed letter so intimately that when you hear and think of one, the other immediately pops into mind. Instant recognition is what we strive for. We must develop that patient, receptive state of mind that allows us to recognize each character instantly and accurately as soon as it has been completed.”

    How do you find out if you have instant recognition? One way is to play a code practice program. As each letter plays, can you immediately say or write the letter? Or do you think “ummmm…A” or “…dit dah…ummmm…A”? If there is a split second delay in your recognition of the letter, then you haven’t learned that letter to the point of instant recognition. The time it takes you to think “…ummmm” before recognizing the letter will be long enough to make you miss the next letter after it. It will snowball to the point where you lost whole words. You may get enough of it to make sense of the copy, but you will not feel comfortable chatting on the air.

    I’m sure you’ve heard stories of legendary CW operators who can carry on a high speed chat on the air while drinking a cup of coffee and fielding questions from people in the room. These operators are comfortable with the code because it’s so familiar they don’t have to think about what they’re copying.

    Irene, WO8E, feels she is at a plateau. Even though she has passed the 20 WPM test and has her Extra class license she doesn’t feel comfortable carrying on a conversation at 20 WPM. We wondered if she had instant recognition, maybe she didn’t and this was holding her back. She listened to the code characters one by one and sure enough there are a handful of characters that she has to think about before identifying them! The hard way is to proceed as you are doing, eventually instant recognition will come to you.

    Your first reaction is probably to think it would be a waste of time because you may feel you’ve already memorized the alphabet. But you’ve proved that you don’t really know the letters because you don’t have instant recognition of them yet. Once properly learned, the alphabet will produce faster speeds quickly and easily. The key is to over-learn the alphabet so it becomes so ingrained in your brain that it’s a second nature. In psychology there is a “Law of Contiguity”, which say that if two events occur no more than one-half second apart, the mind associated the two events. This means when a Morse code character is heard and it is followed within one-half second by a spoken letter of the alphabet, the mind will associate the Morse sound with the translation. The association works automatically, as a workman thinks “lunch” when he hears the noon whistle blow. But we quickly forget things learned by this association method, so we need to “over-learn” them to make the code a part of our permanent memory. Over-learning occurs when we continue to practice something we feel we have already learned.

    Short, frequent practice sessions produce more results than fewer longer sessions. Concentrate, stay focused on your goal! Determine what characters you don’t recognize immediately after they are played and concentrate on these. You can relearn the alphabet by using basic code CDs, listening to slow code on the air or even whistling it to yourself. It would be ideal if you could use the G4FON program to make your own session concentrating on your problem letters, but don’t omit the letters you already know.

    The INSTANT you recognize the letter being played, say it out loud as fast as you can. Use spare moments during the day to whistle the code under your breath and quickly say the letter to yourself immediately afterwards. Spending just a few minutes many times a day will work wonders. By tapping out the letter with your finger as you say the letter aloud and whistle it, you involve more of your brain’s memory centers. This increases your learning efficiency by reinforcing instant recognition with what is called “motor memory”. Doing a practice session right before you go to sleep has also been proven to help your brain commit material to memory.

    When you find that you have instant recognition with the letters, your code speed will increase effortlessly. Then you will get to the point where you can work on having instant recognition with common words.


    Layne AE1N

    Mike Ryan
    Mike Ryan

    While searching Youtube to see if I could find a good video to support Layne’s well written article. I found the following link on sending:

    One segment at about 7min 45 seconds in caught my attention… An Elecraft KX3 QRP transceiver was used to demonstrate with an actual On-The-Air QSO. The other station’s callsign? K1LGQ 🙂


    - Mike (K1WVO)
    Nashua Area Radio Club
    Visit us on the web at -

    Fred Kemmerer
    Fred Kemmerer

    Great article and youTube video. Why don’t you guys make this an article on our Blog so we can make it available to the public and publish it in our next newsletter?


    - Fred (AB1OC)
    President, Nashua Area Radio Society
    Visit us on the web at -

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