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Palacký University
04-24-2016, 12:07, Age: 4 y.

Acoustic Analysis Reveals Uniqueness of Freddie Mercury’s Voice

By: Martina Šaradínová

Freddie Mercury Statue on the shore of Lake Geneva. Source: 123RF

Anyone who is at least slightly familiar with the singing of the legendary singer Freddie Mercury has no doubts about the extraordinariness of his voice. It has now been proven scientifically. The biophysicist Christian Herbst analysed the voice of the former member of the rock band Queen at the Faculty of Science, Palacký University Olomouc. Together with his colleagues from Sweden, they measured the singer’s vocal range and other characteristic features that made his voice so remarkable. The article was published in the academic journal Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology.

Herbst in his research used the singer’s voice tracks isolated from full band recordings. In order to compare the singing and speaking voice of the pop legend, he used Mercury’s recorded interviews. The research has resulted in the first scientific article analysing the voice of this music star. The article is also quite unusual in its focus on a pop star, since only opera singers have been analysed until now.

“The conditions for this research were not ideal, because we could not bring Freddie into our lab. We had to select the material that could be used in our research all the more carefully,” said Herbst, who has returned home to Austria after completing his doctoral studies in Olomouc. He also admitted that the chanteur, who influenced popular music across the world, is one of his favourites. Several years of research thus were a great source of joy for him.

A baritone who sang as a tenor


On the basis of analysis of Mercury’s speaking voice, the biophysicist came to the conclusion that he was typologically a baritone, who sang as a tenor. “This is a very interesting finding. This is why his voice had an extraordinary timbre, a different quality,” commented another expert on human voice research, Herbst’s closest colleague and his former tutor, Jan Švec from the UP Department of Biophysics.

The research has also focussed on defining the vocal range of the singer. There had been speculation that Mercury's range was vast, over four octaves, but this could not be substantiated by the study. The analysis of available recordings suggested that his singing voice range was 37 semitones within the pitch range of F2 (about 92.2 Hz) to G5 (about 784 Hz). “Altogether, it means a voice range of little more than three octaves. Not four octaves as believed, but still, it is a considerable range. Opera baritones are usually within the range of G to G1 (98 to 392 Hz), while tenor singers are usually between H and H1 (123 to 494 Hz), which are two octaves in both instances,” explained Švec.


Fast and irregular vibrato

The scientists also analysed the typical features of Freddie Mercury’s voice. An intriguing discovery was his vibrato in long tones, which is manifested as a modulation of voice frequency. The vibrato frequency usually is between 4 and 7 Hz, meaning that the voice goes up and down, to put it in layman’s terms, four to seven times per second. Mercury’s frequency was higher, between 5 and 8 Hz. “While the vibrato of most pop and rock singers is regular, Mercury’s vibrato was considerably fast and irregular,” summed up Herbst.

The experts also discovered how the charismatic singer could add the typical husky tone to his voice. The Swedish colleagues used a singer who could imitate Mercury, and filmed his larynx vibration with a high-speed camera. They found out that Freddie’s husky voice was probably due not only to vibration of the vocal folds, but also a pair of tissue structures called ventricular folds, which are not normally used for speaking or classical singing.

Freddie Mercury, considered one of the most important singers in music history, was also famous for his charisma and extravagancy during performances. The article was published in the year of what would have been his 70th birthday. Freddie Mercury passed away 25 years ago.

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Last update: 19. 09. 2012, Vladimír Kubák