Anyone who’s ever heard a Queen song recognizes the power of Freddie Mercury’s voice. Those majestic, bombastic, rough-hewn vocals have had an indelible impact on pop and glam genres. Now, a group of Austrian, Czech, and Swedish researchers have used science to prove Mercury was just as good a singer as listeners thought.
Well, not quite as good. Legend had it that Mercury’s voice was capable of spanning four octaves. The researchers weren’t able to confirm this from their data (they used a mix of archival Mercury performances and interviews for data) but still found evidence that Mercury was extremely skilled at modulating his voice. One interesting element of Mercury’s singing was how he could sound finessed at times and more rough at others. The researchers noted this may have been due to his vibrato frequency, a few notches above the standard for classically trained vocalists.
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The researchers also found evidence that Mercury used subharmonics in his singing by vibrating his ventricular folds, a technique typically used only by Tuvan throat singers. As the researchers write, the use of subharmonics “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.”
So there you have it: the scientific reasoning behind Mercury’s vocal greatness. Read the full study, originally published in the journal Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, here.