Friday, February 22, 2008

Air Guitar, Air Drums: A One Man Band

Do you play any air instruments? You know, pretending you’re the singer in the hot band, or sitting in with the band on air guitar, drums, congas or maybe just cowbell?

Every dancer should! It’s a great exercise and not always easy to do, especially if you really try to get everything right. To play air instruments well, you have to really listen to the music. It’s hard to play things you don’t hear, so start packing your gig bags now.

Anybody who's around me in my car, or in one of my musicality classes knows I'm one of the best air musicians on the planet. (What an egotistical thing to say! But I'll take the Texas defense on this one that says, "It ain't bragging if you've done it.")

I can play air drums, guitar, bass, piano, bongos, timbales, and more. I’ll bet 80% of the people who don’t play those instruments will think I do. Being a drummer, air drums is no big deal, nobody should be impressed. But my air piano is pretty strong for some tunes, and most would be surprised how well I fake “playing” some of the other instruments. I don’t do this in public much, but I always do it in my car and when few are watching.

I also try to sing song lyrics, and phrase them EXACTLY like the artist. (You don’t want to hear my Whitney Houston, Faith Evans or MJB, unless you have excellent ear plugs or need some windows broken.)

The point is not to be a great singer, but to try and sing the words and phrases just like the singer. I sometimes have to play a part of a tune 25 times or more to get the phrasing close. I also try and sing some sax and piano solos. That isn't always easy, but what a great exercise for your ears. I have one sax solo that took me a few weeks to get close, and I still have some things I can refine, after doing it over and over for hours. On the other hand, I'm amazingly close and it forced me to really, really listen to what he's playing.

Last night in took a basic hip-hop class (yea… I didn’t blend) and the instructor was playing air drums at one point, punching out the bass drum with his fist. It cracked me up but I realized “Darn… he really knows this tune! That was not an easy or obvious part…” It was obvious he enjoyed the music (and he loved it) and his dance reflected that he knew the music extremely well.

When listening to music, can you pick out the individual instruments and pretend you are playing them? If not, start with the lyrics, those are the easiest. Take a song you really, really like with a vocalist, and figure out the words. Try to lip-sync them or sing them out loud until you can get close. Continue to refine it over time until you could close your eyes and become that singer for a few minutes.

Quality isn’t the thing here, it’s getting the phrasing and timing like the singer. See if you can get EVERY word just like the recording, even if the dog starts howling along with you.

Do it in your car, do it while exercising, do it anyplace you can where you’re not bothering others. We’ll go over more details later, but the more air instruments you play, and the better you sing words (even if the pitch is wrong), the better off you’ll be as a dancer.

I promise you it will pay off later if you continue to refine your air instruments. You can’t pretend to play without learning to hear the instrument throughout the tune. I have some good exercises for that and I’ll expose those later, but for now just know, the more you sing and pretend you are playing, the better you’ll be as we work on musicality issues.
A good composer does not imitate; he steals.
-Igor Stravinsky


  1. YES, that's great fun. I remember as a teenager I tried often to sing as my favorite singer. I hear the song a lot of times to get it. Now in the spanish lyrics I try to find the song-text to sing exactly the words.
    But I never tried to play an air-instrument. This will be an new adventure :-)

  2. Couldn't agree with you more. I am a married, professional 46 year old with three daughters and I'm an AIR-O-HOLIC. It is fitness, art, stress relief and fun all in one air package. Most importantly, you have the ability to pick up any instrument you want, anytime and play anywhere without any inventory. Here is my Youtube channel dedicated to AIR.
    Check out Rush YYZ.

    Rock on a keep rippin it up!

    Lance "The Shred"


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero