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Morse Code Ninja

Advice


For beginners:


Do
  • Realize that learning Morse code is not hard. However, it takes diligent practice to become proficient. Think of it as learning to play the piano, but without taking years to become proficient.
  • Learn the characters using the Koch or Farnsworth method. Try both. One approach will work better for you than the other.
  • Learn the characters at a speed of 20wpm. If using the Farnsworth method, increase the spacing between characters and words to start with an overall speed of 10wpm. If you can count the dits and dahs, start at a higher character speed. You may need to go as high as 30wpm.
  • Develop a habit of practicing regularly. More frequent practice for shorter periods is more effective than fewer more extended sessions. Ideally, practice twice a day for 10 to 15 minutes every day.
  • Set a goal for the level of proficiency you want to achieve and write it down. This simple act will improve your chances of accomplishing your goal! Read this for more details.
  • Keep a log of your practice and proficiency. Look back on it when you fail to see all the progress you have made. Persistence pays off.
  • If you get bored with your practice routine, change it up. Keep it fresh and fun. Perhaps practice with a friend.
  • Learn to copy all the characters before learning to send. This will help you listen for the sound pattern of characters instead of counting dits and dahs.
  • If you run into difficulty, seek out the help and advice of an elmer.
  • Use efficient practice methods and techniques. Some methods are not efficient compared to others and will take you longer to reach your goals. Seek out the advice of an elmer if you do not see the progress you expect.
  • Consider learning or improving your proficiency with Morse code by taking a CW Academy class. It is a free online class where you can get personalized guidance.
  • Protect your hearing! Listen to Morse code at the lowest usable volume, especially if using headphones.
  • For the Morse Code Ninja practice sets, consider pausing the video/audio after the character/word/sentence is sent so that you can practice sending what you just copied. Some people find it more efficient to practice sending whatever they just copied instead of speaking it.

Don't
  • Don't learn Morse code at 5wpm!
  • Don’t use Morse code sound-alikes! It is tough to let go of this mnemonic as you transition to higher speeds.
  • Don't use a Morse code tree or any other kind of visual representation to learn Morse code.
  • Don't memorize the sequence of dits and dahs for each character. Conscious thinking is slow compared to the unconscious mind's ability to process information. Using a lookup table is difficult, and it will prevent you from going faster than 10 to 13wpm.
  • Avoid repeating characters in your mind. Work to develop Instant Character Recognition.
  • Don't learn to send without continuous evaluation of your timing. Use an elmer or software to monitor your progress. It can be challenging to break bad habits formed early on.
  • Avoid becoming tense and stressed as you practice. If you miss a letter or word, let it go.



Dirty Dozen:

If you are running into difficulties learning Morse code, consider the following dirty dozen. They are twelve interrelated problems caused primarily by improper teaching or self-learning techniques coupled with bad habits formed during the learning and proficiency improvement process. Most students encounter one or more of these problems through the course of gaining proficiency. (The credit for this section goes to Jack Ritter, W0UCE, Silent Key. The entire article can be found here.)

1. Anticipating what is being sent: A common problem develops when paper and pencil are used to write or print each letter as it is sent versus learning to copy complete words by their distinct rhythm and sound by ear.

For example, the letters A N Y are written down individually, and the person copying them down is focused on each letter. They have no idea of words or sentence flow. They are not learning to use Morse as a language and are merely copying down individual characters. Then if the next letter to follow ANY is W, the mind's eye anticipates ANYWAY or ANYWHERE. If a different letter than what is expected follows, their focus is diverted. This is the problem with anticipation.

The most efficient way to overcome anticipation is to learn to recognize complete words by their unique sound and rhythm while learning to copy by ear and copying behind. Practice identifying the sound and rhythm of the most common double letter, two and three letter combinations based upon the frequency of usage in the English language helps to form word sounds.

Common double letter combinations: ll, ee, ss, tt, oo, mm, ff, pp, rr ,nn, cc, dd - The thirty most frequent two-letter combinations comprise one third of all letter usage: th, he, in, er, an, re, on, en, at, es, ed, te, ti, or, st, ar, nd, to, nt, is, of, it, al, as, ha, ng, co, se, me, de - The most common three-letter combinations are: the, and, tio, ati, for, tha, ter, res, ere, con, ted, com, hat, ent, ion, nde, has, ing

2. Attention loss, lack of accuracy: Attention loss is often related to Problem 10 during the learning phase and often causes frustration. Practice sessions should not exceed thirty minutes in duration. Break up practice sessions in ten or fifteen-minute increments. And practice thirty minutes a day, seven days a week.

Lack of accuracy is related to Problems 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 10. There is no substitute or better way to learn and improve proficiency than learning to copy by ear and only take notes versus putting individual characters on paper. Practices learning the sound of short words then progress to short phrases such as my dog. Then add a follow on word to start building phrases and sentences. Common QSO exchanges help build confidence to get on the air.

3. Counting Dits and Dahs: Learning Morse code by counting Dits and Dahs is a terrible habit that is difficult to break. Counting is typically caused by learning Morse at 5 or 10 words per minute character speed. While some instructors endorse using the Farnsworth method, adding extra space between characters often leads to unintentional counting. And a long delay can allow a student to replay the sound pattern in their head. (Counting is directly related to Problems 7, 8, 9, and 12.)

Consider starting with a 20wpm character speed with a bit of extra space between short words. For example, TEA followed by EAT. Then progress to three-word phrases. Eliminate extra spaces between words as quickly as possible to learn and use Morse with normal speed and spacing. Why teach or learn at 5 or 10 wpm when it just as easy to learn at 20wpm.

4. Dit and Dah Transposition: Transposition is primarily related to learning at slow character speed and tone frequency being either too low or too high for an individual’s hearing frequency range. The most common character reversals or transposition are: er-re, es-se, an-na, it-ti, on-no, en-ne, ot-to, ed-de, st-ts, at-ta, ar-ra, in-ni.

To overcome the problem of transposition, practice copying and sending the numbers 1 through 10.

5. Inability to break old habits: The obvious answer to overcoming this problem is not to develop bad habits in the first place! Bad habits developed in the early learning stage are the most difficult to overcome.

The key to breaking old habits is to focus on exercises, methods, and techniques that help overcome or break specific old habits. The first step is to determine what bad habits individuals have and make a list. Then focus on overcoming the worst bad habit or habits first. Develop a plan and follow it.

6. Inability to copy behind: This problem is directly related to Problem 12. Until students or those with experience "break the pencil and toss out the paper" and learn to copy entire words by their distinct sound and rhythm, this problem will automatically become problem 5, 8, 9 and 10. And this problem must be broken to become proficient and use Morse code as a language.

To overcome this problem, set up exercises comprised of short word phrases. Repeat two or three times if necessary and practice retaining phases such as MY RED HAT, HER OLD CAT, BIG BAD BEN, UR RST 599, MY RIG IS A K3.

7. Inability to distinguish spaces and timing: This problem is usually related to learning to copy at slow speed and copying individual letters versus words. Concerning sending, we can tune the bands most any day and hear poorly formed code. This sender is said to have a "bad fist."

While an experienced instructor will not encourage using code readers, new radios such as the Elecraft K-3 can display Morse as it is sent. Students can benefit by using a Morse display actually to see that they are sending with proper character spacing and timing. Watching a display while practicing sending helps overcome spacing and timing issues.

8. Increasing speed: This problem concerns copying and is directly related to every other problem on the Dirty Dozen List. Identify and address each problem individually. This will make increasing speed easier to achieve.

Then if you are still stuck, consider that most everyone reaches a "plateau" or bump in the road where they seem to be stuck at a certain speed. To overcome problems with a given plateau or bump in the road, "jump the bump." For example, if you are stuck at 20wpm, increase the speed to 21 or 22wpm. Increasing the speed by even one or two words per minute is the best way to increase receiving speed proficiency.

9. Lack of confidence: This problem is usually related to "getting on the air" and making QSOs. One way to gain confidence is to have QSOs with yourself. Use a code practice oscillator or key the sidetone on a transceiver without going on air. Make up a list of QSO exchanges using different call signs, names, and QTH, and then use it to practice with yourself.

Even if contesting is not something an individual wants to do, they are excellent confidence builders as the exchanges are short (except for the Sweepstakes) and there are plenty of state QSO parties to take part in. Practice makes perfect.

10. Mental fatigue: This problem is common with many activities, and practicing Morse code is no different. Too much too often is not productive. Don’t practice when you are tired or just after coming home from a hard day at work. Consider practicing when relaxed, early in the morning when you are fresh, or whenever you have a genuine desire to practice. The latter being the best time. Contest or Radio Sport participants are well aware of what a toll fatigue can do to their performance. Don’t overdo it.

11. Memorization versus hearing words: This problem is directly related to problems 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7. Until individuals develop the ability to recognize complete words by their sound and rhythm, copying behind, and use Morse as a language, this problem will remain on their bad habit list. To overcome this problem practice copying by ear and copying behind.

12. Writing or typing each letter as it is heard: This problem is the significant obstacle standing in the way of becoming proficient in Morse code. It is our worst enemy and by all means, the first bad habit to break. Break the pencil and toss out the writing pad to learn to copy by ear and copy behind. It should be the number one priority for every beginner or anyone with the desire to improve their skill in using Morse code. Learn to use it as a language; this is a rule of thumb to live by.



So you want to go faster:

Morse code speed vs. proficiencyAt some point in our Morse code journey, we all yearn to copy faster. However, as a reminder, accuracy should always trump speed in the real-world. If you are working at a higher speed than your proficiency or band conditions allow, at best, you may frustrate yourself and the other operator. And at worst, you may fail to communicate successfully.

So what does it take to go faster? In short, it requires learning to operate at a higher proficiency, as shown in the diagram to the right. Knowing this and achieving it are two different things. First, let us cover some theory, and then we will look at approaches to move from one proficiency level to the next.

There are two types of mental processes — conscious and unconscious. The conscious mind is amazing. It allows us to solve complex and difficult problems, such as a calculus homework assignment. It empowers us to engage in abstract, logical, and analytical thinking. Anytime we stop to focus and concentrate, we are almost certainly employing our conscious mind. The downside is how slow it is compared to the unconscious mind!

By comparison, the unconscious mind is lightning fast. It is effortless, automatic, and continuous. It is also where the majority of our information processing takes place. The unconscious mind feeds higher-level information to the conscious mind. For example, in everyday conversation, our unconscious mind does all of the hard work of interpreting phonemes, words, and grammatical structure. It also allows our conscious mind to focus on the meaning of what is being said, and it enables us to understand someone casually talking at 150wpm effortlessly.

The unconscious mind's lightning-fast ability to process information is the key to copying code faster. As a general principle, as the Morse code speed increases, a larger amount of the processing and interpretation must be done by the unconscious mind. And this is directly related to the four levels of Morse code proficiency.

Levels of Morse code proficiency:
1. Conscious decoding of Dits and Dahs
2. Instant Character Recognition
3. Instant Word Recognition
4. Focus on the Meaning

Before we dive into these levels, it is helpful to understand that they are not used exclusively. It is not uncommon to shift back and forth. As an analogy, consider the act of breathing. It is nearly always under the control of the unconscious mind. But by drawing our focus to it, we may control it with our conscious mind. With enough experience, it is possible to shift our Morse code proficiency level to best match the context and speed of the code being copied. For example, a callsign must be copied character by character, while a word can be copied as a complete sound pattern.

So what are the four proficiency levels? And how do they relate to your ability to copy at higher speeds?

1. Conscious decoding of Dits and Dahs:
At this proficiency level, you actively listen to the dits and dahs. Once there is a word or inter-word space, the sequence of dits and dahs is looked up in your conscious mind to identify the character being sent. For example, you might hear Di-Dah-Dit, think Dit - Dah - Dit, and then look up the sequence to identify it as the letter R.

If you find yourself repeating the sound pattern in your mind, you may also be at this level.

At this basic proficiency level, the conscious mind is doing all of the work to decode and interpret the Morse code! And because the conscious mind is so much slower than the unconscious mind, you will be unable to go faster than 10 to 13 words a minute at this level.

If you learn Morse code at 5wpm, using sound-a-likes, memorization charts, or other learning-aids, you will inevitably start your Morse code journey at this proficiency level. This is not advised since you may inevitably get stuck and unable to copy code beyond 13wpm. Some people get stuck for years despite heroic efforts to overcome it! And others transition to higher speeds without much of a problem.

2. Instant Character Recognition:
At this level of proficiency, the unconscious mind is doing the hard work of instantly recognizing each letter as it is sent. The characters are recognized instantly and effortlessly. For example, when you hear di-dah-dit, you think of the letter R. Then the slow, conscious mind follows letter by letter to form words, abbreviations, and callsigns.

To begin learning Morse code with ICR (Instant Character Recognition), you will need to use either the Farnsworth or Koch Method.

The Koch Method is a learning technique named after German psychologist Ludwig Koch. With this method, the full target speed is used, starting with just two letters. Once strings containing those two characters can be copied with 90% accuracy, an additional character is added. This step is repeated until the full character set is mastered.

The Farnsworth method is a learning technique named after Donald R. "Russ" Farnsworth (F6TTB). With this method, you are taught to copy characters at their full and standard speed. However, the spacing is lengthed between characters and words, which gives you time to think about the sound pattern you just heard. Typically students start with a character speed of 20wpm and an effective speed of 10wpm. Like the Koch method, students start with two characters and continue to add characters as soon as they reach 90% accuracy.

The key to mastering ICR with the Koch Method and Farnsworth Method is to ensure that you learn the sound pattern of characters at a speed of at least 20wpm. If you can count the dits and dahs at 20wpm, you will need to learn at a higher speed, probably 25 to 30wpm. Otherwise, it is almost impossible to avoid counting the dits and dahs. And with the Farnsworth method, you will need to use an overall speed that prevents you from repeating the sound pattern in your head. Typically an overall speed of 10wpm is sufficient.

Does it matter how you copy with ICR? Yes! It will affect the maximum speed you can achieve, which may be anywhere from 20 to 30wpm. There are three ways that you can copy Morse code using ICR and the previous proficiency level of Conscious Decoding of Dits and Dahs.

Pencil-Copy: With this method, each letter is written down on paper after being instantly recognized. The speed limit comes down to the fact that people can not write very fast, and it is tiresome. Even using a modified printing style for speed, most people will only sustain 20wpm while putting each letter down on paper.

This method is often employed at slower speeds since it does not require a computer, it is simple to learn, and it alleviates the conscious mind from having to keep track of a sequence of letters to form words and abbreviations. And it frees the conscious mind from keeping track of more higher-level statements and sentences.

Keyboard-Copy: With this method, each letter is typed on a keyboard. Instead of hearing di-dah-dit and thinking of the letter R, you associate the di-dah-dit sound pattern with pressing the letter R on a keyboard.

With keyboard-copy, the unconscious mind is doing even more of the work compared to ICR with pencil-copy. And the interpretation of the meaning often comes from reading the words and abbreviations formed on the screen! This can create an odd sensation when the conscious mind does not know what is being sent until it is read on the screen!

Keyboard-copy is faster than pencil-copy. Our continuous keyboard-copy ability will be half our steady typing speed. For instance, most proficient touch typists can sustain a typing speed of 60wpm, which puts their maximum sustained keyboard-copy speed at 30wpm.

Head-Copy: With this method, nothing is recorded outside of the mind's eye. Using this method with ICR, the unconscious mind does the hard work of instantly recognizing the sound patterns and prompting the conscious mind with each character. The conscious mind must then take on the hard work of following character-by-character to identify words, abbreviations, and then the higher-level meaning of statements and sentences.

If you are head copying, this method is sometimes described as the process of affixing letters on a blank blackboard or ticker-tape in the mind's eye as each letter is received. Then you read what is on the board. Perhaps, this description is more of an analogy than reality for most people.

Using ICR and head copy, most people will max out somewhere between 25 and 30wpm. This maximum speed refers to continuous copying. At higher speeds, it is possible to copy a short burst of characters such as a callsign or serial number, which is often a skill developed to participate in contests at 30 to 40wpm. The world record for unaided callsign copy is 195 wpm!!

I recommend starting your Morse code journey learning to head-copy with ICR. This will allow you to quickly achieve 25 to 30wpm real-world speeds operating on the air, and it will enable you to progress to the next two proficiency levels.

3. Instant Word Recognition:
At this proficiency level, the unconscious mind does most of the hard work. You hear the sound pattern of entire words and abbreviations as a whole, and then you instantly and effortlessly recognize them. While the unconscious mind does a lot of hard work, the conscious mind must keep track of words and the grammatical structure to form meaningful statements and sentences. For example, you hear dah-di-dah-dit dah-dah-di-dah, and think CQ.

This proficiency level often allows users to achieve speeds of 50wpm or greater with enough practice, and it is nearly always done with head-copy. It is interesting to note that this level of proficiency often develops early on with real-world practice. It is common to learn the sound pattern of CQ, 599, 5NN, TEST, and your callsign without trying to learn them as sound patterns, and you can copy them at much higher speeds than anything else.

Gaining proficiency at this level is a matter of building up a vocabulary of sound patterns. Consider the following ABC's of success to master IWR (Instant Word Recognition).

The ABC's of success:
A) Learn the sound pattern of words and abbreviations at or slightly above your maximum ICR speed. Working at that speed will encourage you to focus on the word's entire sound pattern and not follow letter-by-letter. It's analogously to why we learn ICR at a character speed of 20wpm or faster — in that case, we want to avoid focusing on individual dits and dahs.

B) After learning to copy the sound pattern of individual words, strive to copy two and then three words at a time. You may find my n-gram Morse code practice sets useful in developing this skill — Sets of 2 Words, and Sets of 3 Words — and perhaps using them at 30wpm. They are based on the most common two and three-word combinations in the English language. And because they are so common and familiar, it helps ease copying multiple words for the first time. If you copy one of the words, you may easily guess the missing word(s).

Copying multiple words at a time is mostly a matter of giving your conscious mind enough space or mental capacity to take on the challenge of remembering several words at a time.

C) After learning to copy handfuls of words at a time, strive to master copying an entire sentence. I recommend starting with the easiest sentences made up of the most common 100 words in the English language. And then move on to sentences that use larger vocabularies. You may find my practice sets — Sentences from the Top 100 Words, Sentences from the Top 200 Words, and so on — very useful.

Once you have built up a vocabulary of sound patterns at a given speed and understand them in statements and sentences, it is straightforward to increase your maximum copy speed. Diligently and incrementally, practice at ever faster speeds to reach your goal.

As a tip, if you listen to Morse code without headphones, pay close attention to any echo in the room. You may need to make adjustments to minimize echo, which can interfere with clearly hearing Morse code at or above 40wpm.

4. Focus on the Meaning:
At this proficiency level, the unconscious mind is doing all of the hard work! The conscious mind is free to focus on the meaning of what is being sent. This level of proficiency is the nirvana that most aspire to achieve. It is equivalent to listening to someone talk to you in your primary language. It is easy and effortless.

This level of proficiency develops with extensive practice and experience. As the unconscious mind takes on ever greater responsibility, it increasingly frees up the conscious mind to focus on the meaning.


If you would like to watch my talk on Morse code Proficiency vs Speed, feel free to watch the 17-minute YouTube video below.





A Learning Approach To Achieve QRQ:


Background:

In Morse code, speed is arbitrary and a mutual agreement between operators. Sending fast or slow is a choice. Some radio enthusiasts enjoy communicating using CW at high speeds, often defined as QRQ for shorthand. (Formally, QRQ is a Q-signal defined as "Send Faster." When sent following a question mark, it means "shall I send faster?")

High-Speed CW is relative. What is fast to one operator may be slow to another. One benchmark is the CW Operators Club, which requires its members to send and receive CW at no less than 25wpm.

In our multi-faceted hobby of amateur radio, there is a form of Radio Sport known as HST (High-Speed Telegraphy). And every two years a bi-annual international HST competition is sponsored by the IARU (International Amateur Radio Union). This competition is most popular in Eastern Europe. The competitors are divided into age and gender groups, and they compete in both receiving and sending CW. There is no upper-speed limit, so QRQ takes on a very different definition here. Quite simply, the person who goes the fastest with the least errors wins.

(Feel free to download the white paper as a PDF. You may freely print and redistribute the article.)


Abstract:

The CWOps club provides an excellent system of courses to introduce CW to beginners and advise students up to 25wpm in both receiving and sending. All the CWOps courses are free of charge, and they are a fantastic resource for the Amateur Radio community. Most operators find 25wpm to be a comfortable speed for QSOs and effective rag chewing. However, there is no formal CWOps course for speeds beyond 25wpm.

The authors are not aware of any club or course that provides a structured high-speed CW curriculum. If such a course were available, we believe that a large community of radio enthusiasts would enjoy pursuing learning high-speed CW.

This paper aims to introduce a one-year plan for studying high-speed CW. We propose a method to increase CW receiving skills from 30wpm to 45wpm. (Sending abilities are mostly outside the scope of the paper.)


Authors:

Kurt Zoglmann (AD0WE) is the creator of the Morse Code Ninja website, Morse Code Ninja course, and 10,000+ hours of practice content available on YouTube, for direct download, and available as podcasts. Kurt is focused on helping a worldwide audience learn Morse code, which is a practical and valuable skill in amateur radio.

Jack Treloar (AA0IZ) is an electrical engineer for an aerospace company by day, and he enjoys designing homebrew Ham gear on the weekends. He collects QSL cards, and his favorite passion is CW rag chewing. He is a lifetime member of the FISTS CW Club, the Long Island CW Club, and the CW Operators club. Jack is promoting a QRQ Friends Program for Amateur radio operators who enjoy learning and practicing high-speed CW.

Terry Jackson (WB0JRH) is a retired utility manager with a passion for CW. He was a Russian CW Intercept Operator from 1966 - 1969, living in Bremerhaven, Germany. He operated a Navy MARS station in the 1970s and phone-patched hundreds of soldiers in Vietnam with their loved ones in the States. He is an active member of CWops, LICW Club, FISTS, and SKCC. Currently, he teaches several CW classes, including QRQ.


Introduction:

Anyone who does not have acute hearing loss can achieve QRQ through consistent practice. The key to success is having a long-term mindset and sufficient motivation to pursue QRQ practice.

What motivates a person to pursue high-speed CW? Why put in all the effort? Arguably, the best reason is simply for its enjoyment! Enjoying CW is proportional to one’s proficiency; the better you become at receiving CW, the more you will enjoy it. It is a fortuitous cycle that drives people to achieve proficiency at copying with higher and higher speeds.

Some may be initially motivated to learn QRQ to brag or show off. However, it is unlikely that they will persist long enough to reach their proficiency goals. The return on investment is terrible – a few minutes of glory after many hours, months, and years’ worth of practice.

The biggest obstacle for most QRQ learners is the mindset of success. A person who believes they will never copy CW at high speed often creates a self-fulling prophecy before they ever try. Having a goal for QRQ is rewarding! The journey to QRQ is fun!


QRQ Course Plan:

Goal:
This QRQ course guides students using a structured approach to achieve receiving proficiency at 45 wpm from a starting proficiency of 30 wpm. The essential skill to build upon is IWR (Instant Word Recognition).

Practice Time:
Consistent practice of 30 to 40 minutes a day is enough to achieve the goal in about one year. You should practice 15 to 20 minutes twice per day. Please take a short break if you can no longer focus or you notice your proficiency suddenly drop off during practice. Don't over-train to the point where you ignore the CW as background noise. Above all, please enjoy your practice!

Approach to Practice:
QRQ practice requires focus. It is like meditation. Over time you build endurance for longer and faster practice and develop a mental filter to suppress noise and other distractions. Until then, avoid distractions to maintain focus and practice efficiently.

Relax before you practice. Have your mind at ease and ready to focus on what you will hear. Don’t rush into your practice session straight from stress or other distractions. You may consider listening to CW just before you fall asleep when you are most relaxed. Decoding QRQ takes place in the subconscious mind. The conscious mind can solve complex and abstract problems, but it comes with the cost of being very slow—so the faster the code, the more processing that must occur in the subconscious mind.

QRQ is a lot like mastering a spoken language. Once learned, we focus on the meaning of what is being said and not explicitly on phonemes, individual words, and grammar. And so as our unconscious mind takes on the hard work of copying Morse code, we move from ICR (Instant Character Recognition) to IWR (Instant Word Recognition) and finally to focus on the meaning of what is being sent.

You may find it helpful to encourage the unconscious mind to pick up the heavy work by engaging the conscious mind in a small task, such as petting a dog or cat or watching a scenic YouTube video with the sound turned off.

You will be pleased to know that the effort it took you to build your CW speed from 20 to 30wpm will be significantly more than it will take to go from 30 to 45wpm. Once you master 30wpm, you will increasingly rely on IWR. For example, with IWR, you will recognize the complete sound pattern of words like CQ, DE, and ES. And with IWR, you will not have to use ICR to recognize the individual characters and string them together to identify each word. The secret to QRQ copy is to build up a vocabulary of unique sound patterns for each word at increasing speeds. This might seem intimidating but fear not. You have trained your brain from childhood to hear words.

You will likely find longer words easier to copy in Morse code at higher speeds. In our experience, words that take longer than 2 seconds to send in Morse code are too long to consistently be perceived as a single sound pattern and copied with IWR. A good example is INFORMATION. At 30wpm, it takes 3.4 seconds to send. At 50wpm, it takes 2 seconds. As you work towards higher speeds, a larger proportion of words fit within this 2-second boundary so that you can more easily learn to copy their unique sound pattern using IWR.

With an extensive vocabulary and experience, you will develop the ability to instantly recognize prefixes, suffixes, and parts of compound words. This is a skill that sits between ICR and IWR. We call it IPR (Instant Partial Recognition — At this time, there is no formally or commonly recognized name for this skill.) Using the example word, INFORMATION, you will eventually learn to recognize the prefix INFO and the suffix TION as a complete sound pattern. Learning to recognize prefixes and suffixes instantly will speed up learning to recognize other words with the same prefixes and suffixes. Your first IPR will likely be the suffix ING. It is one of the most common prefixes in the English language.

Keep a log of your practice. It is common for students to think they are not progressing, failing to achieve their goals, and losing hope at some point in their journey. However, with a practice log, they may look back over their notes and view their progress over time to see that they have indeed improved. So keep a record with dates and jot down brief notes about your practice sessions in a journal. If you aren’t seeing the expected progress, reach out to your mentor for advice. On the other hand, when you realize that you’ve made progress, celebrate it!

How to Practice:
The recommended practice sets follow the standard Morse Code Ninja format of 1) Sent in Morse code, 2) Spoken, and 3) Repeated in Morse code.

In Part 1 of the format, carefully listen using IWR. You may be able to pay close enough attention to use ICR on the first letter or two while simultaneously listening using IWR. As you recognize each word, silently say the word to yourself. This approach sometimes requires multi-tasking as it will require saying one word and listening to the next word! Then in the 1-second break before the spoken section, quickly repeat the entire sentence out loud.

In Part 2, merely listen to the sentence as it is spoken. In the brief pause, before it is repeated in Morse code, quickly say the entire sentence out loud. This ensures that you are primed to listen to the sentence in Morse code. (You may skip this step if you got the whole sentence correct in Part 1.)

In Part 3, as the sentence is repeated in Morse code, silently speak the words — meaning move your mouth as if you were speaking them without actually making a sound.

Carefully draw out or compress the word to precisely match how they are sent in Morse code. And strive to hear each and every letter of the word(s) that you missed, which can sometimes be challenging! You may also find it helpful to visualize the word spelled out precisely matching how the timing of when each letter is sent.

What to Practice:
Please visit the Ninja Practice page. There you will find many files that you can download with speeds that go into the QRQ range—up to 100wpm. Please know that there are fees in the background to produce and deliver these files, so consider making a small donation if you find them helpful. A link can be found under the Contact tab.

This QRQ course uses the Morse Code Ninja practice series with 16 practice sets—Sentences from Top X Words, where X is equal to 100 through 1,600. Each practice set lets the student focus on learning up to 100 words at a time. This is the foundation for the QRQ study plan.

You should download these files as you need them. Alternatively, watch the practice sets on YouTube by selecting the Sentences filter on the Morse Code Ninja Practice page and then selecting the speed and type. The webpage will then automatically take you to the desired YouTube video.

Please refer to the appendices at the end of this document, where you will find both a Suggested Practice Plan and an Alternate Practice Plan. Use the online practice plans to estimate how long it will take to go through the course. Enter the length of your practice session and how many sessions you have per day, and it will calculate an estimate of how long the course may take you.

Practice with each file in its entirety. Experience suggests that you must head copy a word at least 10 times to commit that word to memory. Some words will take even more practice to master. Depending on your starting proficiency at 30wpm, you may start with the Sentences from the Top 100 Words or the Sentences from the Top 300 Words.

You may want to refer back to this practice material in the future to have fun and stay sharp. Your goals are to study efficiently and to enjoy your practice.

Two suggestions… the Morse Code Ninja website has many Speed Racing files. This format works by challenging you to copy the target word or character at the fastest speed possible. If you miss it, no problem. The format incrementally slows down after a one-second pause between each speed. The fastest speed is 1.5 times the slowest speed. You may find that you get the most use from this format by identifying the fastest speed you are proficient at, such as the Top 100 Words, and then using a Speed-Racing practice set where that is the slowest speed. You may need to adjust up or down a little to find the practice set that gives you the most efficient practice. Specifically, look for the Speed Racing versions of the Top X Words and Sets of X Words. This innovation by Kurt (AD0WE) can provide additional practice to build instant word recognition and help you initially adjust to higher speeds.

And consider supplementing your practice with a CW audiobook. This has an unrestricted vocabulary that will allow you to increasingly rely on IWR and practice using ICR and IWR. With the unrestricted vocabulary and continuous copy, the speed will need to be slower than the vocabulary-building exercises. Start at a comfortable head-copy speed, such as 20wpm, and increase the speed over time. See A Case for "Book Copy".

How to Measure Your Success:
There are two approaches to measuring your progress: estimation and objective measurement.

Estimation:
For estimation, do not be overly concerned with precision. Strive to estimate to the nearest 25% using a scale of less than 50%, 50%, 75%, and 100%. For evaluating your percent correct with sentences, you have a couple of options. Estimate the total number of words being copied correctly. Or estimate the number of sentences copied correctly in their entirety.

Whether estimating or measuring, be consistent. It will avoid confusion later when you are comparing previous scores.

Consider keeping a log of your practice and using estimation to record your accuracy over time. It takes little extra work, and the additional information will be helpful as you assess your progress over time.

Objective Measurement:
For an objective measurement, use pen and paper. When practicing with individual words or callsigns, make a mark in the correct column every time you get one right. Whenever you get one wrong, make a mark in the missed column. Then calculate your percent correct at the end of the session ( number_correct / total_marks * 100 ).

There are a couple of options when practicing with sentences or QSO segments. You can consider any dropped words or abbreviations as a miss for the entire sentence or segment. Alternatively, you can have three columns — Correct, Partially Correct, and Missed. When you get most of the words correct, add a mark to the partially correct column. With this variation, you can count a Correct answer as 1, a Partially Correct answer as 0.5, and a Miss as 0. Then calculate the percent correct at the end of the session ( score / total_points_possible * 100 ).

Because of the extra effort, you may want to use objective measurements sparingly. So you might consider the following approaches.

One approach is to begin a new practice set, such as the Sentences from the Top 500 Words, and objectively measure your performance in the first couple of sessions. Then measure again in the last couple of sessions for that practice set.

A second approach is to objectively measure your performance in each practice set during the last couple of sessions. Later after you have progressed further in the series or bumped up to a higher speed, jump to a random spot in that same practice set and measure again. You should see a significant performance improvement. For example, suppose you got 65% of sentences entirely correct in the last session practicing with the Sentences from the Top 500 Words at 30wpm. After reaching the Sentences from the Top 1000 Words at 30wpm, you might measure again and see that you get 85% correct from the same Sentences from the Top 500 Words at 30wpm.

Practice Friends:
Like the CW Academy programs, this course can benefit by following a cohort model where each student is paired with another student(s). In this way, students may use each other for support and motivation. However, unlike in the CW Academy, the QRQ students must create their own meeting schedules. Since this course requires about a year of commitment, it is impractical to assume that students can meet twice a week or even weekly. It is more practical for students to meet online, perhaps twice a month.

A good plan for QRQ study is to intersperse your regular individual practice with occasional online video chats with another student at about the same proficiency level. Use the meetings to review progress, practice, and catch up. It would also be best to consider scheduling periodic on-air QRQ QSOs with them. To facilitate this, the authors are promoting a QRQ Friends Program. Amateur radio operators who want to find a CW practice QRQ friend may complete a simple registration form.

You will find an example of this form in Appendix C. If you are interested, please download the form and follow the instructions on the form to complete the registration.

After several forms have been received, a QRQ Friends Program coordinator will schedule an online meeting and send an invitation with the details via email to the applicants. The online session will be limited to 10 applicants and will be scheduled for an hour on a Sunday afternoon. Meetings will be held no more frequently than bi-weekly.

Please know that this is an informal program! The QRQ Friends Program aims to provide a venue for students to locate similar aspiring CW QRQ amateur radio operators. Ideally, hams can find a QRQ friend with similar skills in a nearby time zone who can be available on a similar schedule. Please understand that there is no CW training offered through the QRQ Friends Program. Please know that this program is not affiliated with any formal CW club.

Proficiency Goal vs. Top Speed:
To achieve your proficiency goal, recognize that you will need to gain limited proficiency at higher speeds beyond your proficiency goal. For example, if your goal is to copy sentences at 40wpm solidly, you will need limited copying proficiency at 50wpm and even more limited at 60wpm. So as necessary, supplement the suggested practice with extra practice exercises that are tailored to your goal.

As you learn to copy a more extensive vocabulary of words using IWR, you will need to use ICR to copy less familiar words. Copying by IWR versus ICR is not an either-or mental process. It is common and necessary to use both skills at the same time.

Because of this, you need to create enough mental capacity for the conscious mind to copy with ICR while also copying familiar words with IWR, you will need to make IWR as effortless as possible. Practicing at higher speeds and achieving limited proficiency with these speeds is the key to enabling you to do just that!

You can extend the course as necessary to reach your ultimate proficiency goals by repeating the Sentences from the Top X Words and the Sentences from the Top 1000 Words - Review Part X practice series using ever faster speeds. The practice content is so extensive there is no danger of memorizing it. But avoid listening to the same practice set more than twice in a row. Coming back to the same practice set after weeks or months is fine.

QRQ Sending:
Your QRQ study will be enhanced by including both receive and send practice. Send practice reinforces hearing the underlying rhythm. And you will develop Instant Muscle Memory for Words. This muscle memory is analogous to IWR. The unconscious mind takes on the hard work of moving the hand in a cadence of quick movements to send a word on a key. Ideally, you will grow your vocabulary for IWR and muscle memory for sending words in lockstep.

Realize that QRQ sending starts by developing a positive mental attitude. This mental image is brought on by visualizing that you are successful at sending good CW with proper timing and spacing. A positive I CAN DO IT attitude will build confidence and make practice comfortable and enjoyable. Consider starting each sending session with a couple of positive affirmations.

Learning to send at high speeds requires being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And listening to CW at uncomfortable speeds is paramount to mastering QRQ sending. They are interconnected.

Within a QRQ sending practice session, alternate between comfortable and uncomfortable speeds. You may start slow and build to faster uncomfortable speeds. Or work your way down from faster to slow.

Periodically record and review your sending or have someone knowledgeable evaluate your sending. You must assess your sending and catch any problems before slipping into bad habits. It is difficult to undo what you have learned and redevelop the correct muscle memory.

During practice, mistakes are anticipated and accepted. Think of children learning to talk. They don't care if they make mistakes. They know they will be understood. Do not be hard on yourself. Relax and move forward. Above all, have fun! However, accuracy is more important than speed when engaged in a live QSO. Speed will improve with experience.

Consider downloading the text files available from the Morse Code Ninja website. Select the Practice page and scroll down to the "Playback in Other Programs" heading. Download and unzip the practice-text.zip file. It will contain all the source text used to generate the practice files. Open up the Sentence from the X Top Words, read a sentence, look away, and send it from memory. (Be careful not to read ahead within the text file that you are also using for receive practice.)

Although QRQ sending is mostly outside this paper's scope, it is an integral part of QRQ CW. Please consider attending the Long Island CW Club's Advanced Sending and Receiving QRQ class. It is every Thursday evening and taught by Terry (WB0JRH).


Not quite ready? No problem:

To undertake this course, it will be helpful to have mastered the ability to head-copy short sentences at 25wpm and have started your journey to master IWR.

As you move towards stress-free head-copy and increasingly rely on IWR, there are a couple of problems you may encounter. Don't worry. We have been there, and we have an approach to overcoming them. (For a broader discussion on Morse Code proficiency levels and what it takes to reach 25wpm, please see So you want to go faster.)

Word Dropping:
Word dropping is a phenomenon where you recognize each word but immediately forget it as soon as you start copying the next word in the sentence! This problem occurs when there is not enough conscious capacity to hold on to the words in your working memory and follow the meaning of what is being said. It often occurs in the learning process when you are still copying letter-by-letter with ICR. It is possible to copy every word in a sentence yet have no idea what is being sent!

On the Morse Code Ninja website, you will find a series of incrementally harder practice sets starting from the easiest two-word combinations. The idea is to take as much cognitive load off of remembering a string of words. First, master copying two words and then incrementally master copying a longer series of words.

These practice sets are built on n-grams and will be familiar and common to any native English speaker. In this context, n-grams are the most frequent N number of words used in a series. For example, a common 2-gram is WHEN THEY. A common 3-gram is A MATTER OF. A common 4-gram is THERE HAS BEEN A.

The n-gram practice series is titled Sets of 2 Words through Sets of 5 Words. Start by practicing with the Sets of 2 Words. Once you commonly get 90% of them correct, move up to the Sets of 3 Words. Continue progressing until you get to the Sets of 5 Words. If you need additional practice before transitioning to sentences, consider the Sets of 5 Words Encore and Sets of 5 Words Encore2.

Delayed Instant Word Recognition:
As you progress to copying sentences, it can be a challenge to recognize each word before the start of the following word. This problem will leave you unable to consistently copy all of the words in a sentence.

The solution is straightforward — add additional space between the words in the sentences and, over time, reduce the extra word space. This approach is analogous to using Farnsworth timing while mastering ICR and then transitioning to standard timing.

Consider using the following practice series. As soon as you get 75 to 90% correct, move on to the next one. You may find that you can skip from 4x to 2x word spacing. Try it out before committing your time to practice with the 3x word spacing.

  • 4x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 100 Words
  • 4x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 200 Words
  • 4x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 300 Words
  • 4x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 400 Words
  • 4x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 500 Words
  • 3x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 100 Words
  • 3x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 200 Words
  • 3x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 300 Words
  • 3x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 400 Words
  • 3x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 500 Words
  • 2x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 100 Words
  • 2x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 200 Words
  • 2x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 300 Words
  • 2x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 400 Words
  • 2x Word-Spacing - Sentences from Top 500 Words

A few words about 50wpm and beyond:

At speeds beyond 50 wpm, you may notice some additional difficulty. This is the speed at which many people notice Morse code losing its tone and taking on more of a pulsating sound.

In music, the inter-onset interval (IOI) is the interval between onsets of stimuli, or more specifically, the time between the perceived beginning of one note and the next one. The faster the rhythm, the shorter the IOI. Research shows that as IOIs shorten to 50ms, human perception shifts from perceiving a beat/rhythm to pitch.

At 50wpm, a dot is 24ms, and the dash is 72ms long. The average of these two numbers is 48ms. At 73wpm, both the length of a dot and dash fall below 50ms — the dot is 16.4ms while the dash is 49.2ms. Very few people ever develop proficiency beyond 75wpm.

However, copying beyond 50wpm is not impossible. Referees witnessed a 10-year-old competitor at the IARU HST Championships held in Montenegro in 2021, copying a call sign sent from RufzXP at 212wpm.

At speeds up to about 50wpm, it is still possible to recognize individual characters and copy some with ICR. At even higher speeds, you will likely need to use IWR entirely. At these higher speeds, the words are so short that they will either just pop into your mind, or you won’t recognize them at all.


Conclusion:

Learning instant word recognition is the same as learning instant character recognition. At lower CW speeds, you learn to hear the sound pattern of individual characters. At higher CW speeds, you learn to recognize the sound patterns of words.

Common words will become your place markers to help keep you in the context of the material you hear. You will need to build your word vocabulary through IWR practice. Having a goal for QRQ is essential. Your goal might be Contesting, Rag Chewing, or better QSOs. So supplement the suggested practice with additional practice that is tailored to your goal.

Learning to hear QRQ can be compared to learning to play the piano. You must learn to enjoy the practice even if no one is there to witness it. People who master playing the piano or become accomplished QRQ’ers are the very people who love doing it. It’s essential for you to enjoy the journey. Be resilient and learn from your mistakes as they come along. Modify your practice whenever you think it is needed.

Your QRQ journey is like a marathon and not a sprint. Have fun along the way!


Questions and Feedback:

If you have any questions or feedback, send an email to Kurt Zoglmann (<Mouse over for Email address...>), Jack Treloar (<Mouse over for Email address...>), and Terry Jackson (<Mouse over for Email address...>). We are happy to help!

The structured approach to achieving QRQ is a starting point, open to refinement. With additional feedback and collective experience, our goal is to make QRQ accessible to as many people as possible.

We wish you all the best on your Morse code journey!



Appendix A - Suggested Practice Plan:

Session Length:20 mins
 
 
Sessions Per Day:2
 
 
Total hours:xxx
Number of Sessions:xx
Number of Days:xx
Number of Months:xx


35wpmHours of Practice
Sentences from Top 100 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 200 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 300 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 400 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 500 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 600 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 700 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 800 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 900 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1000 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1100 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1200 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1300 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1400 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1500 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1600 WordsXX
 
40wpmHours of Practice
Sentences from Top 100 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 200 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 300 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 400 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 500 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 600 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 700 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 800 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 900 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1000 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1100 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1200 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1300 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1400 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1500 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1600 WordsXX
 
45wpmHours of Practice
Sentences from Top 1000 Words - Review Part 1XX
Sentences from Top 1000 Words - Review Part 2XX
Sentences from Top 1000 Words - Review Part 3XX
Sentences from Top 1000 Words - Review Part 4XX
Sentences from Top 1000 Words - Review Part 5XX
 
Total:xxx



Appendix B – Alternate Practice Plan:

Session Length:20 mins
 
 
Sessions Per Day:2
 
 
Total hours:xxx
Number of Sessions:xx
Number of Days:xx
Number of Months:xx


30wpmHours of Practice
Sentences from Top 100 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 200 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 300 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 400 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 500 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 600 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 700 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 800 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 900 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1000 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1100 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1200 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1300 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1400 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1500 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1600 WordsXX
 
40wpmHours of Practice
Sentences from Top 300 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 400 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 500 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 600 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 700 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 800 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 900 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1000 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1100 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1200 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1300 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1400 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1500 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1600 WordsXX
 
50wpmHours of Practice
Sentences from Top 300 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 400 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 500 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 600 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 700 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 800 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 900 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1000 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1100 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1200 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1300 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1400 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1500 WordsXX
Sentences from Top 1600 WordsXX
 
50wpmHours of Practice
Sentences from Top 1000 Words - Review Part 1XX
Sentences from Top 1000 Words - Review Part 2XX
Sentences from Top 1000 Words - Review Part 3XX
Sentences from Top 1000 Words - Review Part 4XX
Sentences from Top 1000 Words - Review Part 5XX
 
Total:xxx



Appendix C – QRQ Friends Program Form

QRQ Friends Registration

Please download the registration form and complete all form fields. Save with a filename that includes your call sign. (Example filename: KA1BC.pdf) Please email your completed form to: <Mouse over for Email address...>

The registration questions below are for reference only.


Name:(First, Last) Date:(mm/dd/yy)
Call Sign:(Call Sign) QTH:(City, State)
Email:(Email Address)
Phone:(Phone Number)

  • What year did you become a Ham? (year)
  • How many years have you been active on CW? (years)
  • What is your favorite CW activity?
    (examples: QSO’s, or Contesting, or Rag Chewing, etc.)
  • Why are you pursuing QRQ?
  • When was your most recent CW QSO?
  • What is your favorite brand and type of key?
    (examples: W1SFR Single Paddle Cootie, Begali HST, Vibroplex Bug, 9a5n, N3ZN, etc.)
  • Do you use a keyboard to send, and if so, is it for all speeds or just for speeds beyond where you can comfortably send by hand?
  • On an average day with normal bands and QSB what is your comfortable receiving speed? (wpm)
  • What is your comfortable sending speed during a rag chew? (wpm)
  • What are your CW receiving and sending speed goals? (wpm / wpm)
  • How often could you practice with a CW friend?
    (daily, weekly, bi-weekly, etc.)
  • What radio bands work the best for you?
    (10m, 17m, 20m, 24m, 30m, 40m, 80m, 160m : List all that apply to you)
  • What hour(s) of the day are you available to practice?
    (mornings, afternoons, evenings)
  • Do you have any other hobbies?
  • Please write a few sentences to briefly describe yourself. Where are you on your CW journey? Describe for your friend what is most important for you to succeed with your practice.
  • Please write any comments that you want to share with the Friends program coordinator. These comments won’t be shared with anyone else. This is for you to give input and ask for anything.