The Art & Skill of Radio-Telegraphy

-Second Revised Edition-
William G. Pierpont N0HFF

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Chapter 1 - How to go about it efficiently


This Chapter Is A Summary To Prepare You To Learn

Learning the Morse code is acquiring a NEW set of HABITS. It is a skill subject governed by the same principles that apply to learning tennis, shorthand, typing, playing a musical instrument, etc. Regular consistent, repetitive PRACTICE sets in concrete what we do and the way we do it.

Some people have managed to master the Morse code without any help. Others have used poor methods, and both have all too often given up when they came to a plateau, short of proficiency. Today methods are available which almost guarantee success, and a number of fine courses exist using these methods.

These principles are outlined below and will get the beginner off on the right foot and bring him to proficiency. If you are one who has gotten stuck, use them to get back on track. They offer the most rapid way to success in learning the telegraph code and achieving a real mastery of it.

PREPARED - prepared with the right ATTITUDES, and with knowing WHAT to do and HOW do it. This can mean the difference between success and failure.


  1. Your ATTITUDE toward learning is crucially important: It is essential PREPARATION for success.

    Comments:- Whenever we think of anything as "hard," it creates a stumbling block, and that tends to discourage us. - Most people find that competition during the initial stages hinders learning. - In actual reading and copying code, any anxiety or undue concern about "getting it all", or too intense interest in what is being received, or trying to outguess what is coming next, can cause us to miss out some of what follows. - People who do things well do not struggle with them. - "Relaxed receptiveness" works.

  2. Get your first impression of the code characters by LISTENING to them - BY EAR - the way you will actually use them.

    Throw away all printed code charts and any trick memory methods people offer - they will inevitably slow you down and may even discourage you as you advance.

    Comments:- The reason learning the code by eye or by mental pictures will slow you down is because our visual and auditory (hearing) memories are completely separate from and unrelated to each other. Trying to learn by charts or "sound alikes" slows down learning because they make us go through one or more needless steps each time we hear a character. In both cases the mind has to go through a conscious analytical or translation exercise for each signal. See Chapters 4 and 13

  3. From the very first learn to hear each code character as a UNIT OF SOUND, a whole pattern, a rhythm.

    At first each character should be sent fast enough, preferably from about 18 to 25 wpm or even faster, for us to hear it as a unit, and with a wide space before and after it. Never, never try to analyze it into parts. This is most important.

  4. THE CODE CHARACTER IS THE LETTER.

    For example, when you hear "didah" recognize it immediately as being "A" - you are "hearing" the letter "A." Associate the code signal with the printed letter so intimately that when you hear or think of the one, the other immediately pops into mind. Our mental "equation" should be immediate, like this:

    "didah" "A",
    and "A" "didah".

    Instant recognition is what we strive for.

    THESE FOUR PRINCIPLES ARE ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL.

  5. CONCENTRATE ON ONE ASPECT AT A TIME.

    For example, don't try to learn to block print or typewrite while you are learning to copy.

  6. LEARN TO RECEIVE THE CODE ACCURATELY - this is our primary goal.

    In receiving we must wait until each character or word has been completely sent before we can correctly recognize it. 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.

  7. Listen only to ACCURATELY SENT CODE.

    Accurate character formation - timing - is essential for efficient learning. Proper spacing between letters and words is as important as the correct formation of the characters themselves. and becomes even more important as speeds increase. At first it is best to listen to cassette tapes, computer or keyboard generated code. If you have a teacher follow his advice.

    If you listen to poorly sent code you will needlessly distract the mind by forcing it to try consciously to figure out what the characters are supposed to be. (Once you become proficient, you can learn to read such sending.) Likewise, in the early stages of learning avoid all distracting noises, and interference, such as static and other signals.

    Sending becomes relatively easy after you have a good timing sense. It is also easier because you know in advance what is coming next. However, listening to your own sending at too early a stage may hinder learning because the characters are not being sent accurately enough.

  8. Plan for regular daily PRACTICE PERIODS.

    The learner needs to know exactly WHAT he is going to do and WHEN. Make them SHORT ENOUGH to prevent fatigue, boredom or discouragement. SPACE them widely enough apart to let what you have gained sink in. Practice is building habits: let's practice only what is right.

    We all have our ups and downs. Some days we will do better than others- this is just a part of normal learning, so don't let it discourage you. It's better to put off practicing to advance at a "bad" time (if you're tired out, sick, down in the dumps). Make practice material enjoyable - interesting in variety and content.

  9. LISTENING and COPYING.

    If you are studying alone, start out by just listening without writing down anything. (See section 2 above.) Listen to the signal and say the name of the letter or number out loud immediately after you hear it. After you get familiar with all the letters and numbers so you feel somewhat comfortable recognizing them, then practice writing down each letter or number immediately after hearing and recognizing it (that's called "copying"). See Chapters 7 and 8.

    Teachers differ on the best way to start out. Your teacher or course may start out having you write down each character as you hear it. Either way is to help you associate the sound with the letter or number. Sooner or later you will want to be able to do both.

    In any event, as skill increases we are going to have to learn to copy. At first it will be letter by letter. But that will prove to be too slow as our skills increase. - In order to advance we need to learn to copy behind: that is, to be writing down what has been heard while listening to what is being sent. This only needs to be a syllable or two or a word or two behind, even at high speeds - this takes the pressure off. For many people it seems to develop almost automatically as they practice and use the code, but most of us need help. There are several exercises which can help us. See Chapter 8.

    Some hams started out copying everything, and have become so tied to their pencils that they just can't seem to understand anything without writing it down first. That is an awkward way to converse! "Throw Away Your Pencil" is good advice. It forces us to learn to receive by just listening. (I knew a ham who for over 60 years couldn't receive without a pencil. When he became almost blind, he had to learn - and he did, very quickly !) We need to learn both ways - to copy and to listen. So what if we miss a few words here or there? - We can still get the gist of it. Remember - even the best operators sometimes miss a word or two.

  10. We gain SPEED by the right kind of practice.

    It depends on more and more nearly instant recognition, first of characters, then of words and finally of larger units of speech and thought. To advance in receiving speed we must push ourselves. Short bursts of speed work best - even as short as a single minute at a time, rarely more than 3 to 5 minutes. If you want to increase your speed, listen to code at a speed faster than you can get it all, and pick out all the words you can recognize. In copying, pick a speed just a little too fast for at least part of your practice time. How fast you want to be able to receive is up to you. Set your own goal.

    Remember, however, that the goal is COMMUNICATION of intelligence, not just speed for the sake of speed.

  11. We advance in skill after mastering the letters, numbers, etc., by learning to HEAR WORDS AS WORDS instead of just strings of letters

    This is the second stage in mastering the code. Most people find it already beginning even while still working to master the alphabet, as they recognize little words like "of" and "the." We need to extend it to include at least the words we use most often. Start by deliberately listening for and practicing them until they become units of sound and recognition- heard and sent as words.

    Our list of 100 most common words is a good place to begin (see end of Chapter 4). Practice them by listening to them, and as you send them over and over - until when you think of the word it just seems to flow naturally as if you were reading or writing it. Practicing with these common words seems to help the brain begin to learn to handle many other words as words, too. We can extend this skill by practicing some of the word prefixes and suffixes, such as pro-, per-, com-, -ing, -tion, etc. The bigger the units of sound we recognize as units the easier receiving and sending become.

    This kind of practice, with careful regard for spacing and timing, will prevent forming the sloppy habits some hams have fallen into as they run the letters of short words together like a single complex character, and also when they forget to space between words. These things make reading and copying very difficult, and as speeds increase, can make it almost impossible.

  12. OVERLEARNING is the secret of real proficiency.

    It is achieved when we simply receive and send in code with the freedom and ease that we have when we talk, read and write, virtually unconscious of the code as code at all. One old-time operator, when asked whether the other ham had used a certain word, replied that he didn't remember the actual word - he had the thought clearly in mind, but he couldn't remember the exact word. That is a mark of the expert.

    From the language arts we learn how people become fluent in a foreign language. It is by REPETITION, saying the same sentences over and over, with or without little variations until they become automatic. Or in other words, just BECOMING SO FAMILIAR WITH IT that it seems natural. When we reach that point, no matter what our top speed may be, we have achieved a mastery of the code. It is a goal well worth our efforts.

    These points are expanded and explained in considerable detail in the rest of Part I. If you are a beginner, go immediately to Chapter 3.

    Chapter 2 will help you understand the why's of our recommendations, and the further chapters are yours to grow on.

    Experience has shown that under normal conditions, like riding a bicycle, once your code skill has reached about 13 or more words per minute (wpm) it is never forgotten. You may become "rusty" but the skill quickly returns.

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE ME TO LEARN?

Those who have been taught using theseprinciples and methods have taken from a minimum of one week toan average of about three up to eight weeks to achieve asatisfying 15 to 20 wpm working speed. People are different inbackground, in attitude, in approach to learning, in interest,enthusiasm and drive, and in what they want to do with the Morsecode once they have learned it. All of these factors play a partin the time it will take. The main thing is to WANT to learn it,whatever time it may take, to realize that it is EASY and to wantto USE it when it has been learned. Those who just learn it toget a license, and do not intend to use it will probably find itnot be useful within a year or two. Yet some of them may evenfind that it is interesting and really interesting and worthwhile. Some have done this already. Read Chapter 12.

Code is a pleasure when we know it well.It is an art worth acquiring.

IT IS TO BE ENJOYED


The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy-Second Revised Edition-
©William G. Pierpont N0HFF