Muscular tension in manipulating paddle

Steve, N6TT, published his operation on CW in the Ustream video clips here. He is a proficient CW operator. His CW sounds smooth and elegant. He has been trying to brush up his fist for years. I was really surprised to hear his fist reached a summit as CW operator when he changed his paddle from a double lever to a single lever. His sending has become perfect. That new Begali single lever has fit his fist for sure. And I was impressed at his never ending efforts to improve his capability as a CW operator.

Apart from that topic, here I would like to discuss about the posture we take when sending CW. I found one thing in his keying different from my style. He stretched his right elbow when he manipulated the paddle. In my case, that position of right elbow makes a bit more errors in sending.

I believe it is related with the basic tension on the arm/hand muscles. In extended posture of the arm, the tension could be rather high and could make fine and quick movements of the arm/hand a little bit difficult. I mean the elbow is the main part involved in the posture. If the elbow is flexed slightly, it is easy to keep the arm/fingers relaxed. It is comparable to the performance of cello. Cellists are taught to keep the arms/hands in slight flexion as if we hugged something when we play cello. This posture tires us less and enables any smooth movements of arms/hands necessary for the performance of cello.

I won't give a lesson to such an expert as Steve as for how to manipulate a paddle. In fact, his sending is always perfect even if he runs faster than 30WPM etc. Precisely observing him in the Ustream video, his arm is still very slightly flexed. He might be feeling relaxed in this posture, maybe. I should ask him about this in the next QSO.

One more thing. The accuracy of sending is closely related with our mental condition and/or alertness. It is interesting that whenever we try to make it perfect, we shall make more errors. Being nervous about the accuracy often worsens it. The relaxation in mind is always as crucial as the relaxed muscle tone. Nervousness may directly affect the muscle tone. It may be again comparable to the performance of musical instruments. In addition, being alert is another factor determining the accuracy in sending as well. Needless to say, the alertness is needed in any physical as well as mental activity. Steve often just watch the band in the morning hours until the java tea gets him alert enough! He spends those hours in right way. On the contrary, when lager or dark one makes me sleepy at night, I always pull the big switch soon saying good night to him, before my sending may sound like a brain storm to him.


  1. Hi Shin!
    I believe, it depends on the individual's preference.

    Here is how I do it, My full forearm rests on the table bent in fourty five degrees angle.
    This way is very easy for me to send for a very long time. Some times I have one and a half to two hours conversations with my friends, DL3AZ or SP9DBA and we use different speeds. For me, this is the best position to go on without have my fingers tired.
    I try not to move anything, but my thumb and index fingers. It goes smoothly with a speed up to about 40 WPM, but if we use higher speeds...my fingers always got tired after say...40 minutes.
    If CW requires rapid muscle movement, the fingers will gets tired anyway.
    I always be amazed, when I listening to I8SOU, IK0XCB, IS0AFM having a 50-60 wpm conversation for hours.
    It seems to me, that their fingers never gets tired. :-)
    BTW Steve, N6TT really has an amazing CW ability, for sending clean code at any speed.

    Take care Imi

    1. Imi,

      I don't think it's a problem of preference.

      The extensor muscles of hands originates from forearm. And both forearm and hand muscles are controlled by either radial, ulnar or median nerve. That is, the voluntary movements are closely related at hand and forearm. The extrapyramidal tracts involved in the involuntary muscle tension are also closely related at those portions of arm. The "keying" movements are more complicated tha you imagine.

      The overall lowered muscle tension is prerequisite for quick and smooth voluntary movements of hand/arm. Keying is not only the movements of thumb and index finger. But the other parts are closely related with it as told above.

      Please open a textbook of anatomy. You may be surprised how complicated the system is and may understand how the movements of a part of the body is related with the other parts. We should know how the extrapyramidal tract, which we aren't aware of in the voluntary movements, is working as well.

      Your posture of "keying" seems like a relaxed forearm/hand position itself. Isn't it different from what I wrote in the article? Resting your arm on the table is to lessen unnecessary muscle tension of the arm. If 45 degrees flexion means that at the elbow, it is also a posture to get relaxed there. You are taking the relaxation posture without being conscious of that. I fully understand how well you are doing with that posture. I am tryng to generalize from the observation. Or it just remains bragging. I am not interested in such a thing at all. It is my interest how to generalize or form a theory, if not perfect, from our practical observations.

      Please explain why you think it could not be generalized but remains only an individual problem. In my opinion, it is not as the case may be.

  2. Shin / Imi,

    Thanks for your kind words on my keying!

    Yes I will not in gauge in a QSO until my mind is awake and fully active HI. I heard Shin this morning calling CQ over and over and would have liked to chat but I had just woken up and was trying to get some java down before I called. Your correct that nervousness will cause me to not call because of my accuracy in keying at QRQ speeds.

    I find that at slower speeds say below 30 wpm I do not have to worry about my sending skills even if I am half asleep. But with speeds 35 and above I need to be fully awake with my mind in gauged before I will attempt a QSO. Maybe this is for many reasons, not being a highly educated man and not being a very good speller It takes me longer to formulated my thoughts and convey them via the paddles.

    on to your comments on arm position:

    I agree that most operators Ive seen, use only there index and thumbs to key. I have a tendency to slap the paddles around. I think that is because I have used duel lever paddles for 48 yrs and the bouncing effect from them at QRQ speeds. Also as you know I use non iambic keying. With iambic you need your thumbs and index fingers to formulate the characters. As many old time operators use to call iambic keying SQUEEZE keying. You have to squeeze the paddles to formulate the characters. not with non iambic. I hope that made sense.

    Yes I have now switched over to a Begali single lever paddle. I felt that the bouncing effect with duel lever paddles were causing me to make to many errors at speeds above 35 wpm, especially when I had long QSOs. I found that I can now send for longer periods of time at QRQ speeds. I wish I would have changed over to a single lever paddle a long time ago. But as many of you know I was focused on DX and contesting for many years and now I focus on rag chewing for the past 3 yrs. (back to my roots:). Also you are correct that I tend to be a perfectionist with my keying. If your keying can not be read by a code reader then your running your characters and words together. Because usually only keyboards can be read by a code reader. Its a honor to me when a slow operator says he is only reading me because of the code reader. That means I am sending perfect code. To take it one step further, I have brought up a code reader while Shin was using a bug and it came through perfectly. Wow I wish I could do that with a bug but have long left the bug and dont want to embarrass myself. Not many operators can make perfect keying using a bug. Bravo!

    As far as arm positioning I do lay my arm fully on the table. Maybe this is from when I first started using CW with a straight key. All military manuals say it is best to lay your arm out while keying. I do find that my arm and fist will get tired much quicker if I dont.
    Also I like my finger pieces to be lower to the table then most paddles are made. This is one reason I went to the WBL paddles as they are adjustable and I set them low to the table. When I ordered my Begali (Piero) made me a special finger piece that sits lower to the table. (what a guy:)

    So is it a habit or preference, I dont know? Is it better to lay your arm out or only use your fingers and wrist? you guys can argue that point. I am a simple man and It works best for me especially at QRQ speeds:)
    Sorry to be so long winded.


    Steve N6TT

    1. Steve,

      Thanks for the comment. Interesting on your observations on keying. Laying down your arm on the table may mean that you won't be less tired with that position but also it won't make errors in sending, I am sure. Lower muscle tone is prerequisite for some exercise, playing instruments and likewise key manipulation.

      You guys seem to be interested in QRQ, which I am not very attracted at, even though I could go on a bit faster than the usual aviation speed. I feel the speed around 30 to 35 WPM is well synchronous with my thinking. I don't want to be a acrobat operator. What to send is, I believe, much more important than how to send.

      Anyway, CW operation seems to have mysterious things. I would like to go on understanding it by myself.

  3. Steve!
    You right about the single lever paddle.
    One using a single lever paddle, makes less mistakes, but I strongly believe that with a dual lever paddle one needs less effort. It is easier to send with.
    I've been using single paddles for the last 20 something years, but I'm still happier with a dual paddle :-)

    What I think about speed.....Oh my, that is far more complex then I thought.
    I believe sending QRQ is always depend on my own state of mind.
    If I'm in a good mood and completely relaxed, then I could go at any speed with only a few mistakes.
    Other times, I'm just so lousy that I need to slow down a lot, but even then making mistakes.
    I guess, this is all because how do I feel.

    161 Imi HA7AP

  4. Steve,

    I also use a Begali single lever paddle. I believe iambic is vastly overrated. Usually I use the paddle through a JA3KAB bug emulator, which is cheating. Speeds in this mode are limited to 30 wpm for me. I can copy you and Shin at higher speeds but my error rate increases when I send fast. My enire arm rests on the table and I use a wide contact spacing and slap the paddle around mercilessly. I send better when my mind is clear of sleep or whiskey !

    It is always a pleasure to hear you and Shin in QSO.

    If this comment gets publishes I will be amazed - I would have beaten the IT sensor on board !

  5. Imi,

    Yes duel lever is less movement if using iambic keying as you squeeze the paddles, not so with duel lever non iambic. I found the single lever to work best at this point, but I change back and fourth depending on how i feel as you said. I sound crappy at any speed if im not feeling good:)

    John, yea iambic is over rated. After so many years using non iambic it is hard for me to use iambic. A skill I never conquered. Glad to hear Im not the only one to lay my arm out. I use close spacing. I am not familiar with the bug emulator. Thanks for listening to Shin and me. Please call some time, I will QRS to any speed. As far as whiskey I have drank enough to sink a ship but have not drank in 26 yrs. I could never send good code when I was drinking HI-

    Shin, Well QRQ is not acrobat operating to me. It is the challenge of it while still maintaining good code. To me clean QRQ is much like contesting. How good are you? I agree that 30-35 wpm is a perfect speed for rag chewing. But I believe most good operators are stuck at those speeds. It takes lots of practice to send above that speed. Why do you think so many go to keyboards. A lot of operators can read much faster then they can send. With keyboards you just type and can formulate your thoughts before pushing the button. There is no challenge in using KB, the challenge is sending perfect code.

    Hope to see you all on the air. EU is always hard to work from the west coast.

    161 N6TT