Science has confirmed what many Queen fans believed to be true all along: Freddie Mercury was an incredible singer.
“Freddie Mercury — acoustic analysis of speaking fundamental frequency, vibrato, and subharmonics,” is a scientific study published by a group of Austrian, Czech, and Swedish in Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology. Although the study was unable to confirm the popular belief that Mercury’s voice spanned almost four entire octaves, it did discover other fascinating details about the singer’s voice using new analysis of both Mercury’s singing and speaking voices.
“Freddie Mercury was one of the twentieth century’s best-known singers of commercial contemporary music,” explains the paper. “This study presents an acoustical analysis of his voice production and singing style, based on perceptual and quantitative analysis of publicly available sound recordings.”
Contrary to popular opinion, Mercury was more likely a baritone, despite being known as a tenor. This assumption was based on the “analysis of six interviews revealed a median speaking fundamental frequency of 117.3 Hz, which is typically found for a baritone voice”. This along with anecdotal evidence Mercury once turned down an offer for an opera duet due to him being afraid fans would not recognize his baritone voice, led to the conclusion the singer was indeed talented enough to jump way out of his natural bass range.
As Mercury is no longer around, the research team then decided to bring in professional rock singer, Daniel Zangger-Borch to imitate Mercury’s voice. They filmed his larynx at 4,132 frames per second so that they could see how exactly the late-Queen frontman would have vocalized his iconic growls and pitch-perfect vibratos.
They discovered that Mercury most likely employed subharmonics – a singing style where the ventricular folds vibrate with the vocal folds. Most people never speak or sing with their ventricular folds unless they’re Mongolian throat singers. The fact that a popular rock vocalist would employ subharmonics is remarkable.
Another reason for Mercury’s unique voice was discovered to be a result of his vocal cords moving faster than the average person’s. A typical vibrato fluctuates between 5.4 Hz and 6.9 Hz. Mercury’s was 7.04 Hz. “Analysis of 240 sustained notes from 21 a-cappella recordings revealed a surprisingly high mean fundamental frequency modulation rate (vibrato) of 7.0 Hz, reaching the range of vocal tremor,” the study revealed.
“Usually, you can sing a straight tone, but opera singers try to modulate the fundamental frequencies,” said Professor Christian Herbst, who was part of the research team. “So they make the tone, if you like, a bit more vibrant. Typically, an opera singer’s vibrato has this frequency of about 5.5-6 Hz. Freddie Mercury’s is higher, and it’s also more irregular, and that kind of creates a very typical vocal fingerprint.”
A cappella version of Queen’s “We Are The Champions”.
To understand how remarkable this is in a more scientific way, a perfect sine wave for vibrato assumes a value of 1. This is quite close to where the renown opera singer, Luciano Pavarotti’s voice sat. However, Mercury averaged a value of 0.57, meaning that his throat was vibrating at a rate something faster than even one of the world’s most famous tenor could achieve.
There’s no doubt about it, Freddie Mercury truly did possess a remarkable voice.
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