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Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 10:58 UK

How do you judge an air guitar competition?


Sylvain Quimene's winning air guitar performance

The Magazine answers...

Sylvain Quimene of France has won the Air Guitar World Championships. How do the judges choose a rock god from the motley assortment dressed in wigs, spandex and capes?

He plays a mean guitar, but doesn't strike a chord.

Sylvain "Gunther Love" Quimene is 2009's Air Guitar World Champion after windmilling his way to glory in Oulu, Finland. So how did the judges pluck his madly theatrical performance from all the others?

Contestants are not simply judged on their technical ability, such as "hitting" all the notes, but on factors such as charisma, working the crowd and an elusive quality known as "airness".

Judged on hitting right notes, working the crowd and charisma
Good air guitaring doesn't simply copy moves of a rock hero

All over the world, air guitarists abide by the same rules. They perform a 60-second solo performance with an imaginary guitar-like instrument. Try to incorporate an air drum, for example, and the judges won't be impressed.

Personal air roadies are allowed, but backing groups (real or air) are not.

"Air guitar is about drama - it's about telling a story with a beginning, middle and end - in the span of a mere 60 seconds," says Dan Crane, writer, air guitarist (stage name Bjorn Turoque, pronounced "b-yorn too-RAWK") and a judge on the US circuit.

Contestants are judged on three standard criteria as set out by the governing body in Oulu, Finland. In the United States, scoring is done on an Olympic Figure Skating scale - from 4.0 to 6.0.

Technical prowess: "That is how much the movements of your flailing hands correspond to the music to which you are playing along to," says Mr Crane.

Basic technique would include moving your hands closer together when you hear a high note to show you are playing a riff near the centre of the guitar, and moving them further apart on the lower notes (think Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure).

Stage presence/charisma: "Have audience members' faces been melted - and if so, how much?"

Stage presence, naturally, includes the theatrics of dressing up. Wigs, skin-tight spandex trousers, capes and other accoutrements of a classic rock wardrobe are de rigeur.

Airness: "The extent to which an air guitar performance exceeds the imitation of guitar playing and becomes an art form in and of itself," says Mr Crane.

An ineffable quality, says one judge, and so is difficult to define.

"It's a bit like the X-factor - you just know it when you see it," says Zac Monro, director of Air Guitar UK and championship judge.

Chris Harden, stage name The Fro, of Atlanta
Work that crowd

"Nietzsche said something along the lines of: if you define something it loses a certain amount of its power. Air guitar is very much like that - if you can see the guitar it would be boring, and if you try to define airness, some of the depth would be lost," the double world champion says.

Part of that "je ne sais quoi factor" is the ability to be taken completely taken over by the music, says Mr Monro.

"Some people go really nuts - it's not just the fret board and the picks that take a kicking," he says. "The body can take a kicking too."

Jumps, knee bends, slides, windmills, and crowd diving are commonplace, as are injured knees and broken and sprained ankles.

Air is human

But, says Mr Monro, no matter how many back flips you perform, if you don't have charisma, you're in the wrong competition.

Mei "May" Kudo from Japan
Ready to rock

Those who get the loudest and longest response from the audience do the best.

And he advises wannabe guitar heroes to be original. "Someone does something new one year, and the following year everyone copies it," he says.

Among the most memorable performances he has witnessed is one entirely based around a fake street fight involving 23 air guitarists.

Dan Crane, author of the book, To Air Is Human, plays the real guitar. But he says the fact that he's a "there" guitarist often impedes his "air" guitaring.

"I just knew too much. I was frequently looking at my hands to make sure they were in the right place," he says.

"On an air guitar, however, there is no right place. There's an infinite number of notes on an air guitar. So, for 'there' guitarists, I say you must forget all you know. Air guitar is an entirely different beast for the taming."

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