CW CORNER – Speed vs. Proficiency

CW CORNER – Speed vs. Proficiency

I call him my CW mentor, and I was happy to have my friend Kurt Zoglmann (Picture shown above) give us a presentation at our November Club meeting on Satellite Communications. Yes, it was nothing to do with CW but he simply gave that presentation to us because I asked him if he would speak to us.  Without hesitation he agreed. But the fact of the matter is, CW is Kurt’s special interest in this hobby, so now it’s time to get back down to basics and that is to present more knowledge about CW. Again, who better can do this than my friend Kurt? I know of no one. I’ve been operating CW for more years than I’d like to count, actually 10 times longer than Kurt, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt there is no other person that I know today that understands the basis of what is needed to learn the mode of CW better than him. He accomplished this feat in just a little over 5 years of time. All of his training skills and his CW course is shared with hams freely on his website called Morse Code Ninja.

Many people, and actually all people who begin to learn this mode of communication use what is called conscious decoding. But that is most commonly done when learning or copying CW anywhere from 5 to 13 WPM.  After that mode of copy, there are three others, best explained by my friend Kurt and I will briefly mention them here and he will further explain them in his video.

After conscious decoding of dits and dahs, the next step is called ‘instant character recognition’. This is commonly done while copying between 13 and 28 WPM. But many of us try to write down the code that we copy. But just how fast can you actually write down what you hear while copying code and for how long is it sustainable to write down such speeds?  For most people, trying to write down the code that you copy can be done to a maximum speed of 20 WPM and can become quite cumbersome taking the fun out of it. So, if that is truly the case, then what can you do from 20 WPM to 28 WPM copying code? I select this range as Kurt explains that this is a speed timeframe when you must take in this second method called ‘instant character recognition’ to heart. When a letter is received, you no longer copy dits and dahs, but instead you copy letters. This is when you  now use your subconscious mind to perform a task triggered from memory. Now, this is when copying code actually becomes fun to me. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to copy letters by instantly recognizing them when you hear them, not concentrating on dits and dahs but the letters just pop into your head? Some of the GCARC members that have taken my CW course in the past may remember when I said that CW to me is like another language. You may be able to understand that statement better as you continue to read this article.

So, to continue, what is the next step? So far, I mentioned instant character recognition up to 28 WPM. If you wanted to reach this speed and copy successfully, you may want to use a keyboard, as many people that are proficient using a keyboard to copy code at 30 WPM. If you are proficient with a keyboard of typing up to 60 WPM, then approximately half of that speed is what your subconscious limit would share with your conscious mind so that you can actually type what you hear.  This correlates to the ability of approximately 30 WPM typing out code received at 60 WPM.

But how can you successfully enjoy contesting if most contest operators send at approximately 35 WPM or above? I just didn’t make that speed up, as code heard above 30 WPM is very prominent during CW contests.  Hint… Most amateur operators think that people that work contests are most proficient in CW. I find that this is not the case. Many contest operators cannot reliably copy what they send. They don’t work the contest per-say to make a high score. Many do it just for practice. Many don’t even turn in a score. So why do they do it?

If you are truly proficient in copying CW then prove it to yourself and try to copy and send a simple call, like W5I at high speeds. So many CW operators that I’ve worked throughout the years in our special events screw up our special event call. They will most always ask you to repeat the call.  So why do people send faster than they can receive? The only conclusion has to be that they are not proficient with code at higher speeds.  Maybe they are trying to show-off. Sometimes I find myself sending faster than I can copy, and when I do that, suddenly CW isn’t fun for me. But if you indulge yourself into the full experience, to be able to send and receive the speed that you desire, then you may need to learn newer methods of copying CW if you want to go even faster. When you do this, then you will become more proficient in copying code speeds, even above 35 WPM.

The next method of copy is what is called ‘Instant Word Recognition’. Yes, what that means is what you think it means. You are able to copy words, not just dits or dahs, or individual letters. This is when in a sense you are now treating the tones that you hear as a form of a language. Instant word recognition is typically used in speeds between 28 WPM and 50 WPM and beyond.

So, what’s beyond? You are now copying at contest speeds. Do you need to do more? Do you need to be able to copy above 35 WPM?  Instead, I would ask the question, if you can copy words in your subconscious mind at this point and not making any effort to do it, then why not try to do even more, even above 35 WPM? After all, we can talk faster than that. How many of us can speed read a book?!! How easy is it for us to talk in a quick manner, especially when we are under pressure or running out of time?

Everything so far is what I’ve actually learned in the 50+ years I’ve been a CW operator. But until now, I have never attempted to convey this message to others, not without inspiration from Kurt. Until now, I lacked the intuition to explain my CW experience but instead, just enjoyed it on a daily basis myself. Yes, I’ve had an interest in teaching code to others and have participated as an instructor to new entrants to CW, but I never went through the steps to actually explain what it would take to go further than the basic CW training courses I’ve given in the past. Most hams that truly want to learn CW from scratch can do that using the Farnsworth method of copying code. But when you work QSO’s at speeds from 18 to 50 WPM and above, you will never use the Farnsworth method. Actually, if you tried, it would hamper your progress. If you were successful, then you would be no less than super-human.

In the following video below, Kurt best explains the process to learn CW, and then explains how you can even copy code at above 35 WPM and then 50 WPM and beyond. He explains how then you must focus your subconscious mind on the meaning of multiple words in phrases, anywhere from 4-5 words at a time. In many cases, copying the first 4 or 5 words subconsciously at high speeds will give you the answer to the rest of the sentence. Your conscious mind is no longer taxed and you don’t get tired of copying fast code. Practice makes perfect! Your subconscious mind is now your main tool to copy code as several words you hear in rapid succession make up a complete sentence that sounds like someone talking to you.

 Please listen to the video carefully and understand it, especially if you want to become more proficient in CW. For me up until now, I’ve had no reason to try to copy and send more than 35 WPM, but Kurt’s explanation on how to excel even further makes allot of sense, and now I will challenge myself to copy code more sub-consciously and see if I can improve my speed even more.  You may tell yourself, “There is no way I can copy code that fast, above 35 WPM.” Then I must repeat a question. Why is it then you are able to talk faster than that? Consider it another form of verbal communication.

I am one of those people that enjoy typing. I recently started to use a computer keyboard to send CW, especially in CW contests and longer QSO’s with higher speeds. But I only use the keyboard to send, and to not use any computer assisted method while I copy code, because I’m in that third group of people that Kurt explains in his video, and that is someone using ‘Word Recognition’.

Before I forget, I would like to thank Kurt for sharing his knowledge of satellites with us in November with his presentation on Zoom. The slides of his satellite presentation can be viewed at the following link.

Kurt Zoglmann – Amateur Satellite Tracking Slides


I would also like to thank him for sharing his CW video, called “SPEED vs PROFICIENCY” along with all the information he provides, for free of course. .

The link to the CW video is immediately below….  Enjoy it, understand it, and apply it if you truly would like to enjoy higher speed CW.  You can then take your CW experience to even higher levels!

Kurt Zoglmann – Speed vs Proficiency  Youtube Video

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