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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:

  • How to Practice Double Stops (with the Bow)

    How to Practice Double Stops (with the Bow)

    Double stops can present a major challenge for double bassists just being introduced to them, specifically in the arena of intonation. Finger spacing, shifting, and dropping and lifting of multiple fingers are all areas that can trip someone up. Below, using a famous passage from Edouard Nanny’s Concerto attributed to Dragonetti, are a few ways... »

  • Moving from Upright to Electric Bass

    Moving from Upright to Electric Bass

    If you are an electric bassist looking to learn upright, getting your double bass skills up to snuff can be daunting. When deciding to become a “switcher,” most of us coming from the electric bass side of things approach the new, bigger instrument with some amount of trepidation. The usual feeling seems to be that... »

  • Finger Substitutions

    Finger Substitutions

    When we play the same note, usually on the same string, consecutively, but with different fingers, it is called a finger substitution. For example: This technique is most often employed is when we want to avoid shifting within a slur. While we should be able to shift silently within a slur, it is sometimes musically... »

  • Dealing with Blisters on the Pizzicato Hand

    Dealing with Blisters on the Pizzicato Hand

    So, you recently acquired a double bass. This is great news! Welcome! Or perhaps you simply resolved that this was the year you got serious about playing and you increased your time at the instrument. Fantastic! Or maybe you picked up some regular gigs! Even better! Either way, this recent positive change in your life... »

  • Exercises: Thumb Position in the Lower Positions

    Exercises: Thumb Position in the Lower Positions

    When many of us first learn to play in “thumb position” (using thumb on top of the fingerboard to press the string down) we begin by placing thumb on the half-string harmonic (G on the G-string, 12th fret, if we had frets). In fact, much beginning thumb position study starts here. From here, intermediate thumb... »

  • Scale Exercise in Thumb Position

    Scale Exercise in Thumb Position

    When double bassists put their thumb on top of the fingerboard, rather than behind it, and use it to depress the string (just like the other fingers), we call that “thumb position.” There are a plethora of etude books and exercises to help us solidify the use of the thumb to press the string, but... »

  • Starting Out: Getting Work

    Starting Out: Getting Work

    Photo by Alan Levine Q: I recently saw a video that talked about going to music school. After watching it I got the impression that maybe school wasn’t such a good idea. At the same time it seemed like the only way to get work as a musician, was to go to school and use... »

  • Dealing with a Removable Neck

    Dealing with a Removable Neck

    Q: I have read your latest column on the set-up of your bass and that you had a removable neck installed. I never had one and one of the reasons why I’m holding off on this is the fact that a removable neck also means a removable bridge. I mean: the bridge is not fixed... »

  • Surviving the Holidays as a Freelance Bassist

    Surviving the Holidays as a Freelance Bassist

    For non-musicians the winter holidays can be a time for rest, relaxation and extra time with family. For many freelance musicians, however, it is a time of early mornings, late nights, long hours playing, coffee, and lots of time in the car going from gig to gig. The upside is, of course, that it can... »

  • 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... »