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Morse Code Speed

To understand code speed, it is helpful to look at the method in which code is generated. Code di's (dots) and dah's (dashes) and the spaces between them are sent using standard fixed time intervals. A di takes one unit of time, a dah takes three units of time, the space between di's and dah's of the same character takes one unit of time, the space between characters takes three units of time, and the space between words takes seven units of time. When sending code at a given speed, these units of time remain fixed in duration, and consequently the letters and words take varying amounts of time to send. For example, an `E' (dit) takes one unit of time to send while a `Y' (dah-di-dah-dah) takes 13 units of time to send. Similarly, words, even those having the standard number of characters (five), will take varying amounts of time to send. 

Code speed is given as a number of words per minute (WPM). Because characters take different amounts of time to send, and because words have different numbers of characters (although we use 5 letters as the average word size), code speed must be based on the sending of a standard "word". Two choices, PARIS and CODEX, are commonly used as this standard word. 

PARIS, which takes 50 units of time to send (including the space between words) is representative of standard English text; i.e., it takes about the same amount of time to send as the average word. Morse code was purposefully designed so that the more common characters, such as `E' and `T', take the shortest amount of time to send, making the average text flow as quickly as possible. 

CODEX, which takes 60 units of time to send (including the space between words) is representative of words consisting of random letters; i.e., CODEX takes the same amount of time to send as the average 5-letter "word" of random characters. To convince yourself that the average random word takes 60 units of time, compute the average time to send a random character. (Do this by totaling up the amount of time required to send each of the 26 letters and dividing by 26.) Multiply the average by five and add 19 units of time: 12 for spaces between characters and 7 for the time between words. The result is pretty close to 60 units of time. 

The bottom line is that you should use the (slower) PARIS method if you want to hear each character at the rate it would be sent in normal English text. Use the (faster) CODEX method if you want to be writing down random characters at a given rate. We recommend becoming proficient at a given speed using the CODEX method, so when you hear normal English text in a code test, it will sound slower (but you'll be writing the characters down at the rate you're accustomed to). 

Farnsworth Method

The classical way to learn code is to start slow and then build up to a higher speed. The problem is that you tend to develop a "table lookup" in your brain, and a plateau develops as you try to progress beyond 10 or so words per minute. You just can't "look up" the characters quickly enough. You need to be learning the characters by sound and not as a pattern of dots and dashes. Do this from the start and you won't have to relearn it as your speed improves. Writing them down should become a reflex. 

Most experts agree that the Farnsworth method is the best way to learn code at a given speed. With the Farnsworth method individual characters are sent at the target speed, but extra space is sent between characters and words to slow the rate at which you have to translate. As you improve the extra space is decreased. This way you learn from the beginning how each character sounds at the target rate. Translation becomes more of a reflex. 

To use the Farnsworth method you need control of two sending speeds. We will call these the "character speed" and the "word speed". From the beginning put the character speed at your target rate (13 WPM for the General class exam and 20 for the Amateur Extra exam). Each individual character will then come at the target speed and you learn how it sounds at that speed. Start with a slow word speed, so you have time to think about the characters. Gradually increase the word speed as you improve. 

Koch Method

The Koch Method provides one proven method for learning the character set with a minimum amount of frustration. With this method you start with an initial set of two characters. Practice listening to random code containing only these two characters. Listen to the characters at your target speed. You can start with a lower word rate and slowly build it to the target speed (i.e., Farnsworth method). When you can copy this code at your target speed with 90 percent accuracy, then add a third character to the set. After this new character is added your overall accuracy will go down at first and will then build back up. When you can copy code containing these three characters with 90 percent accuracy, then add a fourth character. Continue in this manner, adding an additional character each time your accuracy reaches 90 percent. In this way you learn the characters at full speed from the start, and you only have to learn one new character at a time. The characters become reflex with a minimum amount of effort. 

Note that each time you add a new character to the set, you can learn the new character more quickly if it occurs more often than the others. Coach Morse will easily allow you to do this using the "favorite character set" as described below. 

In what order do you learn the characters? Don't start with E and T (the shortest characters) as they will come at you much more quickly than you can copy. The following order has been suggested and is the one built into Coach Morse: 

K  M  R  S  U  A  P   T  L  O  W  I  .  N  J  E  F  0   Y  ,  V  G  5  /

Q  9  Z  H  3  8  B   ?  4  2  7  C  1  D  6  X  <BT>   <SK>  <AR>

Other Tips:

Did you ever notice that when you copy down a phone number that someone tells you quickly, you will be several digits behind in writing it down? When the digits come at you quickly you just don't have time to get them "translated" and written down before you hear the next one. Similarly, people who can copy code at the higher rates will "copy behind" up to 5 characters or so. Many agree that forcing yourself to copy behind a few characters at slower speeds will help you in reaching the higher speeds. 

When you listen to "real" code, don't try to figure what is being sent as it is coming, and don't try to guess the next character. It is easy to get fouled up and begin missing characters. 

Listen to code at a rate which is a little faster than you can copy. 

Don't think of code in terms of "dots" and "dashes". Use "di" and "dah" so you relate more to how the code sounds rather than how it looks.