Getting Your Morse Code Upgrade
A Worthy Challenge – Hamquick.com Feature Article of the month.
Why do I need to learn morse code? For those of you new to ham radio, I must first explain that in order to use frequencies below 30Mhz, you need to pass a morse code exam. What this exam consists of will be discussed later. Th importance of the morse code upgrade is that ham radio bands below 30Mhz offer the ability to talk all over the world via voice morse code, and other modes. Without a morse code upgrade to your license, access to the ham radio bands above 30Mhz is not allowed.
What does this morse code test consist of? The test consist of a simple conversation between two amateur stations that you listen to on a tape recorder. The conversation is usually ten minutes long with a speed of a five-words-per-minute. This means that every time a minute is past, you will have heard about five words said. During the ten minutes, you have the opportunity to write down on a sheet of paper what you have heard. Once the test is over, a ten question exam will be handed to you. This exam will ask you questions about what you heard in the morse code conversation. It will ask you details like what state the first operator said he was from, or what model of radio he was using. So you must be careful to record specific details when you hear them.
The test will test you on all the letters of the alphabet, A-Z, all the numbers 0 through 9, and on punctuation period, question mark, and a few other special procedural signs like “End of Message”(SK). Make sure you know and have learned all these characters before you attempt to pass the test.
Morse Code Tips
One wise tip is to make sure you copy as much of the conversation as you can, and try your best to copy down any specific details about the two people as you can. Try to copy down numbers, names, locations, and the weather. After the test is over, look for spelling mistakes. Maybe you mistook an “L” for an “F” in “Frank”. It will be obvious to you that “Lank” is not a real name. Correcting such errors can make or break your test. Another strategy is to fill in your gaps where you missed some letters. Example: “My // lo_cati_n // i_ // Ca _ _ f _ r _ ia.” (Note: The double slashes separate the words.) Can you fill in the blanks? It says: “My location is California.” If you can fill in those blanks, than you understand how the process works. These strategies are very simple and often can make the difference when you take the exam.
To study for the exam is easier than you think. All you need to do is download a copy of NuMorse from Nu-Ware. This software is available on QRZ.com.
The trick is to learn the morse code by ear. Morse code is similar to learning your times tables in second grade. Instead of remembering number combinations on paper, you will have to remember sound pattern combinations by ear. You will be ready to take the test when you hear the letter via a speaker, and you recognize it immediately as the correct letter.
TO learn it this way, I recommend using the software described above to send yourself letters via the computer speakers. Try to identify the letters without looking at the screen,a nd without counting the number of dits and dashes. When you have learned all the numbers, letters, punctuation marks, and pro-signs, you are ready to practice copying morse code QSO’s. A morse code QSO, is a conversation similar to what you will have to copy on your test. They are fake conversations between two ham radio operators.
DO not study using tapes. The main reason is, you will hear the same words every time you play the tape, and you will learn to anticipate what the next morse code word will be. Instead of leaning the actual letters the tape will teach your brain what order the words come in and you will know what the word is before the narrator even sends it.
Do not learn the morse code characters visually. This is the worst way to learn it. What do I mean by visually? I am talking about learning the morse code by either memorizing the number of dits or dashes in each of the letters, or by looking at the number of dits or dashes displayed each time a character is displayed on your monitor via a software program.
But why should I not learn it that way? Because if you are learning it visually, your brain will be trained to “see” the letters, either in your minds eye, or on a screen. If you learn to “see” it in your minds eye, you will be slowed down on the test, since by the time you visualize the letter in your mind, another one is being sent. To train yourself to see it on a screen is even worse. There will be no computer screen provided when you take the test. This will defeat the purpose of the entire exam.
Some good online morse code websites are in the Links Page. One of them is AA9PW. This website has some good morse code resources for you to read. The best resource is the next article. I will be discussing a program called NuMorse Pro, that is available for free(shareware) through which you can learn your morse code. It is very easy to use, and I highly recommend using it.
If you live in a rural area, or are having trouble finding a testing session near you, I suggest you call the ARRL, or W5YI Volunteer Exam Coordinators, and ask them if they can find, or create a testing session in your area. They will be glad to assist you, and should be able to find a testing place within a reasonable distance from your home. The phone number for W5YI and the ARRL are listed on this page: VEC Page
If there was only one thing I could recommend that you do to learn morse code it would be that you go and download NuMorse Pro. The link to download it is on the next page. I used it and I highly recommend it. If you don’t have a computer, and are reading this away from home, I recommend that you print out the morse code alphabet and build a morse code oscillator and have someone send you the code. Another way is to listen to morse code tune on a friends ham radio. There are many stations sending morse code. Try to find one sending slow enough for you to hear the individual characters.
T his tutorial teaches you how to learn morse code on your own. The following software is free via the link below. It is not a full version, so please keep that in mind when using it. The software is called NuMorse Pro, sold by NuWare Inc. It is by far the best software existing for learning morse code. There are many other morse code programs out there, that are excellent, but I firmly beleive this one beats them all for many reasons.
Download the following file from the QRZ.com FTP Server. ftp://ftp.qrz.com/pub/morse/NuMorP13.zip
Learning the Code
Once you have downloaded the file, double click on it to unzip it/install it to a directory. Then run the Program from your Start Menu. When NuMorse opens up, you will see a window called “NuMorse Profiles” pop-up on your screen. You will be able to Select “Default” or “Koch Lessons”. In this case, choose “Default”. The next window shows two tabs: “Choose a Lesson” and “Learn Morse Code”. This time select the “Choose a Lesson” tab if it isn’t already selected. I recommend you read the text in the “Lesson Details” text box, because it contains valuable information. To determine which lesson you need to take, click on the arrows at the bottom of the window. This will allow you to switch between lessons. Read the descriptions carefully. The lessons build upon each other and should be taken in order. Do not skip between lessons. All the lessons are there for a reason.
Once you have selected the lesson you need, click on the “Learn Morse Code” tab. This window doesn’t look very interesting at first. When you are ready, click the play button in the lower left corner. Wait 6 seconds, as a timer counts down. Make sure to get some paper and a pencil handy. Once the timer has silently gone off, you will here the first morse code sound clearly in your speakers. Make sure the volume is high enough to hear it clearly. Try to write down the letter you hear. If you have trouble you can look up at the screen and see the letter, and a picture to help you remember that sound.
Make sure to take your lessons daily, until you are sure to have learned all the letters in your current lesson well. Then you may switch back to the “Choose a Lesson” tab, and continue on to the next lesson. Try not to look at the pictures when practicing. It is O.K. to look if it is a new letter you have not heard before, but once you have heard the sound several times, you should try not to look at the screen. the purpose is to recognize all the alphabet without looking at the screen.
Morse Code Speed Also, make sure you check the speed the morse code is being sent at. To do this, click on the “Show speed controls.” check box. This will cause a small window to pop up, showing the morse code speed controls. By default it is set to 3 words per minute. This may be slow for some people, so you can play around with it. If you are new to morse code, I recommend setting it between 5 and 7 words per minute. The maximum the speed controls allows is about twenty words per-minute. The first control sets the speed at which the individual morse code characters are being sent at. The second control allows adjustment of the spaces between the letters the program is sending. The last control adjusts the spacing between the words the program sends. I recommend a setting of:
Newcomer: 3 WPM
Code Speed: 10.1
Extra Pauses: 0
Code Speed: 14.0
Extra Pauses: 0
Expert: 5 words per minute:
Code speed: 15
Extra Pauses: 0
Preparing for the Test
At this stage, you should know all the letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and special pro-signs. You are ready to practice for the real test. Open Nu Morse again. This time click the Koch Lessons tab. Let the program load, and in the main window across the top edge of the screen select the QSO Generator, and select “QSO Settings”. This opens up the QSO Settings Window. Select the QSO type. Start out with short, to see how good your skills really are. Now click the magnifying glass icon to create the QSO. Close the window. Click on the “Input and Output” selection in the main menu, find and click on “Select input device…”(Shortcut: Press Shift+F4). This opens up the Input Device Window. Select “QSO Generator”. Now return to the Main menu, and select “Play>Play Morse code…” or press “F9”. This will open a window with a picture of a keyboard and other controls. Click play to start. Your first set of characters will be a set of “V”‘s followed by the QSO. Make sure to copy down as much as you can. Then go back to the QSO Generator and check how well you did. Good luck!
Nu Morse Pro is one of the best software programs out there. I recommend that if you like it, that you register and buy it. The writer of the program spent many dark hours writing it so that you and I could enjoy ham radio to the fullest. Software these days is cheaper than ever, so please buy it.(I have no monetary benefit from this.) There are a few other programs or tapes out there that can help you study but I recommend using this software because of its excellent features, and ease of use.
I wish you good luck, and if you get your license, give me a call. My callsign is AD6XS, and I hang out on the 15 and 17meter bands in the afternoons and evenings. Good luck, do your best, and enjoy the excitement of experiencing your first ham radio contact on the worldwide HF bands!!!
’til next time…