The social media universe is abuzz….Freddie Mercury had extra teeth and it contributed to his vibrato…Or Freddie Mercury had extra teeth and it made him use his false vocal folds(aka vestibular folds)to sing… Are any of these suppositions correct?
Let’s get to the bottom of this mystery. I think, after reading all the evidence, we will find that Freddie Mercury’s voice was more than a mere result of an overbite. I think the evidence shows that his achievements as a vocalist rather than a freak of nature were possible because he was a remarkable musician.
The facts as we know them are these:
1. Freddie Mercury, might have had extra teeth. Whether he did have more than 32 teeth, or whether he just had a crowded upper jaw, it resulted in a rather severe overbite. While we don’t have his dental records, we do have evidence of the overbite in many pictures, despite his attempts to camouflage this facial feature.
2. We know his voice is remarkable enough that voice scientists around the world have analyzed recordings of his speaking and singing voice, in an attempt to “unlock its secrets.” A study, performed by Herbst, Hertegard, et al, and published in the Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology in 2017 found a fundamental frequency typical of a baritone voice in samples of Freddie speaking, with an average of 117 Hertz(Hz.) https://doi.org/10.3109/14015439.2016.1156737
After analyzing recordings of Freddie Mercury singing, the scientists tracked 37 semitones ranging from F#2 92 Hertz(Hz), or the second F#sharp below middle C, to G5 784(Hz),the second G above middle C. Other data on his range was considered unreliable (possibly studio effects). This range would be described in vocal pedgogy, as three octaves plus one more semitone. My interpretation, and the scientists who performed the analysis, is that if we must put Freddie Mercury in a Fach(box), he was probably a baritone with a really good high range. However, range is usually a product of the size of your vocal folds, and their flexibility, NOT the vocal tract (pathway which shapes the sounds as it moves through your body and out your mouth.)There is no reason to believe teeth would affect the range of a vocalist.
3. His vibrato is considered relatively fast for a more modern singer at 7.0 Hz. However, this is actually the rate that Enrico Caruso appeared to have used when his recordings are similarly analyzed(https://www.earlymusicamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/VibratoWars-1.pdf). Please see the photograph above of this remarkable singer, (also listen to his recordings.) There does not seem to be an apparent overbite in any of his images. Of course, vibrato itself is never produced in the area of the mouth. It is thought to be a reflex between two sets of muscles when the vocal mechanism is at peak performance
( I.TitzeJ Acoust Soc Am doi/abs/10.1121/1.1434945?journalCode=jas). In other literature you may find discussions in regards to in what ways the ratio of airflow below the vocal folds, and above the vocal folds affect the rate of vibrato. There are also ongoing discussions on just how intentional vibrato is. Either way, there are no serious discussions about normal vibrato being affected by overbite, underbite, or teeth in general.
4. Mercury did use his false vocal folds in his recordings, just as many other singers who produce the rock “growl” did, and still do going back to the early days of recorded blues. In other words, we can’t attribute vocalization using the false vocal folds as a function of his overbite. It was merely a technique used by a multitude of singers and taught by vocal teachers specializing in rock singing.
So did his overbite affect his voice? My opinion is—probably. How, if not with vibrato or use of his vocal folds, you ask? In a word…resonance. Just like other wind instruments, human vocalization is produced by a source. In wind instruments that source is a mouthpiece in which air is blown, and in humans that source is the vocal folds. (I. TitzeJ Acoust Soc Am10.1121/1.2832337)
The sound that is produced, at the vocal folds, is then propelled and bounced around a maze, which grossly consists of the throat and the mouth. Each person’s mouth and throat is unique, and this uniqueness produces the resonance or timbre or overall sound of each individual. Resonance is what makes you say "I recognize that voice!" While you might sound similar to a close relative, you do not sound exactly the same due to the tiny differences in a throat or a mouth. So Freddie Mercury, might have sounded different sounding, if he had no overbite, because it might have changed the shape of his mouth. It would not have affected his vibrato or his usage of false vocal folds.
While, we don’t have evidence to support the claims that Freddie Mercury is simply a product of dental malocclusion; we do have the evidence to show that Freddie used his instrument in wonderfully creative ways. His instrument brought so much joy to his fans, that 25 years after his death, they are still debating the structure of his gift, perhaps to learn how they can sing as beautifully themselves.
Trissa DiBenedetto WAlter
Is a singer, voice teacher, speech language pathologist, and certified vocologist