Why do so many people go ga ga when listening to Freddie Mercury sing? What is it about his serenading that’s so utterly seductive to the ear? Wanting to know if there’s some science behind the remarkable tones of the legendary chanteur, or if it’s just a kind of magic, a team of researchers decided to pick apart his unique vocalizations.
As revealed in their study in the cacophonously named journal Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, analysis of his vocal range shows that he is able to quickly modulate his voice to make himself sound both smooth and rough at the drop of a hat – even when he’s under pressure in interviews.
This effect probably stems from his rare ability to use vibrato, a way of rapidly altering pitch; this is a skill beyond the standard for most classically trained vocalists. Additionally, he may have been able to manipulate his ventricular folds, small flaps within his vocal cords.
Two late, great singers demonstrating their legendary singing skills. Queen Official via YouTube
By vibrating these, he would have been able to produce “subharmonics,” which can come together to produce sounds that most people would never be able to generate. The team compares this to a sound system reaching its limits, “one on its way to chaos,” while still sounding wonderfully finessed. The researchers conclude that “these traits, in combination with the fast and irregular vibrato, might have helped create Freddie Mercury’s eccentric and flamboyant stage persona.”
Legend had it that Mercury’s vocal range spanned four octaves, but the painstaking research by the international team of researchers could find no evidence for this. Regardless, the researchers agree with pretty much the rest of the world – he had an incredible voice, and the science shows how truly idiosyncratic it was.