Using Smart Playlists in iTunes – your smart DJ

iTunes software allows you to build a Playlist which tells your iPod (or iTunes software) which songs to play.

There are two types of playlsts – regular and smart.

A regular playlist is one where you drag the songs onto the list, but the smart playlist is built intelligently according to a set of rules.

Each song (track or music file) has a set of tags describing the contents – name, artist, album, composer, genre and comments. In addition, iTunes keeps track of when the song was added to the library, when it was last played, how many times it has been played and the rating you have given it.

Smart lists can be created for all sorts of purposes: Recently Added, Recently Played, Top Rated Music, Favourite Pop (based on Ratings), Unplayed Jazz. Recently I have been adding my Bob Dylan CDs to iTunes so I created a smart playlist of unplayed Bob Dylan songs. Now can use this playlist to listen to my entire Bob Dylan collection.

Smart playlists are your personal  intelligent disc jockey and help you enjoy your music collection. Let’s begin to create some lists!

How to create a smart playlist

Go to the iTunes software and choose the menu item File > New Smart Playlist. Alternatively, use the shortcut of Ctl-Alt-N (Windows).

A form is displayed for you to build the rule.  Each rule has three parts – the tag or attribute of interest, an operator and the comparison text.

The form opens with the Album tag is the first choice. Click the down arrow to choose another field. There are many to choose from:

The contains drop down list will show a list of options depending on which field you choose. When you choose a text field like Artist, Album or Genre you get the following choices:

Date fields such as Date Added, Last Played gives options of before, after and within ranges of days, weeks or months. For example, the Recently Added smartlist has a rule of Date Added is in the last 1 days.

Numeric fields such as Plays gives options such as less than, greater then and a range.

You can make multipart rules by clicking the Plus sign icon on the right hand side of the rule, then complete the second rule. For example, a smart playlist of Beatles Unplayed would have two rules: Artist contains The Beatles and Plays is 0.

Limiting the size of your list

Creating the smart playlist is very useful but what happens if the list contains thousands of songs and becomes unmanageable? This is where the Limit option comes into play.

Select the check box next to “Limit to”. You can then limit the playlist size to a number of items (songs), minutes, hours, MB (megabytes) or GB (gigabytes).  For example, you could limit your playlist to 2 hours.

The selected by drop down list tells iTunes how to choose these items. For example if your smartlist is of Unplayed Pop music, you want to choose least recently added to fetch the oldest unplayed music in your collection.

The Match only checked items option limits the playlist to music which has a checkmark. I don’t use this feature as all the music in my iTunes library is checked.

The Live updating checkbox is selected by default. This causes the smart playlist rules to be applied after each song has played. Imagine you are playing your “Unplayed Beatles” playlist. As each song finishes, it is removed from the playlist.

Other Playlist Tips

Organise your playlists into folders by using the menu option File > New Playlist folder. For example, you could create a folder Unplayed Music to store your Unplayed Beatles and Unplayed Bob Dylan lists.

How do you use Smart Playlists? Please share your ideas in the comments section.


Author: charuzu

I live in Sydney and interests include music, piano playing, technology, cooking, English language, public speaking, Toastmasters, Asian culture (especially Japan and Korea), cinema, personal development, productivity and making friends with people from around the world.

2 thoughts on “Using Smart Playlists in iTunes – your smart DJ”

  1. Very good article. This (especially with the example graphics) should really help those who’ve not used Smart Playlists before (they are one of the main reasons I use iTunes for all of our home and travel music).

  2. Thanks for your comments! I now have a smart playlist titled NewUnplayed which is synced to the iPod. It has a definition of “DateAdded since 12-feb-2011” and “Playcount is zero”. added a “Restrict to 4 GB and add oldest music first”. As I add music to my iTunes library, it will be copied to the ipod and I can gradually listen to all of the music I import.

    My big project is importing my CD collection (over 1000 discs) into Itunes and listening to it all.

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