Freddy Mercury is the lead singer of Queen and has one of the most recognisable and famous singing voices in the history of music. The Rolling Stone magazine has him listed eighteenth, out of 100, of the best singers of all time.
His vocal range is astonishing and a new study in Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology aimed to discover how he achieves this incredible range. In order to do this they used archived records and an imitation rock singer to analyse Mercury’s voice.
The Australian, Czech and Swedish authors made interesting discoveries about his abilities and one author even described Mercury’s voice as “a force of nature with the velocity of a hurricane.”
The study was unable to substantiate claims that Mercury’s range was over four octaves, but the lead author, Austrian voice scientist Christian Herbst, said that it was “normal for a healthy adult – not more, not less”.
They discovered that Mercury was likely a baritone singer, which is contrary to popular belief and hard to imagine with the incredibly high notes he was able to hit time and time again. The authors suggest that he was able to sing tenor as he had incredible control over his technique of voice production. It is also rumoured that he rejected an offer to sing baritone in a duet with Montserrat Caballé as he feared his rock loving fans would not recognise his unique voice.
The study also examined what was happening on the inside when Mercury made his signature, ‘growl’ sounds. The rock singer imitated the noise and the authors filmed his larynx with a high speed camera to show what Mercury would have done, physiologically, to make these noises.
They discovered a physical phenomenon called subharmonics, which is witnessed in Tuvan throat singing. This is where the vocal folds vibrate and a pair of tissue structures, ventricular folds, also vibrate. These are not normally used for speaking or classical singing.
The authors argue that this phenomenon helped create his persona, “Their occurrence aids in creating the impression of a sound production system driven to its limits, even while used with great finesse. These traits, in combination with the fast and irregular vibrato, might have helped create Freddie Mercury’s eccentric and flamboyant stage persona”
His softer side may be attributed to findings in his vibrato, which is a rapid and and ever so slightly varied pitch. The authors say that most pop and rock singers maintain regular vibrato, but Mercury;s was more irregular than others and unusually fast.