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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:

  • My Double Bass Setup: Part 4 – Endpin, Removable Neck and Travel Case

    My Double Bass Setup: Part 4 – Endpin, Removable Neck and Travel Case

    Endpin I also use an angled endpin while standing. The main reason for this is to take the weight of the instrument off my left hand while allowing my left hand easy access to the complete fingerboard. For more on this, check out this column. Some people have noted that my endpin length and angle... »

  • My Double Bass Setup: Part 3 – String Spacing and String Height

    My Double Bass Setup: Part 3 – String Spacing and String Height

    String Spacing My string spacing at the nut is approximately 8 millimeters between each string and my string spacing at the bridge is about 22 millimeters between each string. By contrast a more traditional setup might be 10 mm at the nut and 28 mm at the bridge. Although this particular change may seem small... »

  • My Double Bass Setup: Part 2 – Number of Strings, Tuning and Fingerboard Length

    My Double Bass Setup: Part 2 – Number of Strings, Tuning and Fingerboard Length

    I play a five-string bass with both a higher string and a low C, via an extension. My specific tuning is (from lowest to highest) C, B, E, A, D. The low C string can be tuned via capos (on the C extension) to any chromatic note between C and E (the more standard low... »

  • My Double Bass Setup: Part 1 – The Bow

    My Double Bass Setup: Part 1 – The Bow

    Usually in this column I talk about general double bass (upright bass) subjects, or answer specific questions that I think will be of benefit to the largest number of readers. Lately, however, I’ve been getting a great many questions about my personal bass setup. So, in the next few columns I’m going to go through... »

  • Should I Play French or German Bow?

    Should I Play French or German Bow?

    Q: I’m just starting out and I can’t figure out if I should play French or German bow? – Marisol G. A: One of the seemingly most controversial, yet entirely manufactured non-controversies among double bass players is whether one should play using an overhand (aka “French”) bow or an underhand (aka “German”) bow. Note: “German”... »

  • Dealing with Stamina Issues on Bass

    Dealing with Stamina Issues on Bass

    Q: I’ve been playing upright for the past few months, and I’m having some stamina problems in my left hand. Someone said that maybe the neck is too thick. Do you think having the neck thinned out would help with my stamina? Thanks! – Marian A: It’s great to hear you are playing upright bass... »

  • Maximizing Resonance with the Bow

    Maximizing Resonance with the Bow

    If you play the bass long enough you’ll hear someone talking about making a “resonant” sound. When we are searching for a resonant sound we are attempting to create an unrestricted sound, one with some “depth,” where the strings and the bass itself both vibrate freely. Obviously, some basses vibrate more easily than others. These... »

  • Getting Started: A Beginner’s Guide to Improvising a Bass Line

    Getting Started: A Beginner’s Guide to Improvising a Bass Line

    Whether you are a beginning bassist, or an accomplished musician who is simply accustomed to reading written music, it can be daunting when first asked to improvise a bass line. Some people stumble, others freeze. Some think they need to be well versed in college level theory. However, there is no reason to fear even... »

  • Some Thoughts on Playing at Fast Tempi

    Some Thoughts on Playing at Fast Tempi

    At some point, someone at the gig is going to call a tune at breakneck speed. Trying to keep solid time at a blistering pace can be physically and mentally exhausting for a bassist. We might drag, or miss a change. We can help mitigate these issues by applying a few ideas when playing an... »

  • Why Memorize Music?

    Why Memorize Music?

    Some musical situations all but require the use of printed music. For example, larger ensembles, such as a Jazz Big Band or a Symphony Orchestra, universally use printed music. This is primarily due to the complexity of the compositions/arrangements, the short rehearsal time for each work, the sometimes-enormous length of the works, etc. However, in... »