Honestly, sometimes it’s just painful looking back at old footage of Freddie Mercury. How can one man be that talented, that charismatic, that magical?
As well as being the greatest frontman of all time (just watch below), he was a phenomenal songwriter, an incredible pianist and, of course, an outstanding singer. Not to mention he rocked one of the most iconic ’taches ever seen on a human.
Back in 2015, one group of scientists took a look at exactly what was going on in that voice of his, and published a study in Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology (you all subscribe right), revealing some hugely interesting findings (you can read the full paper here).
A team of Austrian, Czech and Swedish researchers used another singer, Daniel Zangger-Borch, to imitate Mercury’s singing style, including his famous “distorted” notes, filming his larynx at over 4,000 frames per second. They also studied a range of recordings of Mercury in action, as well as interviews, which enabled them to analyse his speaking voice.
By studying the latter, they found that Mercury was, naturally, a baritone voice (corresponding to a median speaking fundamental frequency of 177.3Hz), but he sang higher than this - as a tenor - “with exceptional control over his voice production technique.” His range was found to be 37 semitones - just over 3 octaves, which is fairly normal.
But what was not normal was Mercury’s use of a physical phenomenon called subharmonics, where not only the vocal folds vibrate, but additionally a pair of tissue structures called ventricular folds - features not normally used in speaking, or in classical singing. The likes of Tuvan throat singers are known to employ this technique, but it’s not something usually associated with rock singers.
His vocal cords also moved faster than most other singers. A typical vibrato moves between 5.4Hz and 6.9Hz, but analysis of 240 sustained notes from 21 acapella recordings showed that Mercury's was 7.04Hz - a "surprisingly high mean fundamental frequency modulation rate... reaching the range of vocal tremor".
Overall, Mercury was found to possess, "ample control over vocal registration and ‘blending the registers’, i.e. mixing the chest and falsetto registers", while they state, "that it is not too far-fetched to conjecture that Freddie Mercury was rather skillful in adapting his laryngeal configuration to musical needs, thus exhibiting a great variability of sound timbres for enhanced musical expression."
In other words, Mercury was the don. But we probably didn't need a team of scientists to tell us that did we?
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