I Saw Three Ships – guitar chords, melody, and arrangement


This lesson covers how to play the English Christmas Carol, I Saw Three Ships on guitar with tabs. We’ll go over the chords, sheet music for the melody, and then a guitar arrangement that you can try out!

Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

How to read the guitar chord charts

To clarify how to read the chord charts in the next section, the top horizontal line represents the high E string and the bottom horizontal line represents the low E string. The vertical lines separate each fret. The numbers in the blue dots tell you which fingers to use on the fretting hand. 

For example, on the D Major chord, you use the:

  • 2nd finger on the 1st string, 2nd fret
  • 1st finger on the 3rd string, 2nd fret
  • 3rd finger on the 2nd string, 3rd fret
  • Circles represent open strings
  • X means to avoid the string

You can check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.

I Saw Three Ships guitar chords

The basic chords for I Saw Three Ships are D Major, G/D, A sus 4, A Major, and G Major. You can click on the chords with links to learn different ways of playing that chord.

Try the following chords one at a time until you feel comfortable switching between them. These chords will be written above the melody in the next section.

I Saw Three Ships guitar chords

Here are some other resources on chords:

I Saw Three Ships guitar tabs and chords

This section shows you the melody of the song with guitar tabs and the chords written above the staff. Keep in mind that the melody and chords are meant to be played as separate parts. We’ll look at how to connect these parts later in the arrangement section of this lesson.

The numbers next to some notes on the top staff indicate which fingers to use on the fretting hand.

You can refer to this simple guide to understanding music symbols if needed.

By the way, you can get all the PDFs of this song below.


I Saw Three Ships guitar tabs and chords


You can learn a finger-style guitar arrangement of this song after the lyrics below.

I Saw Three Ships lyrics

Verse 1:
I saw three ships come sailing in
⁠On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
⁠On Christmas day in the morning.

Verse 2:
And what was in those ships all three,
⁠On Christmas day, on Christmas day?
And what was in those ships all three,
⁠On Christmas day in the morning?

Verse 3:
Our Saviour Christ and his lady,
⁠On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Our Saviour Christ and his lady,
⁠On Christmas day in the morning.

Verse 4:
Pray whither sailed those ships all three,
⁠On Christmas day, on Christmas day?
Pray whither sailed those ships all three,
⁠On Christmas day in the morning?

Verse 5:
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
⁠On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
⁠On Christmas day in the morning.

Verse 6:
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
⁠On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
⁠On Christmas day in the morning.

Verse 7:
And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
⁠On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
⁠On Christmas day in the morning.

Verse 8:
And all the Souls on Earth shall sing,
⁠On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the Souls on Earth shall sing,
⁠On Christmas day in the morning.

Verse 9:
Then let us all rejoice amain,
⁠On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Then let us all rejoice amain,
⁠On Christmas day in the morning.

Reference: I Saw Three Ships. wikipedia.org

I Saw Three Ships guitar arrangement

In this section, we are connecting the melody and chords together using a finger-style method of playing. Note that some of the chords in this guitar arrangement have been slightly modified.

If needed, check out this lesson to learn how to finger pick on guitar.


I Saw Three Ships guitar arrangement


If you like this style of playing, you can check out this lesson to learn how to connect a melody and chords on guitar.

Get the free guitar practice guide here!

Want to learn more songs? Check out the sheet music with guitar tabs resource on this site.

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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