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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:

  • Multi-Stop Travel With Your Bass – Part 1: Physical Preparation

    Multi-Stop Travel With Your Bass – Part 1: Physical Preparation

    Photo by whichwould Most people realize that there are special considerations when flying with your upright bass. These considerations are significantly expanded if your musical journey requires a series of planes, trains, and automobiles, before you arrive back at your home door. With this in mind, I’d like to address three subjects in this series... »

  • Introduction to Chromatic Scales

    Introduction to Chromatic Scales

    For many bassists, the chromatic scale is an underused resource in their practice toolkit. Properly approached, practicing chromatic scales can vastly improve our shifting, intonation and mental map of the fingerboard. Below are a few beginner exercises using the chromatic scale that I find to be useful for those just becoming familiar with the chromatic... »

  • Learning a Tune “On the Spot”

    Learning a Tune “On the Spot”

    Last week I received a question about how to memorize a tune fast: “…For example, [bassist] playing a jazz tune you’ve never played before with a pianist as they shout out the changes for one chorus, then stop for the second. How can we develop skills to memorize these changes instantly?” No doubt the situation... »

  • Memorization: Tips for Bass Players

    Memorization: Tips for Bass Players

    I received the following question this week from a concerned double bassist: “How can I keep from having memory slips on stage?” Even experienced performers may have the occasional memory faux pas on stage. However, there are some things we can do to minimize the risk. Be prepared early. The earlier you can play something... »

  • Preferred Scale Books for Bass Players

    Preferred Scale Books for Bass Players

    Recently I’ve been getting a lot of people asking for recommendations for “good” scale books for the double bassist. This is an interesting subject, as there so many books out there! Furthermore, whether a scale book is “good” or not often depends not on their content, but rather how they are applied. This is why... »

  • Avoiding Discomfort and Pain When Playing the Upright Bass

    Avoiding Discomfort and Pain When Playing the Upright Bass

    It should be physically easy to play the upright bass. When we experience discomfort or pain, during or after playing, it is our body’s way of telling us that we are doing something wrong. While each body is unique, there are general guidelines all bassists can follow which will reduce the potential for bass-related injury.... »

  • Classification of Three Types of Thumb Position on the Double Bass

    Classification of Three Types of Thumb Position on the Double Bass

    When we speak of thumb position on the bass we are referring to a left hand (l.h.) fingering system where the thumb is used to depress the string. The thumb is on top of the board (rather than behind the neck) and it presses the string down like any other finger. However, often telling someone... »

  • Thumb Position Below the Half Point of the String on Double Bass

    Thumb Position Below the Half Point of the String on Double Bass

    Although I sometimes use a 1-2-3-4 fingering technique below the half point of the string (12th fret, if we had frets), I often find a thumb position fingering to be more efficient, easier on the hand and, most importantly, more accurate. Of course, many bass players first learn thumb position starting at the half point... »

  • Some Thoughts on the 1-2-3-4 Fingering System for Double Bass

    Some Thoughts on the 1-2-3-4 Fingering System for Double Bass

    For as long as there have been bassists, there has been debate about what fingering system to use. While most players today use a three-finger technique (1-2-4, or the Italian 1-3-4) some suggest a four-finger technique, especially in the middle positions (i.e. between D and G on the G string). One of the main arguments... »

  • Getting the Most of a Bass Lesson

    Getting the Most of a Bass Lesson

    When we make a commitment to embark on a series of bass lessons we are, of course, looking to grow, expand and progress. This is why, if we are serious about our study, we make efforts to find a teacher who we believe can help us on our bass journey. Locating a good teacher and... »