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Thread: Farnsworth speed

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Posted: 2017-02-05 21:21
Hi Chris, hi brushupCW,

I'm 36 years old, CW newbie, I got my German full license in autumn of 2015 and now I want to learn CW :-) Especially for DXing or working DX stations in huge pile-ups, CW is absolutely mandatory. I am writing you because I am not sure about the "right" method HOW to learn CW.

Some days ago, I started learning using the KOCH Morse trainer of G4FON, very similar to LCWO. I've chosen 25/9 WPM (25 WPM actual speed and 9 WPM effective Code speed), currently I am on the 8th letter using the MJF 418 learnig order. Sometimes I also try 25/12 or 30/11 but that is currently a real challenge for me. I write down all the characters with a biro on paper. When I copied 90% correctly and when I have the feeling that listening to the characters does not stress me too much, I take the next character. That's how I am currently learning.

BUT: I'm not sure if this is the right strategy. I also read the well-known articles from N0HFF and IK0YGJ. IK0YGJ starts with 15/1. To avoid starting to count (that is possible at 15 WPM), I choose the target speed from the beginning of my training. In my opinion, 25 WPM or 30 WPM prevents me to start counting.

However, some hams see a second trap. They claim that it is possible to become a so-called Farnsworth victim, see
(especially the last paragraph of Kevin Stover)

The problem with Farnsworth is that there is much time to think between the characters. I hear a character without counting dashs and dots, that is OK, but then I try to have a look in my "look-up table" in my brain to convert the morse sound into the right character. Of course, this is a procedure that slows down significantly. When I choose for instance 25/18 I am completely overstrained. The same happens if I slow down to 20/17. And I am also overstrained when I soomeimes listen to real QRS QSOs, even if they are in 15/15 WPM. They probably contain characters I should alread know, but for me there is too little time between the characters to copy them. That let me think about my learning strategy.

In my opinion, learning CW means to react, but not to think about characters. This is clearly an argument against Farnsworth. So wouldn't it be better to start with 25/21 WPM and to take the next letter only when at least 90% of the characters are right? I currently tried it, it was really hard but I have the feeling that I can reach this speed with a lot of practice. However, on the other hand, when I recognise that 25/21 WPM is too fast, I try to reduce to 25/18 WPM or 25/15 WPM. If I can copy 90% I could speed up to 25/21 WPM. But is this the right way?

I would really appreciate your opinion on the Farnsworth speed topic and the learning strategy. Sorry for my bad English


Posted: 2017-02-06 13:32
If you read the topics you will see the following:
start with 20/5, 25/5 or something like that and when you finished all the 40 lessions start over with higher effective like 8-10-12. And speed up slowly. Only a couple of years and you will be ok! :D

Posted: 2017-02-06 14:55
Hi Seb

Your English is better than that of some English people.

Hmmm . . .well . . . . as I see it . . .

Morse will be learned up to a level of competence
repeatedly decoding morse to letter / words until the association becomes automatic.

During this process you need concentrate upon the morse and then remember what character goes with it.

Do this several 100 times and the letter ( later whole word ) will start popping into your head as if from nowhere . . .

This requires concentration and effort and can produce a level of fatigue after a time, at which point you cease to learn anything until you have recovered.

Students capacity for work without getting fatigued varies enormously, as does aptitude.

Hearing plays quite a large part - if you aren't hearing the code you aren’t learning it.

The ability to remember which letters just passed, whilst decoding the next letter is very important if you don't want to write it all down.
Spelling plays a certain significance.

Put together and you have a huge variation in speeds of learning
a huge variation in advice from people who have already succeeded
applicable to people of the same aptitude . .

Slower morse means you have to remember what dits and dahs just passed.

Faster means you hear a character as a single entity

Faster still means that you hear a whole word as a single entity
- BUT the individual letters may well be arriving rather to quickly for learning.

So Learning is generally quickest where you hear the
whole character as a single entity and “repeat repeat repeat” practice
decodes with no dit dah counting.

If you play the code too slowly you make it difficult to put it all
If you play the code too fast you max out and stop learning.

Most people seem to recommend 15 wpm as the minimum for hearing a letter as a single entity YMMV.

Here is where your choices start.

You need to find out what your aptitude is and choose what is right for you - not right for the world number one at 100wpm

Koch says "learn at the speed you want to use" e.g. 25/25wpm
( or speed you aim for, you may not get there )

This is a good idea if you can learn at that speed . . .

However, if this speed is tiring you out it, it MAY WELL be quicker for you overall, to learn at a slower speed, then speed up by practice rather than practise.

***** It may well be that you will never make it to 25/25wpm. *****

If you try learning above your personal maximum then you won't get anywhere.

20/20wpm is fine anyway, if someone doesn't want to QSO then try someone else . . .

Farnsworth implements this “slower is quicker” idea by keeping the character speed higher (so you don't count dots) and slowing down overall by allowing more time for associating the code with the letter AND recovering from the effort of listening.

** Ex students who get up to 25/5wpm in a few weeks don't suffer from any of these hearing/spelling/memory/fatigue issues
they are full of advice about learning at the target speed. **

** If you try learning at a speed which is too fast for YOU, you will find yourself going slower overall than if you learned it all twice but picked it up at a faster rate. **

** The big problem in learning morse is that students who make slow progress following the wrong advise find that they are getting bored and disillusioned with nothing to show for all their time and effort and then they give up **

My advise FWIW ( which is not aimed a students with high levels of aptitude, whose ears can follow code with ease )
learn all the letters as quickly as you can - so that you have something to show for your work.
just listed and decode as much morse as you can. You will speed up by this practice practise . ..

If you find you are proceeding slowly, forget numbers and punctuation ( actually I find punctuation easiest ) just get going with letters, listen to lots of code at a higher comfortable speed.

The high speed squad will say that you are storing up trouble, wasting time and doubling work
you will find speeding up easier than doing exercises to no avail at a too fast rate.

The main thing is to find out YOUR level of aptitude and how your ears are behaving and learn accordingly.

The best advise will come from someone similar to you who has already passed (good luck identifying one), so don't put too much store by what others say,
I advise believing the bit about lots of people giving up due to lack of progress.

I hope you have a very high aptitude,

. . you don't suffer from fatigue anywhere along the chain of ear mechanics, cochlear, audio nerves and neural network

. . your ears have a nice flat response across the audio frequencies, so it doesn't matter at what pitch the code is

. . your ears can cope with loud pulses of sound without distorting


. . your spelling / word ability is high enough


else you will just have to join the rest of us . . .

good luck anyway - let us know how you get on



Posted: 2017-02-08 11:58
First of all, thanks a lot for your quick response.

I think that 25/15 or 25/12 is a good compromise for me. It could happen that I have to reduce the effective speed a bit when I am in the higher lessons with more characters. But I will sse.
After I have learned all characters I can speed up slowly.

Moreover, for me the feeling during listening Morse is important, too. Do I feel comfortable or do I have to concentrate so much on listening the characters that I get fatigued after some minutes. If that happens, I don't think that going on with practise makes any sense. In that case I have to reduce the effective speed first and speed up later.

Of course, I already feel some limitations, especially to distinguish between "s" and "h".

I will keep you up to date about my learning progress using G4FON.

Posted: 2017-02-09 23:25
you might want to try copying three letter words at e.g. 15/15. Go as slow as you want but no Farnsworth, the low limit is only defined by not letting letters fall apart into dits and dahs. And let me guess it will be still challenging due to short pause between letters. Select e.g. English words plus cw words. All you need are and keys, forget typing in, you will know anyhow if you got it or not.
This excersize is what I'm doing right now. I can copy single characters at 40wpm, but fail terribly already at 20wpm effective speed. My bottleneck is my one-character memory and a virtual absense of "mental screen" (see N0HFF for definition). If somebody spells me a word, it will be no easier for me than hearing it in cw.
I also remember another excersize: at slow speed, write down groups with pencil, BUT: you are not allowed to start writing before 3rd character completes and to catch up. Stay always at least 3 characters behind. This is why a pencil, not a keyboard (too loud, too easy to catch up). Of course, all pencil warnings apply - you might end up linking ear to pencil and will HAVE to write down before you can read. A mental screen is better, imho.

Switching over from hints to own troubles:
I'm trying to build a mental screen in my head, and to bypass my "mental audio recorder". This one is always running and can pick up several charaters and replay them to me at any speed, couple of times if necessary. A neat gadget, but is doesn't decode and only replays. (On the other hand, this one is very handy in meetings and conference calls. I can keep thinking about something useful; if I suddenly hear my name, my audio recorder replays the question :)

good luck and don't forget to enjoy cw

Posted: 2017-02-14 16:40
@ ub5073

It's an interesting approach to lern CW by whole words instead of single characters.

But what are you doing in huge CW pile-ups? There are almost no words present. The DX station only transmits call signs as well as your report, mostly 5nn. So what you've to do is listening to call signs consisting mostly of 5 to 6 letters in high-speed cw and to decode and store them in your head. If you're not able to copy them (especially your own call), you will never know if you were called... So, understanding single charachters is mandatory in these pile-ups.

Coming back to what you have written: Currently I go on with the next character when I feel comfortable with 25/12. However, when I try to speed up to 25/18, I get really stressed and miss each second character. Assuming, I can keep the speed of 25/12 for all 40 characters, I am currently not sure how to QRQ later. Is this something that comes along with time or would 25/12 be such a typical plateau that can be overcome only by a new strategy. I am not sure. But maybe someone here can answer...

Posted: 2017-02-15 14:47

You aren't really learning morse once, unless you are very quick to pick it up.

If you aren't so quick then your main problem will be loosing interest.

It's like reading in that mostly you read the whole word. You didn't learn whole words at once . .

For QRQ you will be doing two things at one in your head, independently and without thinking about it / without any conscious effort

1/ remembering the sound sequences

2/ decoding the sounds to text

Eventually ( according to some anecdotes from old timers ) you will reach a stage where you just perceive the text.

This is all achieved by lots of repetition, for some people a lot more than others.

Various things conspire against you . . .

"Age" - well, ability to pick things up anyway

Hearing - can your ears keep up

Spelling ability - or how good are you with words

Ability to decode/understand one set of letters whilst listening to the next set . . .

Boredom - do you know enough morse to actually use it / are you making progress commensurate with your efforts . . . this is the "killer"

So, make sure you choose a sound frequency which your ears can process, repeat repeat repeat and you will "slowly get faster" . . .

The main issue regarding the 50% + drop out rate seems to be progress boredom or lack of learning anything usable . . . .

Posted: 2017-02-15 19:56
You got good advice here, I also would suggest you to read this;
Will help you understand what you are doing and how to do things

Posted: 2017-02-15 21:11
@ ub5073

It's an interesting approach to lern CW by whole words instead of single characters.

NO that is NOT an interesting approach. It is wrong, it is a dead end, and when you promote this kind of theory you create losers that stop learning due to frustration, the first one being yourself.

Try always to listen to guys that did the job successfully, (like the webmaster here) NOT to guys that didn't, but are theorying how they can do it but did not do it, and promote an impossible way of doing it.

When it turns out that you need a lot of time to learn 40 separate characters, how much time do you think that you need to learn 200 000 words in more than one language, because you are not born in an English speaking country?

One year for 40 characters takes 40000 years for a language vocabulary of 200 thousand words. That is when it is proportional but it isn't because when the learned set increases the distinguishing problem does that also, as you know by starting with K and M and ending up with [A..Z,0..9 /?.,=-]

When it turns out that I read Morse code with 45 wpm in my head in Dutch , I assure you I do it even so in English.
That is because I am able to read written English and NOT because I am familiar with the sound pattern 200000 English words.

Go for characterspeed/effective speed 20/5 or 20/4; do as fast as possible word exercises. a selection of words from lesson 7 onwards is available on this website (with words from the learned 8 characters).

After you complete the course 20/5 try to make QSO's when you have a license to transmit, and start the course over with 15/8
when done with 12/12

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