Learning Morse Code When Work Life Limits Practice Time and Classes?

After posting my 2024 Radio Goals post, Mark left the following comment:

My main goal would be to learn CW this year.

[…]My work schedule doesn’t allow me to participate in any kind of CW classes since I’m in bed by the time they start. Trying to listen to anything while I’m working (I drive a delivery truck) is too tough to concentrate on the task at hand. So I feel I’m at an impasse. Happy New Year QRPers.

Mark, it definitely sounds like you need CW training in some sort of asynchronous format like audio or video recordings that will allow you to practice during lunch breaks and any short openings you might have in the day.

I started my CW journey so long ago, that I don’t know what some of the current options are for pre-recorded CW training that follows the Farnworth method. I learned CW via Gordon West’s Novice CW Training tapes which were really designed to help you pass the Novice test, not necessarily for CW proficiency.

Using the Farnsworth method, characters are sent to you at, say 21 words per minute or so, while extra spacing is added between characters and words to slow the transmission down as you start your CW journey. This teaches you to learn each character at your target rate from the very beginning. As you become more proficient, the spacing between characters is simply shortened. No question, it’s the best way to avoid the “counting dits and dashes” issue that causes many beginners to stumble.

Any advice for Mark?

I’m sure there are some phone/tablet apps, audio programs, and YouTube channels out there that will allow you to study at your own pace. I agree that it sounds like your work schedule would make real-time online courses challenging.

Readers, please comment with links to any resources that might help Mark and others in his shoes.

Consistency and habit stacking…

My own two cents here: Mark, I would worry less about how long you’re practicing CW each day and focus on consistency. Even if it’s just 10-15 minutes per day (most of us can carve that out), a steady and reliable pace will have a most positive impact on your CW journey.

Also, I find “habit stacking” to be a powerful tool–I’ll explain, but click here for a proper, thorough explanation.

Basically, habit stacking works by adding on a new habit to one you already do.

A real-life example: I wanted to implement regular light stretching into my daily routine, but I was finding it difficult to remember. Out of entire week, I might remember to stretch two or three times.

Then a friend told me about habit stacking where you add the new habit to one you’re already doing.

One thing I do each morning without fail is brew my first cup of coffee. From day one, I would grind my beans, start the coffee maker, and while the coffee was brewing, I’d spend a couple of minutes doing stretches and squats.

It was so simple implementing this new routine and I’ve never once forgotten to do my morning stretches.

In your shoes, I’d find a habit you’re already doing where you typically have a moment of peace: making your coffee, taking off your shoes after work, brushing your teeth…whatever you do daily and works for you. Then add on 10-15 minutes of code practice.

Even if you only added 10 minutes of code practice per day, by the end of the year, you’d have accumulated a total of 61 hours!

I feel like prerecorded code practice or a good CW app might help. Also, you might try a device like the Morse Tutor or Morserino. (I’ve been tempted to buy both of these to test myself!)

Again, my hope is that our community here will have some advice based on recent experience to help you! Please comment!

39 thoughts on “Learning Morse Code When Work Life Limits Practice Time and Classes?”

  1. Good morning cw ops….Nice article….I remember almost 60 years ago I carried around a home made Morse Code card with all letters, numbers and punctuation….At that time I was in jr high school…I memorized those Morse characters…Staring at them even between classes…Went directly home and turned on my old round faced Zenith and copied cw from anywhere in the world I could….It worked for me! Still working a net and POTA almost every day at 75 years of age…Continuous practice, even for a few minutes will surely be all you need…73’s. de WB4BBF

  2. I’d suggest Mark take a look at the Long Island CW Club. It’s self-paced with live classes flexibly scheduled including on weekends. There are good practice tools. And it’s a good community — different types of online lectures and events on various wireless topics, you get to know your classmates, the instructors make themselves available for offline questions. With so much flexibly offered I found there to be a bit of a learning curve taking it all in but it’s an extremely supportive environment. Recommended.

  3. I’m still on my CW journey at about a year in. There are many apps but I find that LCWO.net which is browser based is a great resource. I agree with Thomas that consistency is key and even 10 minutes a day creates results. There’s no secret. Consistent practice will get you there. Find an app that works for you and use it.

    Oh! Follow #CW100Days on Mastodon. It’s a bunch of Ops learning and encouraging one another.

    1. Ditto on LCWO.net, I wrote on paper instead of using keyboard when I practised, spending some minutes almost everyday. After 14 and a half months, I got on air by hunting a POTA in CW mode. 🙂

  4. Hi re morse learning. Copy the slow section to a dvd. Put it in the vehicle and just leave it playing whilst your driving. No need to concentrate on the cw as your brain will be in auto so to speak its a psychological trick that over time with the different speeds you will be surprised when you come to try your hand at doing. cw. I have done this and it works for me. No matter how long it takes, you will know when your good and ready by reading cw automatically at a good speed, I found,as in other cases that when you can read cw at the comfortable speed you want, then and only then start to send cw,otherwise you will find yourself going backwards, OK hope this may help. Good luck with it. Jim

  5. Hello,

    most important: Keep going every day 10 minutes … that’s enough. But no plain excuses: Every day.

    I would use the morserino. Fun to build, has all the lessons from Beginner to Pro, has built in training material for all levels, could be used over the internet, does it at your own speed and fits in every pocket. It is better than a tutor who has also other interests.
    Keep going every day 10 minutes … that’s enough. Don’t celebrate learning … do it in the silent moments, pauses, while waiting. Use every opportunity to reserve those minutes to learn something new.
    But again, no plain excuses: Every day for at least 5 months. There is no abbreviation.

    73 de Hajo dl1sdz

  6. Depending on the messaging app, it’s possible to assign different notification sounds to different people. Here, I’ve created wave files for my most frequent phone contacts using lcwo.net’s text-to-Morse tool. May not be game changing for practicing Morse (especially because it’s easy to become lazy and pay attention to the last few characters only), but it’s something. Plus, I now know who’s messaging me without even drawing the phone from my pocket. It’s like a superpower!

  7. 15 to 30 minutes a day. No skipping. Binge doesn’t do it. No different than learning a foreign language.

    Learn by sound from the get-go.

  8. Just my 2p of advice I have found useful on my CW learning path.
    Two phone apps, Morse Mentor and Morae Mania on android would allow me to do 10mins, 5mins, 2mins or even just 30 seconds of practice whenever I was sat not doing anything. Secrets be told, I actually did most of my initial character learning while on the loo… lol..

    Long Island CW club is another fantastic option. They run classes at all times of the day and night and a lot are available recorded. Their carousel system where you can jump in and out at any point as it simply rotates (like a carousel) and they have multiple of the same class everyday all week. There is normally something that can be fit into a busy schedule.
    Lastly Morse.Ninja has a fantastic resource of pre recorded practice sessions. From very basic character recognition at 12wpm with a fransworth of 5wpm to full blown ragchews, even story books at 50 wpm. There is literally something for everyone. And Kurt publishes this all free on YouTube.

    But whatever tool you choose the key is repetition, repetition repetition. A quality 2 mins three times a day will be vastly more beneficial than an hour of slogging through a class. And of course, get on the air. People love to work and help those who are new and still struggling. People will slow down for you and will repeat things as many times as is necessary. Every body was on day one once upon a time.

    One last thing. Enjoy it. Play with it. Its a fantastic toy and an immense hobby.

    Sam 2E1OCT

  9. Hello, a good program to learn CW is by VE3NEA and can be downloaded from the ” ATLAS DX ” website. The numbers are learned in a week (7days) and the letters, by groups of similar signs and the other letters. The last phase of learning is increasing speed. Good luck Mark. 73′ Peter YO8CDQ

  10. When I was young, vendors sold products that promised I could “learn French while I sleep.” Didn’t work on either count — I learned nothing of French and the audio kept me awake. Since learning CW is a lot like learning a new language, I agree with the comments above that say the best way (actually the only way) is a consistent, disciplined approach. I’m a big fan of Kurt Zoglmann’s materials: https://morsecode.ninja/learn/index.html. I would even listen to the audio of his YouTube videos while I was driving. But I suspect the program matters less than the discipline.

  11. Mark.
    I started learning when at school — a very long time ago and at the time I didn’t have any ‘aids’ to use .
    I just used the end of a pencil – with integral pencil rubber – to tap out morse code for any text I could see and at any spare minute.
    When I got home then I had a key and oscillator to practice with and would listen to morse code on 160M from local Amateur Radio Operators who would transmit at circa 12wpm at certain times.
    I did have one RSGB publications that gave me the groups of letters and numbers I would need to get used to for my test — whihc I passed when I was 18.
    Good luck
    Happy New Year
    Bruce G4ABX
    it worked — but I’m still learning (at 69!)

  12. Coincidentally, yesterday, one of my club members posted to our groups.io a schedule of code transmissions of the ARRL for practice. I wasn’t aware of it and will definitely take advantage of that as I learn CW.

    In my reply, I posted this list of resources, apps and websites I’m using as I try to learn CW:

    I have 2 apps on iOS that have been really helpful learning the sounds of the letters, both which use a gaming approach to learn and practice the letters.

    Morse Mania – good
    Morse Zapp – better

    Morse Zapp has a “paddle” style input with one keyboard button to make dits and a second to make dahs that when held down with your finger, repeat the letters, like a paddle keyer.

    BEST- this FREE website, requiring that you create an account, and lessons are designed to help you learn the letters in logical pairs and listen to practice code and either record on paper, or better, use your keyboard, to tap out the code you hear and see your results immediately (when using your keyboard). You can adjust the speed and Farnsworth spacing, and the frequency of the tones, as well as other parameters. Learn CW Online:


    I’ve used all three and am learning a lot from each one.

    In addition, I created a chart of mnemonics from various sources that help me recall the sounds that start with the letter and have the rhythm of the word eg A= a-BOUT, B= BOB is the man, C= CAN-dy CAN-dy, etc.

    Also, did you know that Google Chrome can be set up on an iPad with the GBoard keyboard set to Morse Code?!

    Obviously the Long Island CW Club is definitely one to add! They contacted me as a result of my recent guest post here. I’m planning on joining.


  13. Mark is a personal friend of mine, so I know the difficult schedule he keeps.

    One thing that I have found after being a coach/trainer/instructor for many years – everyone learns differently. There is no one method that works for everyone. There are certainly nearly-universal concepts that will apply, but what works for you might not work for someone else.

    A few nearly universal concepts (as can be seen in the comments here thus far) are:
    * Daily/regular SHORT sessions (10, 15, 20 minutes for example) are MUCH more effective than an hour or two of slogging every couple of days.
    * While these short daily session won’t FEEL like they’re doing something – they ARE! It just takes time.
    * You WILL feel like you’re stepping backwards sometimes – don’t worry about it, it is part of the learning process.
    * Farnsworth is really good advice – character speed of something between 20-25WPM is a good target – using whatever character spacing you are comfortable with.
    * Again – it might not feel like a 10-15 minute session is doing anything – but it really is – your brain is building the pathways. The results are not always obvious. It does take time, there’s really no shortcut here.
    * Don’t be overly concerned with 100% copy! Everyone falls off the dit-train now an then. It is OK to ask for a repeat.

    I know these things won’t apply to everyone, but this is what has helped me. It’s funny, I rarely get 100% copy on everything, but can usually figure it out in context. For call signs, I find that when I’m expecting a call sign, my brain “knows” that I’ll likely be getting 4-6 characters with a number thrown in there, and that I won’t be looking for a recognizable word – and the copy almost always goes well.

    Personally, I really like the variety and types of practice in the Morse Ninja video series. Sometimes I’ll run them in the background while I’m working – not intentionally copying it, but just to have my brain used to sounds and patterns.

    Everyone’s journey is different. It took me a good solid 6-8 months before I was comfortable enough to get on the air. In retrospect, I should’ve gotten on sooner since I think (for me) it would have helped build my skills faster.

    It is a continuous journey. We all wish we could master it in a few days or weeks, but it doesn’t work that way for most of us. Just take the time, trust that short consistent practice *IS* doing something, even if it feels like it isn’t.

  14. There’s an app you can get for your phone called Ditto CW. It’s sort of the modern version of the old CW records. I’ve found it very helpful for doing a few minutes of practice at a time.

  15. I can’t add much that hasn’t been stated, but I agree with Alan – W2AEW, having it on in the background while working in your delivery truck is a great way to start. You don’t have to try and get every character sent, just listen. Especially once you have the basic characters down.

    Thomas’ videos and other YT videos play a lot in the background while I’m doing work that doesn’t require concentration. Another app I used a lot (and still do from time to time) is Ham Morse. I set it to play QSO’s while I’m taking a shower, and when I get out, check to see how much I copied. I’d recommend starting with a higher character speed (20is), but slowing down the effective speed as also mentioned.

    To learn the initial characters, I really relied on LCWO.net as also mentioned already. This will require 10-15min of your time set aside each day. The Morse Machine setting really helped drive the letters home, as it is very repetitious, and only goes at your speed. Once you have the characters, then start pushing yourself with speeding things up just past your comfort level using the lessons.

    Good luck on your CW journey! I started and stopped for 6 years before 2 years ago finally deciding it was time, so I feel your pain 😉

  16. As everyone has mentioned in these comments, the key to successfully learning CW is Consistency. Stick with it and it WILL come to you. I started learning the characters using CW Teacher by N3FJP, a free PC download. An interactive program, press the correct keyboard character to match the Code they send. It won’t let you continue until you get it right, before they send the next character.

    LICW and the hundreds of programs and Apps available, allow you to find what works best for you. When you reach the point of getting on-the-air, don’t worry about making mistakes. CW Operators are incredibly courteous and patient. We will slow down for you, and work with you when you stumble, for as long as it takes to complete a CW QSO. We welcome and encourage new CW Operators, and very much want to see you succeed.

  17. Great suggestions above. Reiterating the app-based methods and adding one more as a shameless plug, I suggest picking whichever works best for a platform you can fit into your day (phone, web, or desktop):

    * Morse Mania: Available on iOS and Android, this is a great Morse learning app that’s perfect for regular practice sessions. It’s free for the basic version, but a couple of dollars unlocks more features.

    * lcwo.net: This completely free website offers multiple training tools. The interfaces are primitive, but they get the job done.

    * Less is Morse: Just released a few weeks ago, this free, downloadable desktop game for Windows, Mac, or Linux can also be played in most desktop browsers. The developer (me) intends to add more modes, but it currently covers Koch training and word-based speed drills: https://radiovoice.itch.io/less-is-morse

  18. The basic “Farnsworth method” that Thomas prescribes is far superior to those ancient methods we used with cassette tapes (and vinyl records earlier).

    Taking if a step farther is the idea of Instant Character Recognition, ICR. Become so familiar with the sound of a character that it is instantly recognized. Then, move into word building and head copy.

    One of the best online tools for practicing Instant Character Recognition (ICR) is the morsecode.world site. There you can find a very comprehensive practice / training tool that is configurable in dozens of ways. Many of the configurations used the recommended learning sequences from LICW, CWOPS and other CW teaching sites. Whether you have time only for a few seconds or minutes, it can give your brain the workout it needs to learn CW. It works on “normal” computers and on phones. (Hint: on my Android, it works best with the Firefox browser.) It is also used as the basic code underneath the LICW training tool.

    I believe ICR is the underlying basic capability for moving ahead with CW learning. Give it a try: https://morsecode.world/international/trainer/character.html

  19. When I’m out walking or driving I whistle in Code every street address, license plate, and road sign I see. I began doing this when I started learning the Code, and I find myself doing it almost unconsciously now after years using CW. It helped me learn to think in Code and make CW an automatic response like proficiency in any other language. I highly recommend this as it can be done anytime anywhere without any devices.

  20. Currently using the Morse ninja videos to get familiar with letters and words. Then after listening throughout the day I will practice using Morse Typer, Morse mania or one of the other apps to see how I am doing on retaining the knowledge. Enjoy the hobby. If you enjoy it and keep it fun, you will be making time for it.

  21. Agree with the comments to take advantage of the free W1AW code practice sessions available 24 hours a day for listening / download on the ARRL website across a wide range of speeds from 5 to 40 WPM. I’ll listen to a few sessions on my iPhone during my commute.

    Not a “primary” learning tool but a great adjunct for getting ten or so minutes of practice listening to text from the pages of QST.

    It would be nice if they put a link on the homepage – I’ve not seen one – but follow the links to the W1AW page then the code practice files.

  22. One resource for self paced learning that has been around for many years is Chuck Adams course. It can be downloaded here along with instructions on how to use it.

  23. I’m new to CW, about 3 years into learning, and I can finally communicate with Morse Code. If I could tell my former self how to learn more effectively, I would advise the following:
    1. Keep it fun. If it is not, you won’t do it. Short, regular sessions help.
    2. Look backwards at how much you have improved. That is motivating.
    3. Learn characters as a whole sound, rather than an assemblage of dits and dahs. That goes much better at fast character speeds. If you are having problems, increase character speed. It is counterintuitive, but it works.
    4. Get on the air. Again, counterintuitive, but you don’t learn the code so you can get on the air, you get on the air to learn the code.
    5. You will not copy perfectly. Nobody does. You can get the gist of a message even when you don’t get every word.
    6. Ask for repeats when necessary. Even experienced operators get interrupted and need a repeat at times.
    7. Find a friend who is learning code, and commit to meet on the air once a week or more. It gives you safe space to try new things, and to make mistakes.
    8. Avoid decoding software and other crutches. It will hinder your learning.

    Best 73, and hope to get you on the air!

    1. Some very good suggestians Brian. I agree with the keep it short. Wether it was cw or the theory I would always quit while my brain was saying more more more. You eventually get to a point where you don’t want to continue. Thing is for many if you reach that point it will be harder for you to have a go at it again the next day when you pick it up again. Try to quit once you have put in enough time to make it worthwhile but while your mind is telling you more. That way you will be hungry for the next practice session and look forward to it.

  24. Many Cw apps for mobile phones are available.
    Put one on your phone & just run it anytime you are alone in the car at home etc.
    When you’re walking down the street or stuck in traffic, Read signs & number plates out in morse code.

    It is much easier to learn now , than it was 32 years ago.
    I was taught incorrectly by receiving code at 12wpm character speed.

    In 2002 i relearned with Farnsworth & head copy is now head copy is 30wpm on a good day.

    The secret of learning is take it at your own pace & don’t dwell on missed letters.

  25. I have only been a ham since jr-high school (1956) from 5 wpm, high school, military, college, marriage, family-kids-to-great-great kids, retired 1997 with 20 wpm paper to 35 head copy somewhere in between…

    You will need to set a REGULAR schedule at least two times a week.

    W1AW will do that


    as you advance so will your schedule.

    W1AW is not Farnsworth but will teach you paper and/or head copy from 5 wpm up…

    As mentioned by others don’t sweat missed letters or words at ANY speed… just keep on writing … start with paper…from ear to paper (don’t think about just do it) …from EAR to PAPER. Once you can read sentience structure on paper start from EAR to BRAIN (no paper) your brain will start to PAINT a picture of first letters then WORDS

    ON THE AIR at any speed is the best teacher of all. Some where on most bands there is ham es/or/of just like you.

    During ‘tests’ or ‘events’ most ops will QRS to ur speed.


    One of your first ah-HA Plateaus will be different “fists” agn EAR to PAPER don’t sweat missed stuff

    My second ah-HA … with Qcode es “jargon” CW is an international language with no language berrier…
    ‘es’ = jargon for ‘and’
    agn = again es ‘?’ will become ‘ur’ best friends

    agn get on the air live POTA Hunting will teach both jargon es format from paper or head copy

    72 73

  26. Oh, I forgot. Don’t copy down onto paper using capital letters. Use lower case ‘all joined up’ like you normally do. Don’t keyboard copy. At 25 wpm you should be copying entirely in your head.

    Best of luck, Paul.

  27. Hi Mark, as someone who has taught both the Beginner and Intermediate classes for Long Island CW Club, and is an applied neuroscientist, and know a little bit about human learning and skill acquisition, I’d like to chime in. Don’t want to bore you but my understanding is how to find time for classes and practice with your busy schedule with work and family? A lot of people are in your same situation. To address this specific situation, a good way is to join the Long Island CW Club & take a structured class. We teach classes seven days a week, almost 365. The Beginner classes start early in the morning and run to late at night, as we have instructors in Europe and Asia. Plus, you will make long time friends from your class mates. Many of the classes are recorded so you can listen at your convenience. I’ve taken CW OPs classes, and finally qualified as a member of CW OPs, but they are hard to schedule. Also, there may not be a good match with the instructor and you’re stuck with this person. With LICW, you can bounce around at your convenience. Finally, if someone tells you they have the “only way” to learn CW, or if “this is the last CW class you will ever take”, run as fast as you can away. A good instructor matches the student’s motivational and practical levels, individualizes for him or her, and teaches from that. I agree with all that Thomas told you. I’ve written some on this and will be happy to send you a handout, if interested. Also, through my membership in the Royal Society of Medicine (London), I was able to have our research librarian Lillian obtain old German research articles on learning & teaching CW, then have them translated into English for the first time. I think for learning CW, as well as antennas, one needs to take a scientific approach. If you want to start on your own, I recommend downloading the free G4FON Morse trainer and following the curriculum that my friend Ray G4FON (SK) set up. The other thing if you’re able is to get on the air as much as you can. POTA and SOTA activators are some of the most forgiving activators you will find, as we want the contacts. Again, it’s great you want to learn CW. I’ve been a student of CW ever since I was first taught in the Boy Scouts (not the best way) many decades ago. Hope this is minimally helpful and best wishes for a great new year. Let me know if I can help. 73 de Bob K4RLC

  28. These are all wonderful sentiments and advice. It’s all greatly appreciated everyone. I will check into all of them. Thank you everyone!


  29. Hi, I use MoreMania on my iphone while I drive to/from work or driving to do errands. There is a feature that is called learn characters. It will send characters to you from a list of characters you select. As they get sent in my head I say that’s an Y. Theo take a quick peak to see if I got it right. You can choose how far apart the characters are sent and the SPEED of each characters sent.

    Hope this helps.
    Oscar, NK3B

  30. I’ve made a “CW record player” app that plays characters selected over-and-over again.

    Idea is that you can just start the app and continue whatever you are doing; no need to stare at the phone.

    Also it contains features to make app speak every letter after it is given, play characters in “chunks”. It also works on iPads and ARM MacOS.


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