Described as “a force of nature with the velocity of a hurricane", Freddie Mercury's powerful voice along with his famous grovel and piercing falsetto has been celebrated by generations of rock aficionados.
But what was most recognised was his vocal range, which was rumoured to be four octaves.
To test the theory, and to understand what it is that made the Queen lead singer's voice so compelling, a team of Austrian, Czech, and Swedish researchers set out to analyse Mercury's golden pipes. Their results were published this week in Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology.
Their study revealed a few noteworthy facts, and even disproved some earlier rumours about the rockstar. For starters, the scientists could not prove that Mercury's vocal range was actually four octaves.
According to lead author of the study, Austrian voice scientist Christian Herbst, "Mercury’s voice range was 'normal for a healthy adult – not more, not less".
The paper also reveals that in spite of hitting notes as high as that B5 flat in hit songs like Bohemian Rhapsody*, Mercury was probably a baritone (G2 - G4), who managed to sing as a tenor (C3 - C5), thanks to sound vocal technical and control.
(*In fact rumour has it Mercury didn't even sing that note; it was the band's drummer Roger Taylor instead.)
The average vocal range is approximately two octaves, however a trained voice can typically exceed this by 1.5 times.
Another part of the study sought data from a high-speed camera which filmed at 4000-frames per second. The scientists filmed a singer's vocal chords as he imitated Mercury's technique, specifically his vocal growling, as well as his head voice and falsetto registers.
What they discovered was the production of subharmonics, a weak frequency that is produced just below the intended note (fundamental frequency). To see this phenomenon in action on a cello, watch the video below.
Both the growl and subharmonic frequencies are the result of vocal folds not coming together cleanly as air passes through them to create sound. Also, commonly known as 'vocal fry', Mercury was able to take a phenomenon disapproved of by professional vocalists, and turn it into a trademark singing technique.
The technique is more frequently used - and with better control - in traditional Tuvan throat singing, where vocalists can sing in harmony with themselves, producing two tones at the same time.
They produce the subharmonic frequency by vibrating a set of tissues just off their main vocal folds called the ventricular folds, which aren't typically used in speech or classical singing.
So, in a nutshell, it's scientifically certified that Freddie Mercury was completely awesome.