“A force of nature with the velocity of a hurricane!”
This is how journalist Caroline Sullivan, writing in The Guardian, described the astonishing voice of Freddie Mercury, Queens’ legendary frontman.
The voice behind We Are The Champions had a range rumoured to be well over four octaves. Was he naturally gifted? Was he a freak voice? Was his voice the result of intense training?
Though Freddie Mercury died in 1991, such questions have long intrigued vocologists, making his voice the subject of many well-known studies. One of them, conducted recently by a team of Austrian, Czech and Swedish researchers, found that he probably successfully faked being a tenor, though he was more likely a baritone with exceptional control over his voice production technique.
They reached this conclusion by analysing 6 interviews that revealed a median speaking fundamental frequency of 117.3 Hz, which is typically found for baritone voices. This, along with anecdotal evidence of Mercury once turning down an offer to sing in an opera duet because he was afraid that his fans wouldn’t recognise his baritone voice.
Using a 4,000 frames-per-second camera, the scientists also filmed the throat of Daniel Zangger-Borch, a professional rock singer, as he imitated Mercury’s voice, and discovered an intriguing physical phenomenon called subharmonics that Mercury used to drive his vocals to the limit. Subharmonics is a form of singing where the vocal folds vibrate along with a pair of tissue structures called ventricular folds. This form of singing is only used by Tuvan throat singers of Mongolia, except in a more extreme way.
You can hear Tuvan throat singers here — this is how Freddie Mercury used his throat.
Mercury’s vocal cords vibrated at 7.04 Hz – higher than a typical vibrato range of 5.4 Hz to 6.0 Hz. To put it in a more scientific way, The famous opera singer Luciano Pavarotti produced a perfect sine wave for vibrato when he sang — a value of 1. Mercury, on the other hand, averaged a value of 0.57 — which means he was vibrating something in his throat even Pavarotti couldn’t move.