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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 notreble.com.

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 donovanstokes.com and Youtube.

Articles by Donovan Stokes:

  • 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... »

  • Challenges to Good Intonation in a Live Situation

    Challenges to Good Intonation in a Live Situation

    Good intonation is a lifelong concern for every double bassist. We train our ears, we work constantly to match pitch, and we devote large sections of our individual practice sessions to improving it. Among other things, the sheer size of the instrument demands our constant attention to pitch. Sometimes though, even players who normally have... »

  • Improving Practice: 4 Pitfalls to Avoid in the Practice Room

    Improving Practice: 4 Pitfalls to Avoid in the Practice Room

    We learn and grow musically from a variety of sources. Teachers, performances, fellow musicians, etc. all play a role in our progress, but our most direct improvement comes from our time in the practice room. That’s why spending time practicing each day is so important. Sometimes, however, even when are putting in time daily, we... »

  • Making a Living in Music

    Making a Living in Music

    I get a lot of questions from aspiring musicians on how to make a career in music. There isn’t one answer to this, and everyone’s circumstances are different. However, below are some of my more general suggestions for those considering a life in music. Specialize I’m usually talking to upright bassists, so I generally suggest... »

  • Musical Goals and Self Evaluation

    Musical Goals and Self Evaluation

    For those of us involved in formal education, the end of the year is a time for evaluation in all our classes, e.g. final exams, papers, presentations etc. When it comes to instrumental study, most students play what is known as a “jury.” This is performance by the student for panel of faculty. The charge... »

  • Improving Troublesome Passages: Five Tips for Bass Players

    Improving Troublesome Passages: Five Tips for Bass Players

    Continuing our series of “Tips” columns, here’s one on breaking down troublesome musical passages. 1. Take it Slow Practicing technically difficult passages at slow tempi is nearly essential for mastery. Learning something at a slow tempo is learning it well. Doing so helps us avoid unconscious errors such as incorrect notes, fingerings, rhythms, errant string... »