Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy

One thing that’s so amusing about Morse Code is that the more people claim that it’s dead, the more people there are that rise up to defend and promote it. Note that I said “defend and promote it,” not actually use it.

Having said that, let me point out my discovery of a new tome on our ancient art, Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy by Carlo Consoli, IK0YGJ. This book is available in the original Italian and in an English translation.

Consoli takes a different tack than other authors. Instead of concentrating on the mechanics of learning and using Morse Code, he spends a good deal of time talking about the psychology of learning this skill. To succeed in learning Morse Code, Consoli advises that we need to change our approach to learning:

When learning CW, therefore, we must establish a new component in our self-image and, when doing so, we need to be relaxed. Always practice during the same time of day and in a place where you can experience positive feelings of comfort and pleasure. When we make a mistake we are always ready to blame ourselves. This is the way we learnt from our environment during childhood, often accepting any fault as our own error or weakness.

This potentially destructive mechanism can be used to build a positive self-image, rather than demolish it. A mistake must be considered a signal, pointing us in the right direction. If you fail, let your mistake pass away, with no blame or irritation. Learn CW in a relaxed mood, enjoy the pleasure of learning something new, repeat your exercises every day and be confident in the self-programming abilities of your self-image. Just a few minutes a day: you can take care of your “more serious” stuff later on.

Consoli also has some interesting things to say about getting faster. He agrees with me that it’s essential to abandon pencil and paper and start copying in one’s head. We also agree that at this point, you need to start using a paddle instead of a straight key.

He has analyzed the situation a lot more than I have, though. When asked about how I learned to copy in my head, all I can do is to relate my own experience. One day, I just went cold turkey. I put down the pencil and paper and never copied letter-by-letter ever again.

Consoli, however, says that what operators need to do is to program themselves to copy in their heads. He counsels operators to practice relaxation and visualization exercises. Visualize yourself as a high-speed operator, and maybe one day you will be one.

That seems to have worked for him. He is a member of the Very High Speed Club (VHSC), First Class Operator’s Club (FOC), and has been clocked at copying over 70 wpm.

Will it work for you? Well, if you haven’t been as successful as you’d like with other methods to improve your code speed, then Consoli’s methods are certainly worth a try.


  1. thanks for read Dan. Will definitely have spend some time with this.

  2. Elwood Downey says:

    Funny you should mention this just now, it was suggested to me over on the SolidCopyCW yahoo group just today. I get the idea about relaxation, visualization for success, letting subconscious do it, etc. I’m not even a skeptic, I can really see where that could help. A year or so ago I even forked over hard cash to try the self-hypnosis CW Blockbuster III. It uses the exact same approach. I followed along, got super relaxed, imagined myself an uber op, didn’t worry about mistakes, etc. But alas, no help at all.

    Same with music. I’ve tried several times to play a guitar, both on my own and with instructors. I would love to play folk melodies. I can memorize chords, picking patterns, finger styles, no problem, but actually play? Not a chance. My mind is very analytical, it will not let go.

    There just seems to be something that won’t click. I do know what that click feels like. For many years I tried to juggle. I was very mechanical about it, which is my way. Then one day, I don’t know why, all of a sudden I could do it. I was so shocked! I walked all around the house and never skipped a beat — it was fantastic. And I can still do it, even with no practice, so once it clicks, it sticks. So I know that magic moment when things flow.

    The problem is I have no clue why it suddenly worked. What I wish someone would research is just exactly what happens at that moment and how to make it happen. It’s not just practice, something special has to snap in the brain.

    • Elwood: I think someone has researched this phenomenon, or at least something similar. Do you the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly? You might take a look at that book. I do know one thing, though. Without practice, you’ll never get to that point. My theory is that practice programs the sub-conscious mind, and if you’re lucky, it will eventually “click.”

  3. Well thought I would give Consoli’s theory a shot…sat down at the radio began to relax and slow the breathing down…closed my eyes to visualize myself copying high speed code….it was going well and felt great….so great I fell asleep…

  4. Elwood Downey says:

    Thanks very much for the pointer Dan; no, I was not aware of this author nor his works. From the reviews I found on Amazon that one presents the research. There is another with the title “Finding Flow” that appears to be a bit more directed toward applying the research. They’re cheap too, about ten bucks each or so, so I’ll get both. Now this is the sort of thing I’m after. I’m not whining about practice, I know it’s necessary, but when I invest the time I want it to be as productive as possible.

  5. I’m currently learning the code as are at least two other TMRA (Toledo Mobile Radio Assoc) members. The other two practice with a third guy down in Bowling Green. I’ll probably join them but I have to build an antenna for 40 meters first. I’m not sure I’d call that dead.

Speak Your Mind