Science Reveals Freddie Mercury's Singing Secrets

Think 'subharmonics'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2016 11:20 AM CDT

Freddie Mercury had one of the most memorable voices in music, and now researchers have unlocked some of the mystery behind it. For one thing, his vocal chords moved faster than normal. But the bigger part of the puzzle involves something called subharmonics, which the Consequence of Sound defines as a "singing style where the ventricular folds vibrate along with the vocal folds." It is most famously employed by Tuvan throat singers, and while Mercury didn't achieve Tuvan levels, it's still quite a feat for a rock vocalist to even come close. Subharmonics help "in creating the impression of a sound production system driven to its limits, even while used with great finesse," write the Austrian, Czech, and Swedish researchers in the Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology journal. "These traits, in combination with the fast and irregular vibrato, might have helped create Freddie Mercury's eccentric and flamboyant stage persona."

The researchers figured this out in part by asking a singer to imitate Mercury's style, and then filming what was happening in his larynx with a high-speed camera. They also analyzed several old interviews with Mercury to get a sense of his normal speaking voice. After all this, they were not able to substantiate long-held speculation that Mercury's voice spanned four octaves. In fact, his range was "normal for a healthy adult—not more, not less," says one of the researchers. But they did conclude that Mercury was likely a natural baritone, albeit one "who sang as a tenor with exceptional control over his voice production technique," says a post at The bottom line: Mercury "had a voice unlike anyone else in rock 'n' roll, and that led to one of the most unique singers and stage performers of all time," writes Ben Kaye at CoS. (If you can't carry a tune like Mercury, keep singing to get better.)

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