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I Saw Three Ships for string orchestra

By Traditional

String Quartet - Easy/Beginner - Digital Download
Composed by Traditional. Arranged by Matt Brookes. Repertoire, General Instructional, Technique Training, Folk, Christmas. 10 pages. Published by Matt Brookes (S0.280057).

Item Number: S0.280057

Ideal for a school string ensemble Christmas Concert or an advanced primary strings group Winter Recital. Alternatively it would be a good seasonal sight reading exercise for an intermediate string ensemble. A good piece for building confidence.

The piece will improve confidence with dotted rhythms, syncopation and reading in 6 8 across all parts. Changes in grouping of parts from homorhythmic sections to solo features will encourage shared tempo, listening and awareness within the group and promote rhythmic accuracy and confidence . Three violin parts are used in this arrangement in addition to viola and cello to allow the teacher more flexibility when allocating parts.

The third violin uses all three fingers but sparingly in small feature sections and has lots of strong rhythmic sections on open strings. The first violin mainly carries the tune, which is swapped into different octaves to challenge the player but the whole part remains in first position with some low 2s. The second violin changes role from supporting the first on the tune, filling out chords  and ‘sailing’ over the top with a counter melody. Cello and viola parts carry the rhythm throughout and ground the harmony. The cello part has open string passages to give respite to developing fingers and allow cellists to focus on rhythm and ensemble playing.

‘I Saw Three Ships’ is suitable for interfaith environments as whilst the piece is considered seasonal and often associated with Christmas, it was originally an English folk tune before the seemingly never ending repetitions of ‘On Christmas day in the morning’. In the lyrics now associated with the tune, there is no mention of the Christmas Story or any Biblical characters.

I design my pieces to enable teachers to reinforce techniques learnt in one-to-one or group lessons. I try to pick modern, familiar and popular repertoire that will appeal to children or teenagers. I hope that this arrangement of the traditional 'I Saw Three Ships' achieves this.

You will receive a score comprising of violins i, ii, and iii viola and cello. Each individual part is included, plus a full score.
Please review my work, if you have the time.

You can also browse my other arrangements here:


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  • Ratings + Reviews

  • 5

    Difficulty Level:
    Early intermediate
  • November 25, 2017 Funk variation

    A really groovy arrangement of the much loved carrol and quite refreshing in the sea of twee Christmas tunes. This is a fun one which keeps the first violins pumping out the tune but in different  octaves and keys. Accompanying riffs are introduced homorhymically and then return later to be...

      layered simultaneously - a really useful device for less confident readers and those who play by ear. The 3rd violin  is friendly, approachable for complete  beginners and surprisingly  hummable. Thoroughly recommend! my teenage students loved it and I've  even been teaching a simplified version  by ear to my adult fiddle class - really memorable riffs  for a wonderful tune.

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    2 of 3 people found this review helpful.
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