Watermelon Man – Guitar Chords, Chord Melody, and Solo

When learning jazz guitar, the blues is an essential topic that any guitarist should tackle. But, how do you move beyond the standard 12-bar form? One of the tunes that get called at jam sessions and is blues related (but not 12-bar), is Watermelon Man.

Watermelon Man, a jazz funk classic written by Herbie Hancock who was just 22 at the time, was first released in 1962 on the album Takin’ Off. It was later re-arranged by Hancock for the album Head Hunters (1973).

The song was written with commercial intent but wasn’t a real hit until it was covered in a Latin pop version by Mongo Santamaria (a Cuban percussionist who wrote the jazz standard Afro Blue).

Here are those 3 versions of Watermelon Man next to each other. The first video is Herbie Hancock’s original version, the second is Mongo Santamaria’s cover version and the third video is the Head Hunters version.

Fun fact: the intro of the Head Hunters version is percussionist Bill Summers blowing into a beer bottle.


Herbie Hancock Watermelon man

Mongo Santamaria Watermelon Man


Because this song is a jam session standard, it’s a must-know tune for any jazz guitarist.

To help you learn this 16-bar blues, this lesson shows you the chords, chord melody, and a single-note solo.

Have fun with these studies, memorize them, and extract the chords, licks, and concepts to use in your own playing.

Watermelon Man Chords

To begin, here are the piano riff and chords to learn over Watermelon Man.

These chords and riff are based on the recording, adapted to fit the fretboard.

Make sure to work this riff until it’s fully comfortable, as it’s the foundation for the chord melody you learn in the next section.


Backing Track

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Listen & Play Along

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Watermelon Man Studies 1

Watermelon Man Chord Melody

You now mix the chords you just learned with the melody to Watermelon Man to explore a chord melody.

Because the chord riff is so unique, you play the melody and then the riff and move back and forth until the C7-Bb7 section, where you harmonize the melody.

If you are still struggling with the chords, make sure to review them before tackling the chord melody. As well, you can learn the single-note melody on its own first, then come back and work this chord melody when you’re ready.


Backing Track

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Listen & Play

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Watermelon Man Studies 3

Watermelon Man Solo

The last study is a single-note solo based on licks from Wes Montgomery’s catalog.

The main concepts are labeled in the solo, and they are:

  • Minor Blues Scale
  • Major Blues Scale
  • Bebop Scale
  • Diatonic 3rds
  • 7b13 Scale (5th Mode Melodic Minor)


Besides these concepts, notice how the first four bars ends on a chord tone (the 3rd), that’s not in the minor blues scale.

Also, the second phrase ends on a chord tone that’s not in the major blues scale (the b7).

This is an important soloing approach when using blues scales in your lines, and is something to take out of this solo and add to your own lines.


Backing Track

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Listen & Play

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Watermelon Man Studies 2


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26 thoughts on “Watermelon Man – Guitar Chords, Chord Melody, and Solo”

  1. Isaac Duncan

    Could you analyse the small guitar parts in version 3?

  2. momo hidalgo

    Gracias Matt, te sigo hace tiempo y es una maravilla tener a alguien que sepa enseñar tan bien en todos los niveles.

  3. Teo

    It always been Herbie Hancock.Awesome! Thanks!

  4. Paul

    Setting up a nice groove – thanks!

  5. Elton Charles

    Hey Matt, thank you for your prompt response re “9th arpeggios, chords, licks etc. I did some home work and the name of the lesson is INTRODUCTION TO 9th ARPEGGIOS FOR JAZZ GUITAR. Can you help? for it no longer on the site.

      1. Elton Charles

        Thank you Matt. You are appreciated. Peace!!!

  6. adolfo sg

    Hi. Thanks. I’ve comp this tune years ago. Now I can develope it. Nice.

  7. Steve

    This is really fun, and very approachable with an interesting 7th voicing for the C7. Many thanks!

    FYI, in Firefox, I don’t see the Play buttons either but do with Internet Explorer on Windows, anyway. Didn’t check MacOS.

  8. Matt

    Really good. I especially like the three versions. They really show (me) what jazz is all about.

  9. Jos

    I do not see the backing track etc. play buttons.

    1. Dirk Laukens

      Hi Jos, I added a new audio player to fix this, please clear your browser’s cache and audio will work fine.

      1. Jos

        Dirk, it works fine now, thanks. I appreciate getting a lesson by mail now and then. Some have a long term effect. For example “Full Count”, which I play regularly because it improves my plectrum up strokes.

  10. carlosd

    nice! Would even be nicer if we could download it in PDF. And print it. 🙂

  11. Danbeg-69

    Very Nice version. Thank You

  12. nga_tom

    Great Job, thanks, but I think there is an error in the written music for bars 9 -14 in the rhythm section. It is written as dotted quarter, eighth but I am hearing it as eighth then dotted quarter.

    1. Mårten Moberg

      He’s playing the rhythm correct, just that the first one is staccatto, then a long note…

  13. Chuckbluz

    one of my favorite tunes, and one I’ve always wanted to learn, thanks!

  14. wayne lazar

    That was excellent Thank you!!!!

  15. Carlos Jarque

    Simply and efective comp pattern over a 7 chord.thank you.For the solo I need a little bit more time.The first read seems simply and efective too.

  16. Ollie de Bhal

    Very well set out .Can only thank you and aim to learn this section by section.

  17. jose vicente Arboleda

    Nice !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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