Folk long song performance technique of Limbe performances - circular breathing

Inscribed in 2011 (6.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

Country(ies): Mongolia



Recording the Limbe melody to the radio. (Limbe performer L.Tserendorj on the right side)

The Limbe is a side-blown flute of hardwood or bamboo, traditionally used to perform Mongolian folk long songs. Through the use of circular breathing, Limbe performers are able to produce the continuous, wide-ranging melodies characteristic of the long song. Players breathe in through the nose while simultaneously blowing out through the mouth, using air stored in their cheeks to play the flute without interruption. Single stanzas of folk long song last approximately four to five minutes. A single song consists of three to five or more stanzas, which requires performance of the flute to continue uninterrupted for twelve to twenty-five minutes. Traditional training methods used to acquire this technique include continuously blowing at a candle flame without extinguishing it and blowing through a straw into a glass of water. Limbe playing is characterized by euphonious melodies, melisma, hidden tunes and skilful and delicate movements of the fingers and tongue. The small number of bearers of the element has become cause for concern with a considerable decrease in groups and individual practitioners. This has been caused in part by the predominance of international musical forms and training systems. At present, the frequency and extent of this traditional element’s practice are unstable with only fourteen Limbe practitioners remaining.


Decision 6.COM 8.15

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:

  • U1: The technique of performing the Limbe during the folk long song provides a sense of identity to the community of Limbe players;
  • U2: Although tenacious elders continue to convey their expertise and a large number of skilled flute players exists among whom the circular-breathing technique can potentially be spread, the technique of Limbe performance to accompany the folk long song is not widely encountered;
  • U3: The safeguarding measures proposed, including transmission and teaching, are well formulated and benefit from solid institutional support;
  • U4: All the interested parties have participated in the nomination process and have accordingly provided their free, prior and informed consent;
  • U5: The element has been included in the Urgent Safeguarding List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mongolia, maintained by the Cultural Heritage Centre in the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

Inscribes Folk long song performance technique of Limbe performances – circular breathing on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding;
Invites the State Party to further elaborate a feasible safeguarding plan that aims to enable a favourable environment for the practice not only of the circular breathing technique but also of the folk long song;
Recommends the State Party to refine the safeguarding methodology to include the folk long song and to identify funding resources that correspond to the activities proposed in the safeguarding plan.



© 2010 by Ts.Tsevegsuren (Mongolian Association of Limbe Performers)

These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website