Learning Morse Code by the Koch Method

Using the SuperMorse Software Package
(Based on SuperMorse Version 4.04)

Copyright (C) 1994, Dave Finley, N1IRZ

The SuperMorse software package is an excellent tool for implementing the Koch Method of learning Morse Code. The prime attribute of SuperMorse for this lies in its tremendous versatility. Here is how to use SuperMorse to learn the code by the Koch Method.

When you get SuperMorse installed on your computer, take the time to print out the manual, read it, and become familiar with the features of the software. However, while reading the manual, remember that you are not going to follow SuperMorse's own training regimen but rather are going to use Koch's much more effective method.

Setting the Sending Speed

The Koch Method is based on teaching high-speed copying from the start. You must set the speed at which you want the software to send. There are two major considerations here. First, you want the characters sent at a rapid speed -- at least 18 wpm, and preferably at 20 wpm. Second, you want the overall sending and word speeds to be somewhat higher than those you will encounter in your exam, to give you a "buffer" against nervousness, unfamiliar surroundings, etc., on test day.

Set the speed in the following manner:

  • While the Main Menu is displayed, use the Function keys (F2, F4, F6, and F8) to increase the current speed to 15-20-15 if you intend to take the General/Advanced code test, or 20-22-20 if you're going for Extra. (You'll increase it some later for the Extra exam.)

  • Enter the Setup menu.
  • Press A to enter the "Code" subdirectory.
  • Press E to change Favorite Speed. This will set the Favorite Speed to the current speed.
  • Leave this menu, using the Escape key.
  • At any time, you may then Press Alt-F to set the current sending speed to this Favorite Speed.

Testing and Adjusting the Actual Sending Speed

The software is supposed to automatically calibrate its sending speed to adjust for the clock speed of your computer. However, it doesn't always do this accurately. In order to avoid the nasty surprise of finding that you haven't been copying as fast as you thought, you must check the sending speed. Here's how:

  • Set the code speed to the "Favorite" speed you will use in your training sessions.

  • Enter the Setup menu.

  • Press the C key to start the calibration test. The computer will send the word PARIS the number of times that, if the calibration is correct, should be sent in 60 seconds. At the end of the test, the machine will tell you how long it took to send the "60-second" test, and whether to increase or decrease the Timing Factor.

  • If adjustment of the Timing Factor is required, press the B key and change the Timing Factor as recommended.

  • Repeat the calibration test, using the C key. You may have to go through this cycle several times to arrive at the correct Timing Factor. Also, if you later change any of the sending speeds, you should check the calibration at the new speed.

Configuring the Character Set

This is where SuperMorse really makes itself invaluable for implementing the Koch Method. With this feature, you will tell the software exactly what characters from which it may choose when it sends. Initially, you'll start with only two characters, then add more as your copying accuracy increases. Here's how to do this:

  • Enter the Setup menu.
  • Press A to enter the "Characters" submenu.
  • Press the O key to clear all characters.
  • Press N for "Type."
  • Press the two keys for your first two characters (See Appendix). Those two now are activated.
  • Press the Escape or P key to leave the menu.
After you can copy those first two characters at 90 percent accuracy, you will repeat this process to activate your third character, then again for your fourth, and so on.

Now, It's Down to Business

With your speed selected and calibrated and your character set defined, you now can start learning the code!

  • From the SuperMorse main menu, press the B (Build Speed) key.

  • With the Koch Method, you're going to be receiving random groups of characters, instead of words or sample QSOs, until you are in the final phase of your training. Press A for Groups. SuperMorse offers three selections for this -- the R key for Random Groups of 5 characters each or the V key for Variable Length groups. The V key for Variable-length groups is your best choice. If you learn with 5-character groups, it will take extra time later on for you to adjust to copying words, which are, of course, of variable lengths.

  • SuperMorse will send for a specified time -- choose about 5 minutes. SuperMorse will begin sending the groups. Do not look at the screen, but copy on paper the characters sent by your computer. If you write in a relatively normal size on an 8.5 x 11 inch ruled sheet, such as notebook paper or short legal pads, you should get about five minutes' worth of code at 15 wpm on one sheet of paper.

  • When SuperMorse stops the timed session, stop copying and press the Escape key to remove the menu from the screen. Without touching any other key, compare your copy sheet to the computer screen. Count the number of characters sent and the number you copied correctly. If your score is less than 90 percent, keep working with the characters already activated. If you copied accurately 90 percent or more of the transmitted characters, congratulations! Add another character and continue.

After you've learned a few characters, say five or six, in this manner, enter the Review menu and press the E key to look at your statistics. Because you're not using SuperMorse's own training technique, most of the statistics will be blank. What you're interested in, however, is the total elapsed time of all your sessions with SuperMorse. By dividing the elapsed time by the number of characters you currently are copying accurately, you will find out approximately how much time it is taking you to learn a character. This will give you a rough idea of how long it will take to learn all 43 characters on the amateur test.

Keep in mind, however, that you will have good and bad days, and some characters may be more troublesome than others. Still, you should see steady progress as you add characters at regular intervals. Remember that as you learn each character by the Koch method, you are learning it at full speed.

When completing a session with SuperMorse, always exit the software using its menu commands. This will save all your settings and update your user file so you can better evaluate your progress. If you simply turn off the computer, your settings and user statistics will not be saved.

When you've learned all the characters

Once you've learned all 43 characters, it's time to make the transition from copying random characters to copying words. This will require some time, because random groups and words have a different character mix and "rhythm." If you've been copying variable-length random groups, the transition should be easier than if you've been copying 5-character groups.

From SuperMorse's Build menu, you press the B key to have words sent to you. There are further choices to be made here, though. SuperMorse will send "regular" words, "ham" words or callsigns.

Start out with "regular" words. When you have made the transition from random groups and are copying the regular words at 90 percent or better, start doing some sessions using the "ham" words and callsigns. You may want to spend some extra time with callsigns prior to the final phase of your training.

That final phase is to have SuperMorse send you a sample amateur QSO, which is exactly the format of the amateur code test. This also is done from the Build menu. Simply press Q for QSO, and copy the QSO. When it's over, grade yourself, taking particular note to ensure you are copying the callsigns, names, QTHs, rigs, ages, and other facts on which you could be tested.

When you are consistently copying SuperMorse's QSOs accurately at the target speed, you're ready for the exam. When the exam comes, just relax and do what you're accustomed to doing -- copying correctly.

In what order should I learn the characters?

First, remember that, for amateur tests, you are responsible for knowing 43 characters -- all the letters of the alphabet, the numerals 0 through 9, period, comma, question mark, slash, and the prosigns BT, AR, and SK.

You don't want to start with E and T -- the two shortest characters will come at you so quickly you'll wonder if you ever will copy them!

Over the years, researchers have made lists ranking the Morse characters in order of their difficulty, based on errors in copy. Other researchers, however, have showed that the characters missed most in copy are those least used, and that the "difficult" ones are copied quite accurately when they receive as much attention in training as the others.

The Koch method seems to largely overcome this problem in that you spend the amount of time necessary to assimilate each character before adding another to your training sessions. Still, it appears useful to mix long, "hard" characters and short, frequently-used ones rather equally as you progress.

Based on this idea, here is a suggested sequence:

          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>