What is the secret behind Freddie Mercury's unique voice?
Queen is one of the greatest rock bands to ever enter the world stage (that's an obvious fact). The band has sold over 100 million records and released cult hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "I Want To Break Free"...and many more.. In many ways, success was due to the outstanding vocal abilities of frontman Freddie Mercury. In a new study, scientists have tried to figure out why Tanzania-born singer Farrukh Bulsara had a voice described by someone as
"...as powerful as a force of nature, as fast as a hurricane."
Scientists study Freddie's voice
About published in the journal Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology the study said that a group of Austrian, Czech and Swedish scientists analyzed video interviews with Mercury and a cappella tracks from a collection of backing vocals that Freddie constantly overdubbed on the main part. This was designed to highlight the frequencies he spoke and sang at and the range he could sustain a note for a long time. The results were impressive.
When he spoke, his voice had an average frequency of 117.3 Hz, which provided a rich baritone. The study confirmed that his range ranged from 92.2 Hz to 784 Hz, which means that he could reliably hit notes from the rapidly rising low of the F#2 note to the high G5 - that's a whole three octaves! While scientists have been unable to confirm the long-standing illusion that Freddie's range spanned four full octaves, they have uncovered some interesting possibilities in his voice. For example, when listening to recordings, you can hear higher/lower notes, which proves wider range, however, the research team considered this to be an unreliable indicator (for example, it could be Brian May's epic guitar solo).
To get closer to the truth, the team invited professional rock singer Daniel Zanger-Borch to try to copy Freddie's voice. His larynx was filmed with a video camera at a speed of 4000 frames per second. In the end, it was discovered that Freddie probably used subharmonics, a singing style in which the ventricular folds vibrate along with the vocal folds. Most people never use the ventricular folds, of course, unless they are Tuvan throat singers... So the fact that Freddie probably dealt with subharmonics is rather unusual.
Range is one thing, but speed is quite another. Mercury's vocal cords moved faster than other people's. While a typical vibrato ranges between 5.4 Hz and 6.9 Hz, Mercury's was 7.04 Hz. Let's look at it another way... The ideal sine wave for vibrato takes a value of 1. Mercury had an average value of 0.57, and when compared with the legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, it turns out that Mercury used for vibrato what Pavarotti was talking about didn't even realize...
In conclusion, a few excerpts from the speech of the author of the study, Dr. Christian Herbst:
“I am both a certified vocal teacher and a biophysicist, and I am very interested in how the singing voice works on the physiological and physical levels. I am also interested in how to teach singing effectively.”
“Freddie Mercury was an incredibly skilled and versatile singer, capable of a wide range of artistic vocal expressions. Naturally, I was interested in objectively describing his singing style with adequate empirical methods: not only on an acoustic level, but also in terms of what happens in the larynx.
"Queen have been one of my favorite bands since my teenage years and that was definitely an added incentive to do the research."
In any case, as mysterious as he sounds, let's just listen to Freddie and remember why he became one of rock's greatest legends!