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Donovan Stokes

Donovan StokesDr. Donovan Stokes enjoys a varied career of performing, composing, writing and teaching. Stokes is currently Professor of Music at Shenandoah University-Conservatory where he teaches classical and jazz bass, coaches chamber music, directs the Bass Ensemble and acts as head of the String Area. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the International Society of Bassists, President of the Virginia String Teachers Association, former member of the National Editorial Committee for American String Teachers Association and founder and Artistic Director of the Bass Coalition and their Annual Bass Workshop.

His recording Gadaha garnered two JPF Music Award nominations and rankings, for Best Album and Best Instrumental Song. Described as a musician who “paints primary colours and subtle shades to considerable effect” (The Double Bassist), Stokes is also noted for his “eye-popping display of technical wizardry and showmanship” (Madison Jazz) who brings “the bass into yet another dimension of capabilities.” (Gary Karr). He also writes a regular column “Lowdown with Dr. D,” on bass and performance related matters, for

As a chamber musician he has had the honor of collaborating with wonderful musicians including the Fry Street Quartet, Agua Va!, members of the Audubon Quartet, Stuart Malina, Blanka Bednarz, Eriko Sato, John O’Connor , David Oui and Seymour Lipkin. As a composer he has enjoyed recent commissions from Orquesta de Baja California, Barry Green, Blanka Bednarz, The International Society of Bassists Young Bass Division, the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and Jerry Fuller, among others. He offers a online instruction in upright bass and composition and has created an Upright Slap Bass Instructional Video available exclusively online.

Dr. Stokes earned degrees from Vanderbilt University (B.M.) and Indiana University in Bloomington (M.M. and D.M.), where his major bass instructors were Lawrence Hurst, and Edgar Meyer. He studied fiddle styles with Crystal Ploughman and Mark O’Connor, string pedagogy with Lawrence Hurst, Helga Winold, Inez Wyrick and Mimi Zweig, and composition with Michael Alec Rose, Michael Kurek and Mary Jeanne Van Appledorn. He is also an expert in the life and work of bassist Rodion Azarkhin.

Visit him on the web at and Youtube.

Articles by Donovan Stokes:

  • What’s This Angled Endpin Business?

    What’s This Angled Endpin Business?

    I get lots of questions about my bass and “what’s up with that endpin?” ranks in the top ten. As you know, most endpins come straight out of the bass, at a angle more or less parallel with the back of the instrument, a 90 degrees relation to the bottom of the instrument. When the... »

  • A Quick Warmup for the Left Hand

    A Quick Warmup for the Left Hand

    Sometimes we need to warmup in a hurry. When I need to warmup in two minutes or less I do exercises like the ones below. Some things to remember when doing these: Start slowly and speed up as you go Keep the fingers light and flexible, don’t press any harder than necessary Don’t’ go any... »

  • Three Exercises for Releasing and Relaxing the Left Hand Thumb

    Three Exercises for Releasing and Relaxing the Left Hand Thumb

    Keeping the thumb of our left hand flexible is a key component in achieving an agile fingering hand. Ideally, any pressure exerted by the thumb against the neck should be minimal. Below are a few exercises that should help you keep your thumb relaxed and your left hand injury free. 1. Thumb independence Pick a... »

  • Simple Exercise for Increased Bow Control on Bass

    Simple Exercise for Increased Bow Control on Bass

    When using the bow, the natural tendency is to play louder at the frog and softer at the tip. We must, of course, counteract this predisposition on a regular basis. Simply playing a full bow with consistent timbre and volume requires it. Generally, we do this by adding pressure, via arm weight, to the bow... »

  • Beginning Exercise for Improving Left Hand Finger Independence

    Beginning Exercise for Improving Left Hand Finger Independence

    The four movements of the left hand fingers necessary for string playing (to paraphrase the great violin pedagogue Demetrius Constantine Dounis) are: Lifting: Raising a finger from the fingerboard/string Dropping: Lowering a finger/Pressing a string to the fingerboard Sliding: Moving a finger along the string so the pitch rises or lowers accordingly Holding: leaving a... »

  • Seven Planes of the Bow Arm

    Seven Planes of the Bow Arm

    If we are aiming for a consistent sound, the shape of our bow arm should be the same no matter which string, or combination of strings, we are playing on. To do this, we must raise or lower our arm, depending upon which string, or combination of strings, we are playing on. For example, while... »

  • Beginning Jazz Soloing: A Melody First Approach

    Beginning Jazz Soloing: A Melody First Approach

    Some methods of learning jazz improvisation start out from the beginning by asking us to memorize chords, scales, and to play patterns in every key. For those unaccustomed to improvising, or inexperienced in theory, starting out this way can be a daunting task. It can make the learning curve for improvisation seem insurmountable. Some people... »

  • Improving Time and Rhythmic Accuracy

    Improving Time and Rhythmic Accuracy

    As important as playing with good intonation is, it is even more important to play with good time and rhythmic accuracy. Most of us know that counting, subdividing and practicing with a metronome can help. However, there are things we can do beyond these initial steps. Below are a few suggestions, and a few games,... »

  • The Importance of Cooling Down After Playing

    The Importance of Cooling Down After Playing

    Most musicians are aware of the importance of warming up. Warming up properly helps to prevent injuries, and increases our ease of play. It can even help solidify our technique and ensure we play at our best that day. Fewer musicians, however, seem aware of the benefits of cooling down. Playing the bass for hours... »

  • Improving Your Musical Ears

    Improving Your Musical Ears

    Being a musician requires a great number of skills. However, the aural component is by far the most prevalent. So, to perform at the highest levels, we must have good listening skills. Ultimately we need to hear, and understand, exactly what is happening around us. Only when we can do this can we respond in... »