In Morse Code, Timing Counts!

Image above shows Timing relationships in the word, “PARIS:” Red arrows above the code show how long each sound is, green arrows below show how long each space is. Each arrow is one unit of time. There are 50 arrows in all.

Well-sent Morse code is a pleasure to listen to. If the timing is right, the Morse code engine will run well. This page will cover timing. It takes some practice but it is possible to be mistaken for sending on a keyboard when doing it by hand. One way of accomplishing it is to send at a slower speed and concentrate on perfection.

LESSON 3: Timing Counts!

Properly-sent Morse code has to do with timing—the short story is that accuracy should take precedence over speed. We will get into the particulars in this chapter.

Timing Detailed:

The word, “PARIS,” and the word space that follows consume 50 equal units of time, as depicted above by 50 arrows in the image. As shown, each dit uses one red down-pointing arrow, its space before the next sound in a letter is depicted by one up-pointing green arrow. Each DAH consumes three red arrows pointing down. Space between characters uses three green up-arrows. The space between the word and the start of the next consumes seven green arrows.

If PARIS is sent five times in one minute with the sixth PARIS leading off at the start of the next minute, the code speed is 5 words per minute.

This timing is called the Paris method, and for faster code speeds is the standard. I will mention the Farnsworth method further down this page.

  1. Each dit, the short sound of Morse code, is one unit of time long, as is the space between each sound within a Morse character.
  2. The DAH sound is 3 units long or three times as long as a dit. The space between chracters is the length of a DAH, therefore three times as long as the spacing within each character.
  3. The space between words is 7 units long, more than twice the space between letters. You can hear this spacing in this clip of the word PARIS repeated at 15 words per minute.

Farnsworth Method

At slow speeds, it is preferable to send the letter at between 15 and 20 words per minute and stretch the space between letters and words to produce an overall slower speed. The code practice files on this site produce overall 5 words per minute while sounding the letters at 15 wpm.

Using Farnsworth method keeps the speed up to where the student has to recognize the letter by sound. As time goes by, the student is recognizing the sound much more quickly and can be pushed at ever-increasing overall speeds.

I might add, some people can recognize Morse code sounding at 20 WPM with the Farnsworth spacing set at 5 WPM. One tells me he has a hard time copying slowly-sent code, but can copy 20 WPM much more easily.

I may eventually add a library of practice sounds sounded out at 20 WPM, but first I am updating these pages to launch on April 20, 2020. (Just joking, but if I miss my launch date, I might wait until the date 20/20/2020!—Let’s see, that would be 8 months into the following year...!) Moving on, next question!


Sending code at 1/25 word per minute?!

Yes, the world’s radio amateurs said “HI” to a passing spacecraft in Morse code.

The NASA Juno spacecraft fly-by of Earth

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained the purpose of the fly-by: “When NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew past Earth on Oct. 9, 2013, it received a boost in speed of more than 8,800 mph (about 3.9 kilometers per second), which set it on course for a July 4, 2016, rendezvous with Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.” And during that fly-by, the ARRL said the amateur radio community was invited to celebrate: “[The] Juno mission is inviting Amateur Radio operators around the world to say ‘HI’ to Juno in a coordinated Morse code message. If enough operators participate, Juno’s ‘Waves’ radio and plasma wave experiment should be able to detect the message.” And the ARRL reported that it was a success.

At an incredidibly slow pace of four words per every 100 minutes, radio amateurs sent “di-di-di-dit, di-dit” in a coordinated fashion beginning at the exact same minute, to-the-second. Each “dit” was sent for 30 seconds. Inter-element spaces were 30 seconds off time between dits, and 90 seconds off between the letters H and I. Three and a half minutes off for the word space resulted in each “HI” lasting 10 minutes from the start of the word to the next start.

By the way, NASA released this YouTube video, with what the spacecraft heard in passing the Earth. Based on an experiment I ran, the video was speeded up about 450 times real time, shortening those 30-second dits down to the short bursts heard here. The pitch of the space noise and Morse code was similarly raised about 450 times their originally recorded pitch, bringing the sounds up into the audible range from single-digit cycles-per-second.

My experiment involved recording the sound off the video into a 192 kHz sample-rate audio file, and reducing the sample rate by a factor of 400 to 500 times. I was able to stretch the time back into the 9-to-11-minute time frame from the start of an H to the next start of an H. Actual time was 10 minutes. In real time, all of the weird noises heard on the speeded-up NASA recording are all too low in pitch to be heard. And of course, by speeding it up, the Morse code can be heard at a normal speed and pitch.

Next page: Lesson 4: Morse Code Practice Guidelines Previous page: Lesson2: A Language of SOUND! First page: Morse Code For the Radio Amateur