Process of head copy

Here is a draft or an outline of an article to analyze the process of CW reception. It involves various aspects of our auditory, intellectual and psychological functions. There have been few reports on this process. One reason is that CW has become a mode of communication in the past. But it is still a vital issue for amateur radio operators how to improve our skills. Understanding the process of CW reception must be of help to do so. Analysis of the process is necessary to understand it. It may contribute to brush up our skills efficiently. Another interest is in the fact that CW composed of very simple symbols, that is, dash and dot, could provide findings in human epistemology. It may reveal, in my imagination, how to recognize any symbol or even language through understanding about this process. That is why I have planned this article.

Of course, I am not a professional student in this field at all. But there have been a few scientific studies on this process using functional MRI for now. Very interesting. My description and primitive analysis is still far from science at present. And it is still imcomplete. But in the future, I would like to describe this analysis in scientific words and findings. Any critical or supportive comments are welcomed.  It is sometimes difficult for me to express on the processes in English. Any correction or inquiry in expression is also appreciated.

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At first, I would like to discuss why head copy is superior to writing down copy. It is almost clear but it is sometimes disputed, at least, in Japan. This dispute is because there have been ex radio operators leading CW education in Japan. Commercial operators have been required to copy every letter accurately. It was not a matter what the message means to the R/O. There might be the same situation in the countries where they speak other than English for their mother tongu and ex R/O hams lead the education of CW. Copying every letter is not required in CW communication.

In writing down copy, the process is as follows;

1)Listen CW codes
2)Convert a code to the corresponding letter
3)Write down the letter
4)In the meantime, understand the meaning of the word or the sentence, frequently after all the sentences were sent.

In the process (3), we should concentrate on the motion of writing down. It is always hard for the receiver to understand what the word/sentence is meaning. It could be a serious defect in conversational CW communication. Merle K6DC used to ask the reader in his autobiography why we wrote down every word in our conversation. The motion of writing down is not only an unnecessary but also disturbing process.

Of course, when learning each code, it might be helpful to write each letter corresponding a code. But, if you go on writing down every letter, you could be dependent on the motion of writing itself. You would feel very anxious about not writing it down. It causes a kind of anxiety neurosis. You won't stop writing down even if you are trained for receiving code enough. Unfortunately, there are still such cases on the air. So leave writing down every letter as soon as possible.

On the other hand, the head copy is much more suitable for conversation on CW. The process is as follows;

1)Listen CW codes
2)Convert each code to letter, which comprises a word and subsequently a sentence.
3)Take the meaning of the word/sentence

It is quite important that, in this process, the process (2) and (3) go on alternately or at the same time. While taking the meaning of particular word/sentence, you would expect the word/sentence which follows it. In the next moment, you could confirm if your expectation was right or not from what comes next. This persistently ongoing process of communication in the brain will reveal the whole meaning of sentences or a paragraph in the message. It is a highly intellectual process. You should be accoustomed with this process in reception. It won't be possible without head copy.

How to train head copy is the next question. The popular training method of Koch is involved in the process (1) and (2). It won't train the process (3) or the communicative process stated above. I would point it out that this reception process is equivalent to reading process. I have quoted a medical paper in a previous article in this blog on this issue. It said the fMRI study had shown that CW reception is comparable to reading. In another words, reception of CW is most likelily performed at the center of brain of reading. For a non native ham, the process (3) is accompanied by the other difficult factor,
that is, translation of English into mother tongue. The training of reading in English is very important for them to brush up the skill in CW conversation. Koch method must be of help to the beginners in non native countries but is of limited value for those who would like to improve their skills after having learned code.


  1. Hi Shin san!
    Your article about CW is really impressive, however I have few different opinion on the subject.

    You said: I would point it out that this reception process is equivalent to reading process.

    I agree with you, but only if the cw is slow.
    If it gets pretty fast, cw becomes something like a verbal conversation. Every words in cw has it's own sound just like you say it in verbally.

    You said:For a non native ham, the process (3) is accompanied by the other difficult factor,
    that is, translation of English into mother tongue.

    I am a non native English speaker, but I never translate English in to my mother tongue. I just understand it, as it is.

    Sayonara Imi HA7AP

    1. Hi Imi,

      Thanks for the comment. The analogy between reading and copying CW has been discussed in this article;


      Please read through the discussion.

      In QRQ, you may not be conscious of converting codes to letters. But the central nervous system is handling it in the same way as with QRS. If there were any qualitative differences between QRQ and QRS, what is working with QRQ? It seems unlikely that any different pathway works in QRQ. This fMRI study persuades us, doesn't it?

      The latter issue means that you are a real bilingual. Or the proximity between English and Hungarian makes it possible. It won't work in every case. I believe most people who use English as the 2nd language make translation more or less in conversation.

      Any further comment will be appreciated.

  2. I dont know about QRS, because with QRS my brain sees every letters, but with QRQ after a certain speed one had to relearn every single word's sound in his/her vocabulary.

    I am not a high educated person and there is nothing special in me, but it doesn't matter whether I talk to some one, or listening to him, read, write, or just doing cw conversation I never translate from English to Hungarian ever!

    BTW your singnals are pretty fantastic on 15m right now :-)
    Have fun Imi HA7AP

  3. HA7AP's comment about copying words is significant. It is almost always true for real QRQ, which is why unusual words at QRQ speeds can break "the rhythm" and take time to recover from.
    On the subject of language and translation, I submit that there are different mechanisms that may take place depending on the individual. Clearly, HA7AP hears the 'foreign' language and deciphers the meaning without translation. I believe that is what most fluent non-native speakers do (I do it in German). However, I believe there are also those that translate what they hear to their native language first, albeit it in near real time. It may be, then, that one who copies morse letter by letter is forced to translate language after the fact because there is no word to recognize, whereas one who copies words may instantly grasp their meaning. I am neither a student of the brain nor language so my observations are without any scientific basis. They are simply my stream of consciousness thoughts... de K2YWE (Dan)