Air Guitar Nation

Syracuse University lent a hand in hosting the city’s first Air Guitar Competition on April 22.

The Event

The Department of Art and Music Histories at Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences teamed with The Red House Arts Center and the national U.S. Air Guitar Competition to host Syracuse’s first annual Air Guitar Competition on April 22. Performer Paul Martino of Syracuse, known as Math Romancer, won the contest and gained a free trip to New York City and a spot in the US Air Guitar Regional Championship held on June 15.

"Usually the road by which someone travels onto the air guitar stage involves drinking. I’m not advocating that, but it certainly helps... lower inhibitions. You’re getting on stage with nothing. Probably no talent, no skills, and no guitar."
Björn Türöque, pronounced "born to rock," hosts Syracuse's first annual Air Guitar Competition.

Defining Airness

Preceding the Syracuse competition was an evening screening of “Air Guitar Nation,” a film introducing the art that is air guitar. Dan Crane, author of “To Air is Human: One Man’s Quest to Become the World’s Greatest Air Guitarist” and host of the U.S. and World Air Guitar Championships, hosted both the screening and the Syracuse competition. Known as Björn Türöque, pronounced "born to rock," Crane dropped his career as an educational software producer to pick up an air guitar in 2004. A description of air guitar was all he needed. “The [whole thing] sounded really stupid, and like something I’d be into,” he said.

After placing in second in numerous competitions, Türöque retired as a competitor in 2005, and now hosts air guitar competitions worldwide.

Syracuse's contestants were judged on stage presence, charisma, and “airness,” or the extent to which the performance exceeds real guitar playing and becomes its own art form.

“You have to do what you hear in your heart,” Türöque said. “And you’ve got to have kind of some technical skills. But ultimately, we’re looking for airness, which you should just Google. I can’t even explain it to you, it’s so intense."

Türöque has been addicted to airness since his first competition.

“Really what you want to do is tell a story,” he said.” You don’t want 60 seconds of pure shredding or head banging, ‘cause that gets really boring after about the fifth second. What you want is to go up there and maybe start off slow, and then build — and then stop. And then start again. It’s like making love, in a way.“

Türöque’s personal song to perform is "California Über Alles," a Dead Kennedys' anthem with “a lot of stops and starts, its very aggressive, its hard.” Though he performs as part of his hosting gigs, Türöque favors emceeing, touring every summer to scour the nation for the finest air guitarist to send to Finland, home of the world championship of the air guitar arts.

“I no longer have the desire to become the world’s greatest air guitarist myself," he said. "I actually wrote a book about becoming the world’s greatest. At the end, I die. Björn Türöque dies.”

Since giving up his dream of becoming Finland’s next champion, Türöque has enjoyed becoming the self-proclaimed Ryan Seacrest of air guitar. “I’m the Master of Air-emonies.”

The Competition

The airy Syracuse event was organized by Sydney Hutchinson, assistant professor of music history and cultures at SU.

“Actually, my area of expertise is the Caribbean and the U.S.-Mexico border,” Hutchinson said. “But while I was doing my post-doctorate and living in Berlin, I thought, what a great opportunity to attend the World Air Guitar Championships in Finland, not far away. I decided it was a great opportunity for the German government to support air guitar research, which they did, by paying for me to go to the World Air Guitar Championships in Finland.”

After a number of years of research, the Red House event was Hutchinson’s first attempt to bring the phenomenon of competitive air guitar to Syracuse.

Hutchinson selected five judges, who awarded competitors with a score ranging from a low 4.0 to a prefect 6.0. Emmet Van Slyke, musician, composer, sound engineer and resident rockstar of the Red House Rock Camp; the Post-Standard’s Mark Bialczak, local music scene reviewer; Theo Cateforis, a fellow SU assistant professor of music history and cultures; Ulf Oesterle, assistant professor in the Bandier Program of Music and Entertainment and former stage manager for the Syracuse Jazzfest; and Daniel Hege, former music director of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, held up scorecards and offered performance criticism.

The distinguished judging panel may have intimidated crowd volunteers, but registered contestant Steven Peters, 28, was ready for his performance.

“Its really hard to find your spot when you’re really trying to be realistic," said Peters, a classical guitar and music business graduate of the Crane School of Music. "I’ve seen people who don’t always sell it as well, and I was planning on trying to sell it."

Paul Martino, also known as competition winner Math Romancer, is determined to make it all the way to Finland. After three years of competitive air guitar and returning to his hometown of Syracuse, he aims to steal the title back from the French — world championship title winners for the last two years running.

“It’s just a little skinny guy,” scuffed Türöque, “in gold lamé pants. He wears no shirt, does a back flip, and calls that air guitar.”

Air Guitar Nation

As for Türöque himself? “The next step for me is to stop doing this. I’ve said that every year for the last five years. Maybe I’ll take up air drumming.”

His advice for future air guitarists seeking inspiration? Watch the film Air Guitar Nation, “the greatest movie about air guitar since… no other movie.” Read his book, “To Air is Human,” and visit, where anyone can “sign your ass up” for a competition this summer.

“It’s been a crazy road, but air guitar has brought me beautiful things,” Türöque said. "Usually the road by which someone travels onto the air guitar stage involves drinking. I’m not advocating that, but it certainly helps some people lower their inhibitions. You’re getting on stage with nothing. Probably no talent, no skills, and no guitar, so some people get scared. But once you’re there, you’ll find out its actually not so bad. It’s a very addicting sport-slash-art form."

View 2011 National Air Guitar Competition Tour in a full screen map.

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