An air guitar is the invisible, imaginary instrument used in the act of pretending to play guitar. Playing air guitar is the act of miming or mimicking the motions used to play a guitar without making use of any real instrument. Air guitarists pretend to play rock solos or riffs by posing as though they are holding a guitar, placing the left hand as though it is holding the neck of the guitar and the right hand near their hip to strum.
Air guitarists simulate the act of playing guitar by using exaggerated motions, wild gyrations, head banging, and contortionist facial expressions. Air guitarists also often lip synch as they play. The point of playing air guitar is not to demonstrate any musical ability or skill, rather it is to surrender to the joy of music and put on a wild show, mimicking the antics of the rock idols who inspired the sport. To this end, air guitar is most typically used to simulate rock music and heavy metal. While air guitar may simulate a variety of musical styles, performances that fall within the rock genre typically remain the most popular.
Air guitar was first introduced during the mid to late 1970s by followers of the New Wave movement of British Heavy Metal. Once merely an expression of adulation by animated concertgoers or an alone-time activity for avid rock enthusiasts, it was widely introduced into pop culture by films such as “Wayne’s World” and “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and made popular by the dramatic stage antics of rock bands of the early 80s. It has recently evolved into a spectator sport attracting thousands at air guitar competitions and public shows.
The Air Guitar World Championships (AGWC) is the oldest and preeminent competition for air guitar. Begun in Oulu, Finland in 1996, the AGWC serves as a kind of organizing body for air guitar enthusiasts, regulating judging criteria for competitions and putting forth the air guitar ideology. Competitors from all over the world flock to the AGWC annually, performing air guitar in front of a global audience of thousands.
Air guitar contests make use of the 6.0 point-scale scoring system used in Olympic Figure Skating competitions. Competitions typically consist of two rounds. In the first round, each competitor plays along to a one-minute selection from a pre-prepared song. In the second round, contestants improvise playing along to a song that is kept secret from them until the start of the round. Contestants are judged on originality, enthusiasm for the music, charisma, technique, artistic expression, and “airness,” an intangible attitude that embodies the air guitar philosophies of world peace and joyfulness.
Contestants are not allowed a back up “band,” though they are allowed groupies. The groupies must leave the stage before the competition begins. There is no dress code, though the spandex of the 80s hair bands is prominent, and contestants are allowed to use a guitar pick or other prop if they choose. All instruments must be invisible. Guitar is the only instument allowed - contestants are not allowed to play air piano, drums, or any other instrument.
The basic ideology of air guitar practitioners is that “all wars would end and every bad thing would disappear if all the people in the world played air guitar. A person playing air guitar cannot simultaneously be up to any mischief. After playing air guitar, mischief just doesn’t seem like a good idea anymore.” (The AGWC website) The basic goal of air guitarists is to bring about world peace by promoting the joy of music and “airness.” The motto of air guitarists is “make air, not war.”