Learning Morse Code

In the UK, learning Morse Code (CW) is no longer a requirement of the Amateur Radio license. When I gained my license in 1997 I wasn't particularly interested in CW, so never took the time to learn.

However, having recently returned to the air I've become more interested in this mode. My Grandfather was a wireless operator within the Merchant Navy after the First World War, so hopefully some skills have been passed down genetically!

I've included below some of the applications and tips I've picked up that will hopefully help others to learn.

Learning to Receive

There are many methods and tools to help you learn Morse code, from listening on the air, pre-recorded tapes, in-built radio tutorials, through to interactive PC software.

For me, the most useful tool I found was G4FON's Koch Method CW Trainer. It's an excellent implementation of the Koch training method, wrapped up in a well thought out application.

It's specifically geared towards receive training, allowing you to gradually increase the number of characters being sent, whilst controlling speeds (both effective character and code speed), pitch and a whole host of other options.

Once you've mastered the basics, you can progress to receive whole pre-defined QSO's which is a great feature.

A useful add-on to this is Koch Rx developed by KB2TQX. This application presents you with an input area to enter the decoded CW. You can then request the application to compare the text received against that sent, highlighting any decoding errors you've made. You can control G4FON's CW Trainer directly from this tool.

Learning to Send

As with receive, there are many ways to test your sending, although it's obviously slightly harder to see how well you're doing by self-tests. The additional problem is requiring hardware to actually key on!

PC Training

For training I wanted a piece of software that decoded and tested what I was sending, so I could gauge how my studying was going. Additionally, I wanted to be able to practise at work in my lunch hour, hence didn't want to have to hook up a Morse key to my PC!

The tool I found most useful for this was Morse Learner by Wilfred Verkley. This powerful little application actually allows you to practise sending and receiving, although I primarily use the transmit options.

You have the option to use the keyboard, mouse, COM device (e.g. Morse key) or an external application to send. In the normal mode, you can send CW and the application decodes and displays the characters as you send them. In addition to this, the 'Send Characters' mode tests you on a random set of pre-selected characters.

You can adjust both the character and overall speeds as with G4FON's trainer, and I've found it a very useful tool.

Connecting a Morse Key

It's easy to connect a Morse key to your PC and use software like Morse Learner. You can use the 'COM device' setting within the input options of Morse Learner to configure the tool to receive input from an external Morse key. Modern PCs don't come with COM ports, but you can readily purchase USB to serial converters (pictured left).

To interface with the PC, buy a 9 pin male serial connector from an electronics outlet (Maplin, Radio Shack etc), and simply solder on two wires to the appropriate pins.

In my case, I set the application to COM4 CTS, and wire to pin 7 (request to send) and pin 8 (clear to send) - see right.

The easiest way to determine the right pins is to plug in the serial male connector exposed, and with a short piece of wire touch two pins together whilst the application is running (and setup to the correct serial port) until you get a tone.

Learning on the Move

Spotting that my daily commute gave about an hour of potential CW training time, I wanted an application to use on my mobile phone that could provide some of the functionality of the above.

I settled on Morse Trainer, published by Wolphi LLC and available on Android market place.

The app runs in various modes including group of 5, callsign, qso text, English word, own text & ebook. You can adjust frequency, speed, spacing etc, and select the letters you want to practise.

I found this app more useful later on during learning, where you can start to receive words and remember them, as without having something to write down random strings of characters it's hard to score yourself!

The app costs ~ £2 and well worth it.

Mobile Phone Morse Keyboard

Another handy Android Morse Code app is Morse Code Keyboard by Emergent.org. This allows you to tap CW on your smart phone instead of using a keyboard for text entry.

You can configure this app to display CW paddles instead of the standard on-screen keyboard when editing any text field, with a 'dot' and 'dash' button for keying. It works well and allows you to easily switch between a QWERTY, numeric or Morse entry.

Unfortunately, it can only operate as a Morse paddle. I'm yet to find an app that works as well as this one does, but allows for iambic code entry - if anybody else knows of one let me know!

The predictive text also has a tendency to pick people's names all the time rather than words which gets a little annoying.

MorseRing - Android Ringtone

How about having your Android phone sound out the ID of the caller in CW? Well you can with an app like MorseRing by kgmoney.net.

The app allows you to select tone, vibrate or blink - and you can set the WPM and tone for each. You can also set it to either do all callers or only for those specified.

You can purchase the app for ~£0.60/$0.99 - well worth it, and allows you to practise your CW every time somebody calls!

General Tips

I found that trying to jump ahead and start sending characters that I'd not learnt to receive (via Koch method) often slowed down my learning. It's almost as if I started returning to counting out dit's and dah's having learnt from sending rather than receive.

Where I'd waited to progress through the Koch method and picked up characters that way, it seemed that sending came more natural (rhythm rather than counting).

However, receiving is much harder (and less fun, although more rewarding) - so having a receive session followed by sending gave a nice break!


There are pleanty of CW resources on the web, but one I found particularly useful were GW6ITJ's pages on the subject.

His CWQSO application looks good too - although it'd be even better if it could optionally accept CW input from a serial port (so I could use it with the above setup).

m1bwt/morse.txt · Last modified: 2011/09/07 13:38 by simon
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