Learn Morse Code, Clockwork Orange Style

You might have to provide your own wrist straps and eye clamps, but if you want to learn Morse code, [Seth] has a web site for you. You can get code practice using the Farnsworth method and each letter is flashed before you as it is sent, which we assume will burn it into your brain.

Why learn Morse code now? Just about all countries now have at least some no code ham licenses and many have taken code off the tests completely. However, there are still many hams that use the code even today. Why? The personal challenge is part of it and perhaps nostalgia. However, it is also true that Morse code transmitters and receivers are dead simple to build and can get through where other simple radios can’t.

While it is true that some new digital modes can work near the noise floor, those require sophisticated computers or FPGAs which might be hard to cobble together in a foxhole.

If you haven’t run into the Farnsworth method before, it is simple but effective. If you learn to copy code at a relatively slow speed — say 5 words per minute — you can succeed rather quickly, but it becomes harder to progress to a faster speed. Trying to learn at a higher speed is frustrating because you won’t have much success until you’ve had a lot of practice.

The Farnsworth method sends characters at high speed but varies the spaces between letters to reduce the average speed of the message. This gives you time to think about what you hear. But when you increase the speed — that is, reduce the spaces between letters — the characters sound the same which makes it easier to learn. They just come faster.

Morse code training has come a long way since the 1930s. Still need motivation to learn the code? What if you get taken hostage?

11 thoughts on “Learn Morse Code, Clockwork Orange Style

  1. If the characters are sent fast, you get used to the overall sound of the character. If you start listening to the characters sent at slow speed, you hear the individual dots and dashes. So you in effect listen for the dots and dashes, and mentally check the lookup table to get the character. This slows things down, and doesn’t work so well at higher speeds. Starting with fast characters, you afen’t doing tge lookup.

    A big mistake I made in 1970 was to think sending taught you morse code. So I got a telegraph set, with sounder, buzzer and light. Being able to send didn’t help on receive. Not baving anyone who could send mkrse to me meant it never helped. A couple of years later and a code record, and good shortwave receiver, is when I could receive morse code.

    You have to get used to the sounds. I’ve wondered if having a computer send morse code with every keypress would help. A sort of brainwashing, on a subconcious level would it connect letters to the sound of each morse character? I don’t know, but I wonder. This would be done in the background, as you typed fir some other reason.

    At least with computers, it’s much easier to hear mirse code sent properly. Just run a program that sends morse code. No need for a record, or shortwave receiver.


    1. An uncle taught me to copy and sent Morse at 25 words per minuet on a typewritter. Took me four months to come up to that speed and he had a good incentive in that if I didn’t progress by the weekend, I was grounded and made to help out in the kitchen preparing potatoes. Heck he even paid me to learn it! Not much back then, but still, come up with a better way to learn than that. My ‘Uncle Sam’ was the U.S. Coast Guard.

    1. Blinky codes are sometimes a good pragmatic option, but “full text” debug info through morse? I’d expect that to be impractically complex for what’ll usually amount to displaying predefined error states.

      1. It took repetition for weeks of eight hour a day for 10 to 20 weeks of practice to learn morse code at 18 words per minute in the Army Security Agency school at Fort Devens, Mass. back in the 1960s. I was an instructor and taught code there after time in the field as a morse intercept operator. Most of us took code faster, some in the 30-40 word or group per minute. The key to learning code is memory, but in a way probably not expected. As code is received the brain must stack the letters and copy a few letters in the past constantly changing the stack as each new letter is sent. To be fast you must remember at least 5 to 10 letters back at all times. The stack changes as each new letter or number is sent. This mechanism allows for a fluidly timed brain to stay on pace with a mechanically timed code sender by being able to “drop back” when need as distractions pull the mind away from the code. I took code eight hours a day for four years in intelligence. I practice only occasionally now but I have always, after learning it well, been able to take it at twenty five or more words per minute through life. It sticks with you if you take time to learn it well. That investment in time is why there are so few highly proficient operators today. Time…and get that memory stream working on keeping a few letters behind in your copy.

        1. That’s interesting, Tom. It wasn’t ’till I was HAM after my Coast Guard service to copy ‘in my head’ well. Radiomen copied messages on a typewritter and to copy 5 to 10 characters behind was asking for repeats which was frowned upon. Working merchantmen was another story enjoyably non military foremat and procedure. Take care and 73 OM didit

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