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Tim Minchin sang this song:

It is called "when you only sing in F#". Apparently the song is really funny. If you know music. I do not know music, hence I am asking here: what is the joke?

He sings "I am playing in F major but I am singing in F#". First of all: is that true, does he really sing the entire song in F# while playing in F major?

And is that some hard thing to do? Or why is this funny?

I hope a kind soul will help me understand the fun.

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    I’m voting to close this question because I feel it's a better fit for MusicFans. However, there is a good case to be made that this belongs here, both as an analysis question and a performance question.
    – Aaron
    Aug 28, 2022 at 23:25
  • Really, six up votes for an off topic question? Aug 29, 2022 at 15:45
  • I'm triggered , because right now I'm working up my part (cello) for Franck's Symphonic Variations (piano & orch), which is in F# . It's tempting to tune all 4 strings a half-step high :-) Aug 29, 2022 at 16:43
  • @CarlWitthoft - you mean there isn't a capo available for cellos (celli)??
    – Tim
    Aug 29, 2022 at 17:25
  • @tim LOL sadly capos only adjust the open pitch as you know. (We don't have frets so "just count a different fret number" doesn't work either) Aug 29, 2022 at 18:38

2 Answers 2

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The joke is that he sings in F#, even though it sounds bad, just because he prefers singing in F#.

He does not sing the whole song in F# while playing in F*. That would be very difficult to do, but he does not do it. He plays in F while singing in F, so it sounds good. Until that F#... that's the punchline. It sounds bad, and the audience laughs.

*Most of the song is actually in D minor, which shares all the same notes as F, but that's a technicality that doesn't really matter as far as the joke is concerned.

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    The joke goes beyond simply sounding bad. It's a spoof of musicians — particularly singers — who insist on playing or singing songs in a specific key, either because "they have the right emotion" or because it fits their voice/instrument better. I cannot tell you how many times I played in pit orchestras and had to transpose from G major to G flat to accommodate the singer. Or jam sessions where someone tried to show off by playing a well-known song in an obscure key.
    – Aaron
    Aug 29, 2022 at 0:10
  • There are a lot of people in that audience.
    – Aaron
    Aug 29, 2022 at 0:18
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    It's the way Les Dawson would play out of tune. Some notes were just a semitone out and that's more than enough. A party piece of mine is to play a piece where the l.h. plays in C#, while the r.h. is in C. Much easier than singing out of tune (for some...)
    – Tim
    Aug 29, 2022 at 7:08
  • @Tim: Do you happen to have a recording of your C/C# piece? Aug 29, 2022 at 11:27
  • @EricDuminil - no - it's a secret - for now!
    – Tim
    Aug 29, 2022 at 12:03
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Ironically, he's not singing in F initially, nor F♯ when he sings that he is.

The song's far more in Dm, and the F♯ note he sings is actually the major 3rd of D - yes, it's an F♯,, but he's certainly not 'singing in F♯. Which limits the funniness of the piece, unfortunately.

EDIT: trying to find why musos may find this funny. There have been many occasions when I've encountered singers who've said 'I only sing in F♯ (or whatever key)'. Most musos will understand that it's actually a statement which doesn't hold water. For a couple of reasons.

Songs' range can vary depending far more on their highest and lowest notes, which are in fact independent to the key they're in.

Most folk have a range of more than an octave, whilst a lot of songs span only one. So changing key, up or down, will be possible for most singers - albeit a tone or two, so 'only in F♯' doesn't ring true.

Les Dawson (British comedian) was an accomplished pianist, but he usually incorporated in his act renditions of popular songs, which he expected the audience to join in with, but spectacularly made horrible mistakes with some notes - very cleverly worked out - while retaining his inimitable smile, as if there was nothing wrong. Now that was funny!

Tim has (probably) taken this and the first reason to write (?) and sing the song. But from maybe a slightly different viewpoint. He sings those F♯ notes against the F♮ played in the D minor chord, which is discordant. Had it been the other way round, it'd just sound Bluesy. Hence the reference to F♯. Musos would appreciate this, and lots would think it was actually difficult to do - it's not, but it's effective. But I still say it's a misnomer!

EXTRA EDIT: it'll probably resonate with some musos my experiences when a singer says 'I sing in x key'. You play a chord for that key, and they then proceed singing in a completely different one. Yes, sometimes F♯...

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    Yes, though it does need to be mentioned that Dm is the relative minor of F, which makes it close enough to being “in F”. I reckon he tried various ways of implementing the whole idea, and found Dm to be the most practical and/or most jarring. It certainly makes it a bit easier to perform: just sing a Picardy third but stubbornly happer out the chords in minor against it. Aug 29, 2022 at 8:41
  • @leftaroundabout - yes, I'm happy with him 'being in F', but he's never 'in F#' - or its relative minor, for that matter. Singing in a key a semitone above what's being played is reserved for pub singers.
    – Tim
    Aug 29, 2022 at 9:01
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    He actually added a text note over the video on the first F♯ saying 'it's actually D min' It does close on F though.
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 29, 2022 at 9:13
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    This doesn't answer the question of why it's funny.
    – Aaron
    Aug 29, 2022 at 15:18
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    From the standpoint of what musicians find funny about music this is a total dud, I agree. He holds an F# note over a Dm chord. The rest of the time he is singing in D minor. At the very end he sings an F# over an F chord which is so sharp it is practically a G. It is further made un-funny by the fact that the entire piece is played with a orchestra, basically condoning all the inaccuracies. Sing an entire song in F# while playing in F and I will be rolling around on the floor laughing, not to mention incredibly impressed! Aug 29, 2022 at 18:40

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