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Title:  Music  Education  in  Malaysia:  An  Overview  
Author(s):  Johami  Abdullah  
Source:  Abdullah,  J.  (1990,  Winter).  Music  education  in  Malaysia:  
An  overview.  The  Quarterly,  1(4),  pp.  44-­‐53.  (Reprinted  with  
permission  in  Visions  of  Research  in  Music  Education,  16(1),  
Summer,  2010).  Retrieved  from  http://www-­usr.rider.edu/~vrme/  

It   is   with   pleasure   that   we   inaugurate   the   reprint   of   the   entire   seven   volumes   of   The  
Quarterly   Journal   of   Music   Teaching   and   Learning.     The   journal   began   in   1990   as   The  
Quarterly.     In   1992,   with   volume   3,   the   name   changed   to   The   Quarterly   Journal   of   Music  
Teaching  and  Learning  and  continued  until  1997.    The  journal  contained  articles  on  issues  
that  were  timely  when  they  appeared  and  are  now  important  for  their  historical  relevance.    
For   many   authors,   it   was   their   first   major   publication.     Visions   of   Research   in   Music  
Education   will   publish   facsimiles   of   each   issue   as   it   originally   appeared.     Each   article   will   be  
a  separate  pdf  file.    Jason  D.  Vodicka  has  accepted  my  invitation  to  serve  as  guest  editor  for  
the   reprint   project   and   will   compose   a   new   editorial   to   introduce   each   volume.     Chad  
Keilman  is  the  production  manager.    I  express  deepest  thanks  to  Richard  Colwell  for  granting  
VRME  permission  to  re-­publish  The  Quarterly  in  online  format.    He  has  graciously  prepared  
an  introduction  to  the  reprint  series.  

Music Education in Malaysia:
An Overview

By Johami Abdullah
Specialist Teachers Training College

Abstract: This article acquaints Ameri- of Malaysian life, including education, law,
can music educators with the general medicine, civil administration, and politics.
status of music education in Malaysia,' a Such British endeavors have been success-
fast-developing Southeast Asian coun- ful in keeping a sizeable portion of Malay-
try. Most of Malaysian music education sians tied psychologically to the United
remains strongly influenced by the Kingdom, although this situation is slowly
colonial legacy of the British, but many changing. These older Malaysians, quite
changes are occurring as more and understandably, have been apprehensive,
more Malaysian music educators wary, and even pejorative of approaches and
trained in America and elsewhere ideas that are not perceived to be from
begin to update the formal music England. Non-English ideas on music
education process. education have also been considered inferior,
unsuitable, or without standards. For people
alaysia is a nation involved in find- who think along these lines, England remains

M ing its own culture and traditions

after over 400 years of varying
degrees of European influence and domina-
the Mecca of music education.
Expectations of music educators have also
been influenced by perceptions of British
tion. Known as Malaya prior to its independ- traditions, and music education has seldom
ence in 1957, this fast-growing Indonesian been considered a specialized subdiscipline
country includes in its population a number of music study. Many believe that anyone
of distinct ethnic subcultures as well as the who has acquired some formal qualifications
majority indigenous Malaysians, and each in Western music, and can playa standard
group traditionally has provided schools at Western instrument in the classical tradition,
various levels. Yet, although there is a long is fully qualified as a music educator. Even
and rich tradition of education in Malaysia, practicing music educators do not regard as
formal music education in the Malaysian important the knowledge of subdisciplines
schools is a fairly recent development. such as music psychology, musicology,
Some of the reasons for this may be found music therapy, and ethnomusicology.
in our recent history. The chief function of Formal music education became a compul-
education during the British rule was to sory subject in all elementary schools in
provide a work force of English-speaking Malaysia only in 1983-some 26 years after
locals to fill submanagerial and other super- independence from the British. Much of the
visory posts in both the public and private curricular content in these courses is based
sectors. Thus, a balanced education with an on the colonial British system of education,
equal emphasis in the arts and the sciences or at least patterned along similar ideas.
was not traditionally a concern of the Unfortunately, Malaysian traditional music
Malaysian schools. Moreover, the Malaysian and the music of other non-European
populace was systematically indoctrinated cultures receive inconsequential attention,
with the notion that English ideas were even in the present curriculum.
second to none in many important spheres Music has yet to enter the formal curricu-

44 Tbe Quarterly
lum in Malaysian high schools and universi- cultures were excluded, as were research
ties, where it is treated only as an educa- procedures in music study. Some of these
tional frill. Also, issues in music education teachers went on to acquire music-teaching
like "utilitarian function" and "aesthetic certificates, which were primarily geared
education," which have been debated and toward individualized teaching of European
discussed in the United States, are unknown art music and not for teaching music in
in Malaysia.' schools. The aforesaid, however, in no way
means that such pedagogically oriented
Overseas Training for Malaysian
subjects were not available for study at
Music Educators
British universities. It is simply that, among
The Malaysian government, especially
Malaysians studying music in Britain, the
under the leadership of our present prime
main focus leaned towards performance
minister, began in the late 1970s to counter
rather than other areas.
Malaysian overdependence on Britain. To
diversify educational exposure for Malaysians Music Education in Colonial Times
in all fields, the government began sending Malaysia attained independence on August
students to study in countries such as the 31, 1957, after having been under varying de-
United States, Japan, Korea, Germany, and grees of colonial dominion, influence, or rule
India. Selected music educators in the by several European maritime powers since
government service were offered scholar- 1511: Portugal, the Netherlands, the United
ships to study music education at the post- Kingdom, and Japan. The British first
secondary level in the United States. Several established formal public schools in Malaya
of music educators in Malaysia have earned during the early part of the nineteenth
masters degrees from American universities century. The English language was the
noted for quality music education programs medium of instruction in these public
like Northwestern University, Indiana Univer- schools. The chief function of education
sity, and the University of Iowa. during the British era, as mentioned earlier,
Earlier, all significant music educators in was to equip the Malayan civil service with
Malaysia had been trained in England in a English-speaking locals primarily to serve
performance-oriented system of music study British political and economic interests.
at music conservatories. These Malaysians The Penang Free School, established by
were rigorously trained for a period of about the British in 1816, was the first public
four years to sing or to playa classical school in Malaya. Musical activities, if any,
instrument to required proficiency levels. "in these early English schools were on a
This musical training was coupled with the very modest scale and in the form of singing
usual ensemble requirements, ear training, English folk and/or light classical songs,
sight singing, Western music theory, and usually outside the formal curriculum. Any
European music history. Diploma-level such activity very often depended on
degrees in music were then earned from whether any member of the staff played the
prestigious music schools like the Royal piano or had any other formal musical
College of Music, the Trinity College of background.'? These musical activities were
Music, or the Birmingham School of Music. then presented at some auspicious school
The focus of this system of musical educa- event such as the Speech Day, the Annual
tion was, of course, on exacting standards of Sports Day, or at an official visit of a digni-
performance. Pedagogical concerns in music tary. This utilitarian tradition of music
education like curriculum development, remains strong in almost all educational
teaching methods and strategies, music institutions and official ceremonies.
psychology, evaluation procedures, and Music was seldom taught for its own sake.
foundations of music education appear to If any musical activity were conducted in the
have received little or no focus. Also, music classroom, it was often part of the language
appreciation courses covering ethnic music program in the earlier grades; children sang
and the music of non-European musical standard nursery rhymes and folk songs in

Volume 1, Number 4 45
the English language. It was not uncommon made up of the indigenous Malay races, with
to include some accompanying movement or the Chinese and the Indians constituting the
fingerplay activities in efforts to dramatize the other two major "minority" groups.'
lyrical content of the songs. Educators felt The vernacular schools of colonial times
that these musical activities helped the were attended mostly by the children of the
children to acquire a better "feel" of the lower socioeconomic classes, who usually
English language and reduced the degree of sought employment after six years of primary
stress and unfamiliarity usually associated education. Very few were able to attend the
with the process of learning a new or foreign urban English schools to continue their
language. Many of the larger urban schools education through the high school level, and
included some additional measure of music the educational elitism almost always associ-
in extracurricular activities such as marching ated with the English schools by the local
bands, recorder ensembles, and choirs using inhabitants caused many to believe that the
British musical literature. When the Japanese vernacular schools were inferior.
occupied Malaya 0941-1945), they promoted Music education in the colonial vernacular
the singing of folk songs as a method of schools was quite different from that in the
assisting students to learn the Japanese British schools. In many Malay and Tamil
language, but this occupation left no observ- schools, traditional and religious songs were
able impact on Malaysian music education. sung, as were other songs containing moral-
Music education in Malaya after World War oriented lyrics. Monophonic singing was
II improved to a degree. At school assem- carried out in association with the language
blies, children sang the school song, the arts or religious programs, but there were
respective state anthems, and "God Save The few opportunities for public performance.
Queen." Musical activities were still mostly Malay schools of colonial times had lessons
vocal with the modest addition of children's in Qu'ranic recitation coupled with the
percussion instruments. Children also singing of the nasyid (the generic Malay term
listened to school broadcasts of music for Islamic religious songs). Such activities,
lessons over the radio station, Radio Malaya. were never termed "music" nor thought of as
During this time, the larger and better such, because the term "music" usually
equipped English schools often organized evokes a secular association in the traditional
choirs and marching bands that helped to Malay Muslim's mind. (In Malaysia, every
distinguish them as "exceptional." Military Malay is also a Muslim, and thus the two
band personnel, mostly retired, instructed words were often used synonymously.)
and drilled the British-style marching bands The late and noted ethnomusicologist Lois
in such schools. This is still a prevalent Ibsen al Faruqi has described Qu'ranic
practice, as Malaysian music educators are recitation as cantillation combined with
not yet trained in marching-band techniques. "improvised monophonic melody and
Christian missionary schools in Malaysia also parlando rubato durational texture.'? In any
placed a strong emphasis on European-style case, sufficient musical elements exist in
choral singing and continue their strong Qu'ranic recitation and nasyid for them to be
traditions and leadership in this field. considered musical activities. Thus, some
forms of musical activity existed in Malay
Vernacular Schools
schools, but they were limited in nature and
In addition to the prestigious British
scope. As in the English schools, no "formal"
schools, three other types of primary schools
music programs existed.
were also available during the colonial
In the Chinese schools, there was much
period: the Malay, Chinese, and Indian
more vocal activity, coupled with a fair
(Tamil) schools. In each, the medium of
measure of small-scale instrumental music
instruction was the respective vernacular making. Music reading was combined with
tongue; consequently, they are called ver-
the Cheve system of musical notation that
nacular schools. About 58 percent of the
combines numbers and certain symbols.
current Malaysian population of 17 million is
Solfege singing was an integral part of music

46 The Quarterly
programs in Chinese schools. These two ized instruction in European classical music.
trends probably paralleled developments in Today, the piano has become the most
mainland China and Taiwan-at that time a popular classical instrument in Malaysia. A
common practice of the Chinese community 1983 estimate by piano teachers "puts the
in Malaya. These Chinese schools placed figure of between 5,000 and 10,000 students
greater emphasis on singing (though not who sit for the Associated Board of the Royal
necessarily in the European bel canto style) Schools of Music (ABRSM,London) external
than most of the other vernacular schools. examinations for the piano each year."?
The Chinese community was very supportive Probably as many or more sit for music
of these schools, both morally and finan- theory examinations which are conducted,
cially, and such support allowed many of the supervised, and evaluated by ABRSMperson-
Chinese schools to organize prestigious and nel in Malaysia and England. The rudiments
costly choirs and marching bands. This of western musical notation, theory, and
tradition continues in many Chinese schools. literature from about the time of Bach and
Today, these vernacular schools exist at the Beethoven constitute the main content of the
primary level but have been very much ABRSMsyllabus, which is sequentially
homogenized and integrated under the graded for children from grade I to grade 8;
purview of the Ministry of Education. Song children usually study about eight years to
books containing Chinese lyrics and the achieve a grade 8 certificate. Some rudimen-
Cheve system of musical notation are readily tary ear training and sight reading is also
available to the general public, thereby done in this system. The highest qualifica-
bearing continued testimony to the success tion that may be acquired locally after grade
of the sight singing music programs in the 8 is the licentiate diploma from the ABRSM.
Chinese schools. The ABRSMqualifications, which are highly
In the 70s, English was removed as the prized and respected in Malaysia, are ac-
medium of instruction and the Malay lan- quired mostly through private study that is
guage, Bahasa Malaysia, which is also our offered by literally thousands of ABRSM-
national language, became the norm at trained music teachers and hundreds of
nearly all levels of Malaysian education. private music "schools" in the country. For
However, English is still taught as a compul- many, particularly women, private music
sory second language in all educational instruction is a lucrative vocation.
institutions, and Malaysians who are conver- The ABRSM system has produced a share
sant in the English language are looked up to of positive influence in Malaysia. It has kept
and are much sought after for employment in some Malaysians continually acquainted with
many fields, particularly in the private sector. and highly appreciative of European classical
music and increased the number of classical
Private Music Instruction
piano players in this country. A few have
Personal instruction at the piano and other
gone on to excel in music studies overseas
European musical instruments has been
and have "become successful classical
available outside the public schools since the
musicians in Europe and the United States."
beginning of this century. In the early 1900s,
The ABRSMinfluence has also brought
musicians from India and the Philippines
about a significant negative influence.
who were trained in Western musical nota-
Because of the high costs involved, this
tion and theory were brought to Malaysia to
system of music education has almost always
boost the manpower needed for military-
excluded children from the rural population
styled marching bands that were being
and most of those from the lower socioeco-
formed in Malaya by the British." These nomic classes. It has also encouraged a
bands were used in the ceremonial functions
conservative and narrow musical outlook, in
for which the British are very well known. It
that some ABRSM-trained Malaysians tend to
is believed that these imported musicians,
view all music worth knowing as a homoge-
particularly those from Goa, initiated the
neous, monolithic, European structure.
tradition of providing private and individual-

Volume 1, Number 4 47
The ABRSM influence has also brought The current Malaysian national philosophy
about another significant negative result for for education aspires to produce citizens
some Malaysian parents who aspire to the who are not only well-educated, united,
point of obsession to obtain ABRSM certifi- patriotic, and progressive in their thinking,
cates for their children. This parental but who also possess good morals and a firm
pressure, coupled with the rigorous training, belief in the Almighty." Music education in
competitive testing, and narrow scope of the Malaysian public schools has been patterned
ABRSM system of musical study, may have to support these and other ancillary goals.
"turned off" many musically inclined and Through improved music education, it is
talented children. This much-undesired anticipated that students will make wiser use
outcome can also be attributed to the fact of their leisure time and become better able
that many key concepts in music education to enjoy music both now and in the future.
like creativity, improvisation, and other It is also expected that musical potential in
student-centered activities are considered the young will be detected early, and that
unimportant in the present ABRSM system. participation in musical activities will provide
Many Malaysians do not seem to realize that children with another healthy avenue for
the ABRSM approach to music education their creativity and enjoyment. Music is also
may not be totally suited to the contempo- expected to enhance students' academic
rary Malaysian context, for the ABRSM performance in other subjects through the
system essentially functions with rationales inclusion of some interdisciplinary material in
and objectives that are designed to perpetu- the music program. Thus music serves a
ate only European classical music traditions. utilitarian purpose in Malaysian education.
Other music examinations with certification The main vehicle for the delivery of formal
have also been conducted locally by private music education in Malaysian public schools
music schools, primarily for the organ and continues to be the vocal medium. "Rote
the guitar. Most of these local music schools before note" is the rule rather than the
and establishments are peripheral develop- exception through grade 3. Some effort is
ments of highly successful marketing strate- made to acquaint children with musical
gies employed by international corporations notation from grades 4 through 6, but this
to boost the sale of musical instruments such has met with only minimal success. Some-
as pianos and electronic organs for the times students play the recorder and percus-
home. Although the motives of these sion instruments. Performance opportunities
schools may prove to be suspect, in all arise mainly through annual interschool
fairness they have demonstrated more competitions at the district and state levels or
interest in innovative teaching strategies and during an important school event. Student
approaches than can be found in the ABRSM achievement in music is evaluated with
school of thought. The musical content in cognitive tests and other cumulative assess-
this system includes popular music and jazz ments throughout the six years of primary
and has therefore successfully attracted an education, but these scores are not taken into
appreciable number of students, including consideration when the student's overall
those from middle-class homes. academic progress is determined.
At the secondary level, music education is
Curricular Content in Malaysian
not compulsory but is offered as an elective
Schools Since 1983
at two of the national-level examinations
Content and methods in education are
which all Malaysians take in the ninth and
closely tied to national aspirations, ideology,
eleventh years of schooling. The syllabi for
and philosophy. Music education was
these examinations are patterned along the
introduced as a regular subject in the primary
lines of the ABRSM content, with some traces
schools' curriculum in 1983. The goals and
of Malaysian traditional music added on to
objectives for music education at this embry-
the music appreciation areas. The syllabi for
onic stage are based on what the govern-
these examinations are centrally regulated
ment, in consultation with Malaysian educa-
and prepared by the Ministry of Education.
tors, deems beneficial for the people."

48 Tbe Quarterly
Basic Music Teacher Education in the early 70s and then studied music
From 1957, when Malaysia attained inde- education at Northwestern University in
pendence from the British, music was Evanston, Illinois, where he earned his M.A.
introduced in teacher training institutions as in 1977. Thus, he also became the first
a self-enrichment program. All student Malaysian music educator to study music
teachers were required to sing and play the education in the United States.
recorder as well as to learn the rudiments of Major curricular changes in teacher educa-
traditional Western music theory. tion were made in 1988, when keyboard
Beginning in the early 1960s, student skills, music appreciation, music pedagogy,
teachers were trained to teach music at the and music history were added to the existing
Maktab Perguruan Lembah Pantai (Lembah areas in the teacher-training program in the
Pantai Teachers' College) in the capital city colleges. This writer sat on the Ministry's
of Kuala Lumpur, although music was still committee to revise the music syllabus for
not included in the formal curriculum of teacher-education colleges in February 1988.
public schools. The content of this new There was some disagreement about the
course was a slightly modified form of the changes, particularly from music lecturers
self-enrichment program first introduced in trained in the ABRSMsystem, and another
teacher training institutions in 1957. In committee continued work on the syllabus in
addition to basic singing, recorder, and May 1989. The final syllabus is a version of
theory, there was also some choral work the original syllabus of February 1988, in
included. During this period, an Englishman, which the new areas are retained, as there
Harold Ashcroft, was quite prominent in seemed no convincing reason to remove
Malaysian music education. Many of them. It appears that the new areas are here
Ashcroft's students speak of the passion and to stay, and the curricular innovations made
love that he had for music-European in February 1988 will result in a major shift
classical music-and the rigorous work that away from the traditional ABRSM-based
he required of them. approach to music education in Malaysia.
The leaders in music education throughout In Malaysia there are many teachers who
the 1970s, however, were all Malaysians may be considered pioneers in the teaching
trained in Britain or in the ABRSMschool of of music as a formal subject in the schools.
thought. The key figures were Khoo Soon Some had taken music only as an elective
Teong, Basil ]ayatilaka, Ranji Knight, and subject in their basic teacher-training pro-
Nazri Ahmad. They were centrally involved grams, and others were regular classroom
in planning the curricular content for music teachers who could playa musical instru-
education programs in the public schools ment and were consequently looked upon as
and teacher training colleges through the 70s, music educators by their school principals
and may be credited for the earliest attempts and required to teach music in the schools.
to include Malaysian music, such as patriotic Together, these teachers played an important
and traditional songs, as part of the reper- role in efforts to establish music in the public
toire taught in the schools. school curriculum.
In 1970, the role of providing basic teacher The rapid increase of the school popula-
training for music teachers was taken over by tion is challenging these teachers, as well as
the Maktab Perguruan Ilmu Khas in Kuala the teacher training institutions, to keep up
Lumpur. The curricular content for the basic with students' needs for music education.
music teacher education program remained The school population has more than
static until 1980, when guitar study became quadrupled since independence, from
compulsory for all student music teachers. 870,362 in 1956 to 3,414,175 in the mid
Nazri Ahmad, who headed the Music Depart- 1980s.11 The enrollment of music students
ment of the Maktab Perguruan Hum Khas into teacher training colleges has steadily
between 1979 and 1987, was largely respon- increased also: In 1980, there were fewer
sible for this innovation. He had graduated than 80 music students enrolled in basic
from the Royal College of Music in London teacher training. Today, there are about 550.

Volume 1, Number 4 49
This increase has primarily been a conse- ninth and eleventh years of their schooling.
quence of music entering the formal primary In the early 1970s, many educators and
school curriculum in 1983. parents spoke out against the old curriculum,
which was criticized as being too rigid, too
Specialized Music Teacher
academic, and too examination-oriented.
After some difficult planning and a number
A major development in the history of
of recommendations from the Cabinet
Malaysian teacher education was the estab-
Committee on Education, the New Primary
lishment of the Maktab Perguruan Ilmu Khas
Schools Curriculum was tested in various
in Kuala Lumpur in 1959. This college was Malaysian schools in 1982 and implemented
established to train specialized teachers in
throughout the country in 1983.
various areas such as physical education, art Of note, the new curriculum included
education, and special education (counsel-
music as a compulsory subject at the primary
ing, remedial, teaching the handicapped.. A school level for the first time. The inclusion
one-year music education course for certified of music as a regular subject in the New
teachers who have had at least five years
Primary School Curriculum may be viewed as
general teaching experience was added to a crucial milestone in the history of Malay-
the program in 1971; teachers must have an sian music education as every school-age
ABRSMqualification or other proven musical Malaysian child, irrespective of socioeco-
skill to be eligible. Since 1983, another nomic background, now has the opportunity
teacher college, the Maktab Perguruan to learn music as a matter of right rather than
Perseketuan in Pulau Pinang, has also been of privilege.
involved in the task of training both basic
and specialist music teachers. Teaching Methods
The syllabus for this one-year music Because of a dire shortage of music
education course, first designed in 1970, teachers, many general classroom teachers
includes singing, music theory, recorder, have been required to teach music since
children's percussion ensemble, scoring, 1983. The content for music classes is
composition, and music appreciation. In provided to teachers in the form of sequen-
1980, the guitar was introduced as a compul- tial lessons recorded on cassette tapes with
sory instrument for all specialist music accompanying text books and work sheets;
teacher-trainees. all are prepared, distributed, and regulated
An average of 20 specialist music teachers by the Ministry of Education. While this
are trained annually at the Maktab Perguran practice helps classroom teachers who are
Ilmu Khas. Most of the graduates have untrained in music, those teachers who are
served as itinerant music teachers in schools, capable of teaching music find very little
music lecturers in teacher-training institu- opportunity to digress from these centrally
tions, and as music administrators in state regulated materials.
education departments. Thus, the college Thus a significant number of classroom
has become known as a leader in Malaysian teachers have seldom done more in music
music education. classes than switch on and turn off the
cassette player. This is an unfortunate result
Music in the Formal Curriculum
of an enthusiastic effort to get music into the
The growing size of the Malaysian middle
curriculum, coupled with inattention to the
class and the general well-being of the
lack of trained music teachers. To attempt to
people in the 1970s signaled the establish- ensure the success of the new music classes,
ment of music as a regular subject in the many general classroom teachers attended
school curriculum. In 1972, music was
music courses lasting from three to four
introduced as an elective subject for the
weeks each over a period of three years at
Lower Certificate of Education and the
teacher training colleges throughout the
Malaysian Certificate of Education examina-
country. About 5,000 such music teachers
tions, which are important public examina-
were trained between 1982 and 1984 and
tions taken by all Malaysian children in the

50 The Quarterly
given attendance certificates which brought Because foreign-trained music educators are
them very little financial reward or academic working to emphasize it, however, it should
recognition. Some of these teachers recog- not be long before musical literacy becomes
nized that they had neither musical aptitude accepted as a major goal.
nor the inclination to teach music but were Only since 1988 have student music
merely following directives of their superiors. teachers been exposed to major approaches
Today, many of these teachers still use the to music education like Kodaly and Orff.
pedagogical strategies they learned in these They are also being given more exposure to
courses, for there has been no significant pedagogical approaches that emphasize
effort to provide more complete courses for student-centered activities.
them. The musical material first provided by
the Ministry in 1983 has not been revised
or updated. The government and top educational
Essentially, music teachers in Malaysia are administrators have always shown positive
trained to teach singing with solfege and attitudes towards criticism and change,
notation. A typical lesson begins with especially if such criticism came from music
breathing exercises and solfege singing. The educators with tertiary qualifications. How-
two methods often used to teach a song are ever, such criticism has had to be made
the "patterning" method and the "whole" through the proper channels of governmental
method. In the former, used in the lower bureaucracy, and sometimes valid ideas and
grades, the teacher models a phrase of the suggestions are "shot down" by middle-
song repeatedly. Children echo along until ranking supervisors who disagree with inno-
the phrase is satisfactorily learned and then vative suggestions. An ad hoc committee
move on to the next phrase. This process spearheaded by mostly American-trained'
continues until the entire song is learned. In music educators, is now working on the
the whole method, the teacher sings (or constitution of the yet-to-be registered
plays the piano) through the whole song Malaysian Music Educators Association
(MMEA).12 The MMEAaspires to address
again and again while the children sing along
with increasing familiarity (and volume) until many professional problems in the arena of
the song is deemed satisfactorily sung. music education as well as acting as a
When the teacher determines that the "watchdog" for the music education profes-
children have learned the melodic line, the sion in the country.
action literally begins. Teachers are taught Another interesting development in
how to make use of action songs (like "Skip Malaysian music education is the fact that an
to my Lou"), fingerplay songs (like "Eency increasing number of people are beginning
Weency Spider"), and simple rounds and to see the importance of our own folk and
canons. Actions and games also dramatize traditional musics." The vast array of
the lyrical content of songs. Clapping the Malaysian traditional music extant today,
rhythm of the song is a popular interpreta- including the folk and traditional musics of
tion of "action," and walking, running, the migrant races, certainly bears ample
skipping, or playing games to music are also testimony to the fact that the folk and
highly recommended and encouraged. traditional musics of all Malaysians were very
Other songs contain texts designed to teach much kept alive throughout the years of
children good morals and personal hygiene, colonial dominion in Malaysia. The govern-
stressing societal norms and values, and a ment's "Visit Malaysia Year 1990" campaign
sense of patriotism. also indirectly revived local interest in
Much of the classroom teaching, however, Malaysian traditional music and other tradi-
barely skims the cognitive aspects of musical tions. Almost daily, traditional music and
learning. This is glaringly apparent in other cultural fare are presented in Kuala
Malaysian teaching methods, and the main Lumpur and elsewhere, albeit for the benefit
reason lies in the fact that musical literacy is of tourists. Efforts are now underway to
not among the stated goals or objectives. include the study of Malaysian traditional

Volume 1, Number 4 51
music in the formal music curriculum for all Rationale for Music Education in Malaysian
primary schools. Schools from an Islamic Perspective." Un-
It might well be that the many develop- published Independent Project Thesis
ments that have occurred in the music C7E:193), School of Music, University of Iowa,
education scene in recent years augur well Iowa City. Spring, 1987, 3.
for the future of music education in Malaysia. 4. See Fifth Malaysia Plan (1986 - 1990).
The tide is certainly changing. However, it Kuala Lumpur: National Printing Depart-
appears that solutions to problems pertaining ment, 129.
to rationale and pedagogy for music educa- 5. Lois Ibsen Al Faruqi. "The Status of
tion would, initially and to a great degree, Music in Muslim Nations: Evidence from the
rest primarily on the leadership of foreign- Arab World," Asian Music, XII (1), 1979, 261.
trained music educators and in their ability to 6. James S. Chopyak, "Music in Modern
interpret realistically and pragmatically Malaysia: A Survey of the Musics Affecting
Western ideas from a Malaysian perspective. the Development of Malaysian Popular
To succeed, these efforts should respect the Music," Asian Music, XVIII 0), 1986, p. 132.
financial constraints, expectations, and 7. Ibid.
societal values of Malaysians. 8. Ibid.
Many challenges are in store for the entire 9. Johami Abdullah. "Returning Home: A
music education community in Malaysia in Malaysian Music Educator Leaves Iowa,"
the years ahead. A major concern is to get Iowa Music Educator, XLI (1), September
music education into all levels of Malaysian 1987, p. 34-35.
education, including the tertiary levels. 10. Taken from a speech made by the
There may be no drastic change in the Malaysian Minister of Education, at the
national educational philosophy, but most national launching ceremony of "Teachers'
certainly innovations in teaching strategies, Day" Celebrations at PWTC in Kuala Lumpur
objectives, evaluation procedures, ap- on June 8, 1990.
proaches and curricular content can be 11. Figures quoted from Federation of
expected in the near future. Malaya Annual Report, Kuala Lumpur: Govt.
Press, 1936; and Malaysia: Yearbook of
Statistics, Kuala Lumpur: Govt. Publications,
1. See N. J. Ryan's The Making of Modern
Malaysia and Singapore, London: Oxford
12. This writer is the chairperson of the ad
University Press, 1970, for a comprehensive hoc committee currently working on the
history of Malaysia. During the British reign MMEA registration requirements. Most of the
prior to September 16, 1963, the Federation other members of this committee are also
of Malaysia was generally known as Malaya music lecturers from the Maktab Perguruan
and did not include the East Malaysian states Ilmu Khas. MMEA membership will be open
of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo. Malaya to all music educators in Malaysia.
was also known as the Federated Malay
13. A symposium on "Malaysian Tradi-
States since 1896. tional Music" was organized by the Music
2. Observations of this nature are based Department of the Maktab Perguruan Ilmu
upon the personal experiences of this writer Khas between February 23 and 25, 1990, in
as an educator in Malaysia since 1960. Other Kuala Lumpur. It was jointly sponsored by
observations are based upon informal the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of
research on the subject conducted by the Culture and Tourism, and Radio Television
writer through interviews and conversations Malaysia. It was attended by music educa-
with selected Malaysian educators, both tors from both public and private schools,
former and current. As only scant literature
academicians from the universities, and
exists on the subject at hand, this writer
professional musicians and other representa-
bears complete responsibility for all such
tives from the music industry. Some 400
observations noted. people from all over Malaysia participated in
3. johami Abdullah. "A Philosophy and the symposium. The three papers that were

52 The Quarterly
presented at the symposium were related to Acknowledgements
Malaysian traditional music and addressed The author wishes to thank his many
historical, pedagogical, and curricular colleagues and friends who have patiently
perspectives. A two-hour authentic tradi- read through this article. In particular, I
tional music performance was presented in thank my immediate superior, Ms. Nik Faizah
conjunction with the symposium. This show Mustapha, the principal of the Maktab
was recorded and telecast nationally by Perguruan Ilmu Khas, who also read the final
Radio Television Malaysia. The symposium's draft of this article and offered some very
findings have been sent to the relevant useful suggestions. All their most valued
authorities. comments, suggestions, and encouragements
have made this modest effort possible. ~


The American Orff-Schulwerk Association will sponsor research
poster sessions at its 1991 National Conference in San Diego, California,
November 13-17,1991. Research reports dealing with any aspect of music
learning through movement, speech, singing, playing, improvisation, or
composition in general music or music therapy settings would be particu-
larly appropriate.
A poster presentation format will be utilized, and the author(s) of
each accepted paper will be expected to be present at the poster session in
order to discuss the project with interested music educators. The author(s)
also will be asked to furnish 100 copies of a report summary of two pages
or less, as well as 10 copies of the complete report.
The following guidelines will be in effect for the paper
selection process:
1. Submit seven copies of the completed study and
seven copies of a 250-word abstract to:
Cindi Wobig, Executive Secretary
American Orff-Schulwerk Association
P.O. Box 391089
Cleveland, Ohio 44139
Include both a self-addressed, stamped, letter-size
envelope and a self-addressed, stamped postcard
with the submission.
2. The author's name and institutional affiliation should
appear only on a separate cover page for each copy
of both the paper abstract.
3. Papers submitted for the conference must be comply
with the "Code of Ethics" published in each issue of
the Journal of Research in Music Education.
4. Submissions must be postmarked by May 1,1991,
and received by May 15, 1991.
5. A qualified group of judges will screen the submitted
reports, and notification letters will be mailed by June
15, 1991. The abstracts and reports will not be returned.

Volume 1, Number 4 53

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