Why learn Morse (postscript) – by Phil Parkman G3MGQ

Further to this article in last month’s Vital Spark, I found out the hard way that the I’d not addressed the issue of character order when learning the Code, particularly when using the Koch method. The length of actual words vary – OK, statements of the obvious are rarely welcome but just bear with me. So for Morse, the words per minute (wpm) is based on a “standard” word, PARIS. This is 50 dot lengths long, since the space between dots & dashes is 1 dot, between alphanumeric characters is 3 dots (the same length as a ‘dash’) and between words is 7 dots. Interestingly MORSE is the same 50-dot length, but I then digress.

So at 20wpm, a ‘dot rate’ of 1000/minute,  you’d expect to be writing down 100 characters a minute. However, if you select shorter than average characters to start learning then the number of characters in a 50-dot word period will be more than 5, requiring you to write at a higher rate than if the word was PARIS. For example, my iTouch has a free Morse trainer application, called Morse Test ,which generates random 5 character groups from a character set you can select. The default set starts A, E, I, M, N, T. If then you start your Koch training at 20 wpm with those first 2 characters, your 5 letter group will only 44 ‘dots’ long (including the word spacing) if the group is all A’s instead of 50, so you’d be writing 114 letters in a minute. If they were all E’s, the group is only 24 ‘dots’ long, taking you up to 208 letters a minute – no wonder I was getting writer’s cramp! OK, the random selection of A & E in each group will result in a writing rate somewhere between those figures, but still significantly higher than 100 letters/minute. With a choice of only 2 letters the error rate should still be small, that mitigating factor rapidly disappears as the number of characters in the set is increased.

So don’t be tempted to start learning with the shorter Morse characters, like A EI M & T, in the belief that those are the easy ones. As each character is recognised by its own distinct sound pattern, the number of dot & dashes is almost irrelevant to recognising that character. So there’s a distinct advantage in starting the Koch method with the longer Morse characters, as that gives you a little more time to write them down. In the G4FON trainer I recommended, the default sequence starts K, M, R, S, U which gives an average 5-character group length of over 50 dots for the first 2, 3, 4 and 5 letters selected.

However, you can select any of the 40 characters to include in the set you want to listen to. I suggest therefore you start, as I did, with C, Q, K, G & D, all of which you’ll hear a lot on the air and so have the pleasure of quickly recognising in QSOs. These too give you a bit lower writing speed than the “standard” word while you build up your confidence and break that dot & dash “translation” habit.

Catch you further down the log?

Phil Parkman –  G3MGQ from the Vital Spark, February 2010.

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