Scientists break down Freddie Mercury's vocal skills

Freddie Mercury

Researchers have investigated the secrets behind Freddie Mercury’s singing voice and revealed why it was one of the most distinctive and unparalleled in rock history.

A group of Austrian, Czech and Swedish researchers conducted a study to analyse the late Queen frontman’s voice.

While they couldn’t substantiate claims that Mercury had a four-octave vocal range, they discovered some interesting findings about the voice once described as “a force of nature with the velocity of a hurricane.”

Through examining archive recordings, and filming the larynx of a rock singer imitating Mercury’s singing with a high-speed camera running at over 4000 frames per second, the researchers found a physical phenomenon called ‘subharmonics’. This is an intentional voicebox distortion using both vocal folds and ventricular folds to produce an extreme ‘growling’ sound which is traditionally used by Tuvan throat singers in Mongolia.

They also concluded that Mercury was likely a baritone, despite being known as a tenor, and found that his vocal chords moved faster than other people’s at 7.04 Hz, compared with the typical vibrato rate of between 5.4 Hz and 6.9 Hz.

Dr Christian Herbst, from the University of Vienna, wrote in the journal Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology: “The occurrence of subharmonics aids in creating the impression of a sound production system driven to its limits, even while used with great finesse.

“These traits, in combination with the fast and irregular vibrato, might have helped create Freddie Mercury’s eccentric and flamboyant stage persona.”

Queen will play a string of European shows with Adam Lambert this year, including a headline appearance at the Isle Of Wight Festival.

Queen tour dates 2016

May 27: Cologne Rheinenergiestadion
Jun 05: Tallinn Tallinn Lauluvaljak
Jun 9-12: Isle Of Wight Festival, UK
Jun 15: Brussells Palais 12, Belgium
Jun 17: Hinwil Rock The Ring, Switzerland
Jun 21: Bucharest Constitutei, Romania
Jun 23: Sofia Stadion Georgi Asparuhov, Bulgaria
Jun 25: Piazzola Sul Brenta Anfiteatro Camerini, Italy

Former TeamRock news desk member Christina joined our team in late 2015, and although her time working on online rock news was fairly brief, she made a huge impact by contributing close to 1500 stories. Christina also interviewed artists including Deftones frontman Chino Moreno and worked at the Download festival. In late 2016, Christina left rock journalism to pursue a career in current affairs. In 2021, she was named Local Weekly Feature Writer of the Year at the Scottish Press Awards.