A reliable elmer is necessary for a learner of CW

In Facebook, there is a group for CW operators. One of the frequent asked questions there is how to improve head copying. For the past several years, I was often involved in the discussion on that issue. I am feeling a bit bored with it lately.

My answer is simple. Take the meaning of each word. Ask for longer spaces between words if your copying is carried over to the word coming next. Our recent memory buffer is rather small. Unless we understand what the word/sentence means, we could hardly go on head copying.

On the other hand, in addition to the advices from less experienced hams such as just encouraging to go on learning etc, there is the advices from those firmly believing in writing down the codes literally. Some of them seem to be or used to be professional R/O. For them, CW must be a mode to copy completely on letter basis. But for us, amateur radio CW operators, it is to communicate with others. As I have reiterated here, writing down requires excessive function of writing, which is often disturbing to take the meaning of the message. When writing down, we should concentrate on motor function of the arm but not on taking the meaning. Of course, most R/O are capable of reading CW by head even without writing down the message. Their capability of head copying has come not from training writing or typewriting but from reading the message on word/sentence basis. 

There are a lot of "CW operators" who have been educated with writing the message on letter basis. When they are trained that way, they won't be able to convert to head copying later. Writing itself should be the aim for them. In such a case, it is often difficult even for the native operators to change from writing copy to head copy. They could be psychologically dependent on writing process.

Anyway, this thesis, I am quite sure of its rightness from own experience and observation of a lot of CW learners in the past. But there are still a lot of arguments about it. Some people, apparently not able to do head copying, insist their own way of writing training. It is as if we learned music instrument in the internet. We should look for a reliable elmer as a reliable teacher in music.


  1. HASHIMOTO,KatsyhiroFebruary 1, 2018 at 1:56 PM

    Dear Shin
    Thank ever so much for your courteous and kind advice and tip on this blog. I am so much relieved to read and have convinced myself about your words.According to your precious advice I got from you,I am proceeding forward on the right way to try to enjoy the dialogue with CW code performing exercise for head copy ,practice and writing a little bit. Someday I wish I would like to come across and enjoy a tiny chat with you on the air.Have a good one!

    1. Hi Jay,

      We, non natives, have the barrier of language in conversational CW. You still train yourself by right method. Go ahead and have fun. I will be seeing you on CW somewhere very soon.


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  3. Shin

    I agree that those of us trained as R/Os are at a disadvantage compared with hams who can head-copy easily. It is a question of habits which need to be broken. At college we R/Os had to write down or type every character including colons and parenthesis 100% correctly, or fail exams. Head copy was discouraged because it will lead to errors. These error are unimportant in ragchew because the essential meaning is not lost.

    I try to "unlearn" my training just by sitting back and relaxing without pen and paper and listen to a good QSO. One day I may succeed !

    John 9V1VV

    1. John,

      I wondered why the CW experts had recommended the new comers to copy every letter when I came back on the air. Intuitively, I felt it was not good to copy letter wise. Motion of writing is not necessary for us to communicate on CW but is bothering to understand the message. Later, as you say, I knew that training was for professional R/O who must had been forbidden to do head copy. In early '80s, head copy has emerged as a essential method of reception in CW communication. There seem to be some people who believe in write copy. I used to feel cranky at those insisting that reception. Now, I am feeling rather free from that. Since CW itself is becoming a dying mode. Let them enjoy it as they want. I won't care for that :) Am I too negligient at this problem? No, I don't think so. They have a right to enjoy CW in their own way. And there are too few asking what is the essential method to learn CW.


  4. OM Shin,

    I did not find your email address on qrz.com. Here is a link to an Alma Deutscher video


    If you put Alma Deutscher in the youtube.com search box you will find many more videos of her performances and compositions.

    Email me at rsvp2al@yahoo.com so I know you got the link and then I will have your email address.

    My cw elmers were the Boy Scouts and an Instroctograph machine.

    73, Al

    1. Al,

      Thanks for the link. She is still a genial and brilliant child loving music. Really talented. I hope she will grow as a wonderful performer as well as a composer. I loved her for she has been so cheerful and affectionate for music through this clip.

      I have replied to you by e mail as well. You have my address OK.

      See you soon.