Eric Clapton wannabes have strummed the classic riff from â€Layla†on imaginary Fenders for decades. Now, thanks to a virtual-reality rig developed at the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland, air guitarists can finally hear themselves jamming. The best part is that the machine can actually make them sound good.

To play, you simply put on a pair of bright orange gloves and start strumming. A webcam records your hand motions and relays the data to a PC. Using gesture-recognition software, the computer tracks the gloves in each video frame and superimposes them over a virtual guitar. To compensate for lack of talent, a music-translation program steps in and interprets what guitar-playing technique and style you´re trying to imitate-be it slide guitar or a heavy metal solo-and a sound synthesizer generates the music in real time, playing only the notes that fit well together.

Researchers are now working on a downloadable Windows-based version that could go on sale by next year. As for virtual drums, co-creator Teemu Mki-Patola says, â€There may be an entire air band to play in soon enough.â€