The Science Behind Why Freddie Mercury's Voice Was So Damned Compelling

His speaking voice was a baritone, but his falsetto? Swoon.

Scientists have studied the voice and vocals of one of the greats of pop music, Freddie Mercury of the band Queen. And the results?


1) He used subharmonics in a way that very few people can. Other than Tuvan Throat Singers, that is: 

(Also, listen for the subtle melody that accompanies the low-throated growl in this clip).

That subharmonic vibration also helped give him his "growl," which he used quite frequently. 

2) His vocals chords simply moved faster than those of most people. Most vibratos (the oscillation between pitches that great singers employ, especially when holding a note) are between 5.4 and 6.9 Hz. Mercury's was 7.04 Hz, and that is close to what would be considered a "vocal tremor," which creates a wavering and unsteady voice. Yet he had amazing control over that same voice, even as it came close to careening out of control. It really was like he pushed his voice to the absolute limits of what it was physically capable of doing, riding that edge but not going over it. It makes the vocals more emotionally compelling precisely because he's on that edge. 

3) It's been widely reported that Mercury could sing through 4 octaves, but this study could not back that up; at 12 semitones per octave, that would be 48 semitones. They could only detect an impressive 37 semitones in the recordings that exist. I mean, it's still possible he could have hit 48 semitones, it's just that there is no recorded example of him reaching that far.

Just listen to his amazing scat-style singing in the "isolated vocals" version of "Under Pressure" in the clip below, which Mercury's band Queen recorded with another great vocalist, David Bowie.

Especially the part at 02:00 — man, the dude had some pipes

The science behind all of this is in an article posted on Taylor Francis Online in the Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology section. 

You can find Queen's music in the usual places. And there are tons of books and solo material by and about Freddie Mercury there, as well. 

Flops, brought to you by A.I.

"To err" is to be robotic — apparently.


KAZUHIRO NOGI
/ Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • About 3.1 million individuals could lose their job to self-driving cars.
  • A.I. is not a monolith. It makes a lot of mistakes.
  • To better understand how to navigate our economic future, we should pay attention to these mistakes.
Keep reading Show less

Russian reporters discover 101 'tortured' whales jammed in offshore pens

Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.

(VL.ru)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Russian news network discovers 101 black-market whales.
  • Orcas and belugas are seen crammed into tiny pens.
  • Marine parks continue to create a high-price demand for illegal captures.
Keep reading Show less

NYTimes exposé reveals how Facebook handled scandals

Delay, deny and deflect were the strategies Facebook has used to navigate scandals it's faced in recent years, according to the New York Times.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The exhaustive report is based on interviews with more than 50 people with ties to the company.
  • It outlines how senior executives misled the public and lawmakers in regards to what it had discovered about privacy breaches and Russian interference in U.S. politics.
  • On Thursday, Facebook cut ties with one of the companies, Definers Public Relations, listed in the report.
Keep reading Show less