15+ Easy Music Vocab In Malay

Wondering how to describe your favorite instrument or genre? It’s time to learn music vocab in Malay today! You see, Malay music deserves special attention for its blend of natural and human sounds rooted in its nature and rich tradition. It is rich in elements of various cultures, including Indian, Arabic, Chinese, Javanese and Portuguese music. Malaysia’s music range is as diverse as the Malaysian people themselves, with thriving modern cities next to stone age nomads.

Around 200 million people in the world speak Malay, making it the 8th most spoken language in the world. Yes, Malaysians also speak English, but if you want to fully experience this culture, you better learn some basic Malay. This time around we’d like to share with you some useful Malay music words. Besides, Malay is written in Latin script, so there is no need to learn the new alphabet!

Traditional Malay Music

Music Vocab In Malay

Traditional Malay music’s lyrics often use Malay poetry, such as pantun, gurindam, and syair. While all three are beautiful, the value of pantun for the Malay language makes it unique. The UNESCO has designated it as a part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity that serves as an instrument of moral guidance because of how beautifully it helps to express restraint, respect, kindness, and humility. Pantun is also used to resolve conflicts diplomatically as it offers a way to gently bring up important issues. Think about it, how valuable would it be to learn the language of diplomacy?

  • Kalau ada sumur di ladang, (If there’s a well in the field)
  • Bolehlah kita menumpang mandi. (let us use to take a bath)
  • Kalau ada umur panjang, (if we have longevity)
  • Bolehlah kita berjumpa lagi. ([I hope] we could meet again)


Instruments In Malay Music

Just like in other Asian countries like Korea, Malaysia has a distinct oriental sound to it. Oriental music is hypnotic and its secret lies in the materials used for its music instruments: silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and skin. Asian people have invented wonderful instruments throughout history, and here are some of the most popular instruments in Malay music.

RebabAn Arab-style fiddle
GendangAn Arab-style doubled headed drum
RebanaAn Arab-style frame drum
Tawak gongChinese-style tawak gongs
KompangDrum similar to the tambourine but without the jingling metal discs
SerulingBamboo ring flute
NafiriLong clarinet
GambusCarefully crafted with combinations of different woods, this instrument produces a gentle tone that is similar to that of the harpsichord.
MarwasSmall double-sided hand drum

Music Vocab In Malay

The Malay music variety is quite vast and can be hard to grasp for a foreigner. It includes wayang kulit, bangsawan and dance dramas, as well as story-telling, folk songs and music for dances, royal ceremonies, martial arts (silat), life cycle events, and religious occasions. So, let me guide you through different types of music in Malay.

Traditional MusicDescription
NoubatA special royal orchestra consisting of usually four or five members, using the flute, trumpet, gong, and drums; and only performed during state ceremonies.
RonggengSlow, ballad-style music of Southeast Asian gypsy origin played with the rebab, fiddle, and brass gong that accompanies social dance jogat.
Dondang sayang Love songs, played by Indian tabla, harmonium, gendang, violin, and oud, with a lot of drumming and rhythm changes
Ghazal A style of Malay music known for its mournful singing typically tied to themes of romance sung in pantun verses. performed at weddings and other celebrations.

Folk Dance In Malay

Dance is at the core of Malay culture and is best done with the music we have discussed above. The dances from Malaysia are beautiful and at times dazzlingly expressive. With vibrant costumes, precise moves, and captivating music, every dance has a story to tell.

Traditional DanceDescription
Asli (‘original’, ‘traditional’)A slow-pace dance form with intricate poses and movements, usually performed by couples at social gatherings
Joget A lively dance with an upbeat tempo, performed by couples who combine fast, graceful movements with playful humor
Zapin Zapin is expressive and upbeat, making it one of Malay’s most loved dances and musical forms. The original dance was performed to Islamic devotional singing to spread knowledge of Islamic civilization history.
Malay Mak YongPerformances combining romantic drama, dance and opera to entertain queens and princesses during the golden age of the Malay kingdoms when their men were away at war.
Kuda KepangAn ancient dance telling tales of mighty warriors’ victories in Islamic holy wars
Tarian LilinA performance by women who do a delicate dance while balancing candles in small dishes, also called Candle Dance
SilatIn addition to being a deadly martial art, Silat is a spellbinding and intriguing dance with flowery body movements.

Malaysian Music Today: What’s Popular?

Malaysian Music Today What’s Popular

Modern Malay music has been heavily westernized. Western amusements are plentiful in big cities like Kuala Lumpur, such as opera and theater, symphonic concerts and chamber music, modern rock concerts, and techno parties.


Malay youngsters are fans of pan-Asian pop. Popular music in many languages, such as Mandopop, is very popular in Malaysia. However, Malaysian pop (or M-pop) refers to music that was recorded primarily in Malay in Malaysia. A new generation of artists has emerged, including Yuna, Malaysia’s most famous international female singer [penyanyi perempuan] and song-writer [pencipta lagu], who has collaborated with Usher and Pharrell Williams.

Restrictions On Artists? Not Anymore!

Malaysia’s Islamic heritage was a valuable contribution to Malaysian culture and people. However, today it restricts freedom of expression through modern music styles. This is especially true for female artists both national and international. Many artists such as Beyoncé or the Pussycats Dolls have seen Malaysian conservatism in action, from being fined to having their shows canceled.

Women aren’t giving up their freedom of expression, however. Malaysia has had quite a few female artists who stood up for gender equality. SYA, a contemporary Malaysian hip-hop artist, calls for women’s empowerment. She keeps repeating in one of her songs: “aku tak peduli”, which means “I don’t care” for stereotypes.

Start Learning Malay Today!

Finding out the mystery behind Malay music is fascinating, isn’t it? There is no question that the sounds of Malay music are so beautiful that even if you do not understand what’s behind them, you’ll be blown away. You have now learned so much about Malay dance genres, instruments, and music. Imagine how fascinating it would be to discover the story that music is telling. If you’re more interested in hip-hop and contemporary music, why not attend an event in Malaysia to see what young artists have to offer? Learning Malay will prove to be of use here. If you also want to learn more, then we highly recommend that you check out the Ling App and start learning right now!

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