Crazy Little Thing Called Science: Recent Studies Analyze Freddie Mercury’s Vocal Vibrato

As our year focusing on sound and silence comes to a close, I wanted to share an interesting study that not only revolves around sound, but also involves the scientific study on one of my favorite musical artists and his works.

Freddie Mercury Source:

Freddie Mercury

A group of scientists conducted a study in response to the proposed theory that the late Freddie Mercury, lead vocalist of the band Queen, had an abnormally broad vocal range that exceeded four octaves. The team of authors from Austria, the Czech Republic, and Sweden analyzed archived recordings of Mercury’s voice and employed a singer to attempt to imitate his voice (Kenneally). The scientists even went so far as to film Mercury’s larynx at 4,000 frames per second to study the mechanisms the singer used to produce such powerful vibratos (Kaye).

While the team was unable to confirm that Mercury’s vocal range was unusually broad, they did make some interesting discoveries about Mercury’s speaking fundamental frequency as well as his vocal vibrato, or the “slight variation of pitch resulting from the free oscillation of the vocal cords” (Jones). Published in Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, the study revealed that Mercury had an overall average speaking fundamental frequency of 130.1 Hz, with the 5th percentile at 89.1 Hz and the 95th percentile at 231 Hz. In terms of vibrato, the mean dominant modulation frequency was 7.0 Hz, with a median of 7.2 Hz and the 5th and 95th percentiles at 5.2 Hz and 8.2 Hz, respectively.

What does this all mean? In simple terms, while Mercury’s vocal range was not necessarily out-of-the-ordinary, the way his vocal cords vibrated, as well as the frequency with which they vibrated, ultimately allowed him to sing with a vibrato that is higher than that of renowned opera singer, Luciano Pavarotti. Mercury’s vibrato is distinguishable and clearly audible in many of his songs, especially in “We are the Champions” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Listen for yourself in the a cappella versions of the songs below:

Mercury was also able to achieve subharmonics in his singing, in which his ventricular folds vibrated with his vocal folds. More simply, this subharmonic vibration produced the “rough” style characteristic of Mercury, often described as “growling” or “throat singing.” Mercury’s “growling” is easily identified in the a cappella version of “Fat Bottomed Girls” below:

Mercury also had an incredible amount of control over vocal registers, able to both blend them and keep them crisply separated. When Mercury sang in falsetto, for example, the sounds produced contained contain harmonic content with incredibly high frequencies. Mercury was also able to control “breathy” phonation, which contains a higher vibrato, versus “pressed” phonation, which has an “apparent lack of vocal vibrato” but a “perceptually strained quality.” Mercury’s ability to switch back and forth between registers and phonation types only makes his vibrato, and singing abilities in general, all the more impressive. “Teo Toriatte” is a great example of Mercury’s range of talents:

So it’s officially been scientifically proven: Freddie Mercury was an incredible singer. I have always been a huge Queen fan, but now I have factual evidence to back up my obsession. While not every artist needs to accomplish technical mastery to be successful, impactful, or even well-liked, there are times when artists have some inexplicable influence over an audience that comes from some place deeper than intellect, aesthetics, or even emotions. For me, I think Mercury’s unusual voice has a powerful resonance that is both psychological and physiological, and perhaps this is the reason why I listen to his music over and over again. To close, here is one of my favorite Queen songs, “You Take My Breath Away.” It has always given me chills, and now I know why.



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