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    Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology

    ISSN: 1401-5439 (Print) 1651-2022 (Online) Journal homepage:

    Freddie Mercuryacoustic analysis ofspeaking fundamental frequency, vibrato, andsubharmonics

    Christian T. Herbst, Stellan Hertegard, Daniel Zangger-Borch & Per-keLindestad

    To cite this article: Christian T. Herbst, Stellan Hertegard, Daniel Zangger-Borch &Per-ke Lindestad (2016): Freddie Mercuryacoustic analysis of speaking fundamentalfrequency, vibrato, and subharmonics, Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, DOI:10.3109/14015439.2016.1156737

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    Published online: 15 Apr 2016.

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    Freddie Mercuryacoustic analysis of speaking fundamental frequency, vibrato,and subharmonics

    Christian T. Herbsta, Stellan Hertegardb, Daniel Zangger-Borchc and Per-ke Lindestadb

    aVoice Research Lab, Department of Biophysics, Faculty of Science, Palacky University Olomouc, 17. listopadu 12, 771 46 Olomouc, CzechRepublic; bDepartment of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery B53, Clinical Sciences and Intervention, Karolinska Institutet, KarolinskaUniversity Hospital, 141 86 Stockholm, Sweden; cVoice Centre Stockholm AB, Zangger Vocal Art, Box 4342, 102 67 Stockholm, Sweden

    ABSTRACTFreddie Mercury was one of the twentieth centurys best-known singers of commercial contemporarymusic. This study presents an acoustical analysis of his voice production and singing style, based onperceptual and quantitative analysis of publicly available sound recordings. Analysis of six interviewsrevealed a median speaking fundamental frequency of 117.3 Hz, which is typically found for a baritonevoice. Analysis of voice tracks isolated from full band recordings suggested that the singing voice rangewas 37 semitones within the pitch range of F#2 (about 92.2 Hz) to G5 (about 784 Hz). Evidence forhigher phonations up to a fundamental frequency of 1,347 Hz was not deemed reliable. Analysis of 240sustained notes from 21 a-cappella recordings revealed a surprisingly high mean fundamental fre-quency modulation rate (vibrato) of 7.0 Hz, reaching the range of vocal tremor. Quantitative analysis uti-lizing a newly introduced parameter to assess the regularity of vocal vibrato corroborated itsperceptually irregular nature, suggesting that vibrato (ir)regularity is a distinctive feature of the singingvoice. Imitation of subharmonic phonation samples by a professional rock singer, documented by endo-scopic high-speed video at 4,132 frames per second, revealed a 3:1 frequency locked vibratory patternof vocal folds and ventricular folds.

    ARTICLE HISTORYReceived 4 September 2015Revised 18 November 2015Accepted 12 February 2016Published online 14 April2016

    KEY WORDSFreddie Mercury; Queen;singing voice range;speaking fundamentalfrequency; subharmonics;ventricular folds; vibrato;voice quality


    Freddie Mercury, born 5 September 1946 as Farrokh Bulsara,and died 24 November 1991, was one of the most influentialsingers of his time. The Rolling Stone magazine listed himeighteenth within the 100 best (commercial contemporary)singers of all time (1). Having been the lead singer of therock band Queen, he profoundly influenced this groupsmusical style over more than two decades.

    Freddie Mercurys voice has been described as a force ofnature with the velocity of a hurricane (2), which was esca-lating within a few bars from a deep, throaty rock-growl totender, vibrant tenor, then on to a high-pitched, perfect col-oratura, pure and crystalline in the upper reaches (3, p. 2).Such descriptions, while presumably adequate for a biog-raphy or a newspaper article, do not satisfy deeper scholarlyinterest into the singers voice characteristics. The purpose ofthis study was therefore to conduct a viable analysis of pub-licly available data material, in order to arrive at moreempirically based insights into Freddie Mercurys voice pro-duction and singing style.

    Materials and methods

    The task of objectively describing the voice of a singer whois not available for acquiring recordings under controlled

    acoustical and physiological conditions is ambitious. Specialcare needs to be taken in selecting proper data material(ideally a cappella, no background sounds) and suitable ana-lysis methods. In this study, a series of exemplary interpreta-tions of voice quality were conducted, and, where deemedappropriate, quantitative estimation of voice features likespeaking fundamental frequency or vibrato properties wasperformed. These analyses, in part inspired by a previouspublication by the first author (4), are conducted here withimproved methodology and larger data sets. Finally, endo-scopic high-speed video examination of vocal fold vibrationof a contemporary rock singer mimicking typical sounds pro-duced by Freddie Mercury was performed, in an attempt tounderstand the voice production mechanism of subharmonicsounds. No formant analysis was undertaken, however, sinceit cannot be taken for granted that the spectral contents ofcommercially available recordings have not been considerablychanged by the editing sound engineers.

    Speaking fundamental frequency (SFF) and singing voicerange

    In order to assess Freddie Mercurys speaking fundamentalfrequency (SFF), a total of six interviews, conducted byAndrew Wigg (1984, 1985, 1986, 1987) and Rudi Dolezal

    CONTACT Christian T. Herbst Voice Research Lab, Department of Biophysics, Faculty of Science, Palacky University Olomouc, 17.listopadu 12, 771 46 Olomouc, Czech Republic

    Supplemental data for this article can be accessed here

    2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group





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  • (1984 and 1987) were analyzed. The interviews by AndresWigg were taken from the commercial compilation FreddieMercury: The Solo Collection (2000, EMI/Parlophone). Theinterview conducted by Andrew Wigg in 1979 was excludedfrom the analysis due to excessive background noise. Theinterviews by Rudi Dolezal (A musical prostitute, 1984, andThe last interview, 1987) were downloaded from the inter-net ( and

    The acoustic tracks of all interviews were normalized inamplitude and then annotated and analyzed with the soft-ware Praat (5). Only those segments were considered wherewithout doubt Freddie Mercurys voice was exclusively aud-ible. The fundamental frequency of all extracted sequenceswas estimated using Praats autocorrelation algorithm (6),using a rather conservative parameter setting in order toavoid analysis artifacts stemming from background noise orunvoiced consonants: fundamental frequency range:70400 Hz; silence threshold: 0.2; voicing threshold: 0.6; oct-ave cost: 0.01; octave jump cost: 0.8; voiced/unvoiced cost:0.14; read progress: 10 ms. The analysis resulted in a total of134,418 data points.

    For the perceptual assessment of the singing voice range,Freddie Mercury: The Solo Collection as well as 23 commer-cially available recordings of Queen were considered. Theassessment was conducted by author C.T.H. by matching theperceived pitch of candidate sound samples, sung atextremely high and low frequencies, to the perceived musicalpitch of a piano tuned to A4 440 Hz (equal temperament).Only those sound samples were considered where FreddieMercury could be clearly identified as the exclusively audiblesinger, and no background vocals were included in theanalysis.

    Descriptive analysis of functional singing voiceparameters

    In speech and singing, the spectral composition of the emit-ted sound is causally determined by the configuration of thesound production organ, constituted by the respiratory sys-tem, the larynx, and the vocal tract. At the laryngeal level,two main determinants are constituted by the vocal registerand the degree of posterior vocal fold adduction, controlledalong the dimension of breathy versus pressed (7,8).

    Without any physiological or biomechanical data of vocalfold vibration the assessment of the laryngeal configurationduring singing is difficult, particularly when based on com-mercial recordings whose spectral composition could havebeen changed by sound engineers and by influences of therecording e