Roll up! Roll up! Otis Redding and his troupe of amazing, acrobatic, aquatic sheep. Famed throughout the world. Maybe Otis likes watching chips roll in? Everyone’s heard of San Francisco Bay’s famous, floating, fried-potato flotsam, haven’t they? Or is Otis watching something completely different? Listen carefully. Sheep, chips or ships? Which one is he watching?
The vowel sound in the middle of ship mirrors the vowels of sittin’. The song rolls along smoothly when the vowel sounds of sittin’ and ship are the same. The sounds create a soothing pattern.
The sh sound at the beginning of ship is gentle. It’s the sound you’d use to quiet a fractious baby. You breathe the sound out, but you don’t use your vocal chords. Put your hand on your throat as you say ship. If you feel a vibration in your throat at the beginning of the word, instead of air smoothly flowing through, you’re probably saying chip. Practise and practise. Find some crying babies and practise saying shhh until they all fall asleep. Then come back to Otis’ song.
When you sing a song, in any language, the words paint a picture in the audience’s mind. In English, the wrong sound can create the wrong impression. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay is a contemplative song about a man looking out to sea and thinking about his life, past and present. There is no room in this picture for floating sheep or fried potatoes!
© Sing Better English, 2014