How to create smart playlists in iTunes | iLounge Article


How to create smart playlists in iTunes

In the last iPod 101 lesson, we learned how to manually create playlists in iTunes.  Such playlists definitely have their advantages - they can be the most illogical, eclectic mixes if you so wish… they can be truly personal.  However, they have their problems; they can be tedious to create and maintain, and they’re totally static… tastes change.

This is where smart playlists come in.  Smart playlists are automatically and dynamically generated based upon certain logical criteria that you specify upon creation of the playlist.  A playlist of your highest-rated songs.  Songs you haven’t played yet.  Piano music between 1825 and 1923.  The possibilities are endless.  I’ll begin this tutorial by describing several key criteria for smart playlists, and the remainder of the tutorial will consist of several examples of smart playlists that I have created for myself.

Popular Smart Playlist Criteria:

    Ratings In iTunes, each song in your library can be “Rated” from 1 to 5 stars.  This rating can take place either within iTunes itself or on your third-generation iPod.  Any ratings assigned on the iPod will be synchronized up to iTunes the next time your iPod is connected to the computer. Most people use all 5 stars to indicate how much they “like” a particular song.  Because ratings synchronize from the iPod to the computer, however, I choose to reserve the “1-star” rating as a messaging device.  If I discover a song for which I need to fix a tag, or for which the quality is horrible (and I’d like to delete it), I tag it with 1 star on my iPod.  When I synchronize to iTunes, the song is immediately added to my “Fix or Delete!!” smart playlist (more on this later).  I reserve the remainder of the rating levels for their intended purpose. Play Counts iTunes and the iPod keep a record of how many times a song has been played.  This is automatic - it requires no work from the user.  The playcount is increased by 1 each time a song finishes. Comment The comment tag is versatile with respect to Smart Playlists.  Use it for whatever you wish.  Use it for sub-genre.  Use it for instrument.  Use it for conductor.  Tag songs as “Noisy,” “Quiet,” or “Relaxing.”  Tag them with themes:  “Love,” “Children,” or “Death.” You can use several categories in the same comment field.  For example, tag a song as “Quiet, Love, Piano.”  All smart playlists will continue to function properly. Soon, I’ll show you one of the ways I use the comment tag. “Checked” Status Immediately to the left of each song title in your library, there lies a checkbox.  If this checkbox is unchecked, iTunes will not play the file unless directly clicked on.  Checkbox status can also be used as criteria for Smart Playlists.  More on this later.

Create a new Smart Playlist:

To begin getting creative smart playlists, create an empty one.  There are several ways of doing this:

  1. Go to File - Create New Smart Playlist or
  2. Press Control-Alt-N (PC) or Option-Command (Apple)-N (Mac)
  3. Hold down shift (PC) or option (Mac).  The “+” button for manual playlists will change to a gear symbol for smart playlists (shown below).  Click this symbol. pic


    Christmas Music Ok… I admit it.  I’m somewhat of a holiday-music nut…  but only during the holiday season.  I wouldn’t want iTunes to begin playing a Christmas track in July.  Smart playlists help me solve this problem in several ways.  First, I have “unchecked” all of my Christmas music.  Next, I create the following smart playlist: pic This playlist, as you can see, contains all tracks in my library that are of the “Christmas” genre.  Because “Match Only Checked Songs” is unselected, the Christmas songs are allowed to show up.  You will see that in all of my other smart playlists, this checkbox is selected, effectively disabling Christmas songs for them. Classical - Baroque I’m also a classical music nut.  So much so, that I thought it would be neat to have my music arranged by classical period.  Therefore, I tagged my classical music in the “Comment” field with data such as: Baroque/Early Baroque/Late Romantic/Early Medieval ...and so on. Now, I can create a smart playlist such as the following: pic ...which includes both early and late baroque music.  I have similar smart playlists created for all of the classical sub-genres.  Neat! Fix or Delete!! This smart playlist takes advantage of the iTunes<>iPod ratings synchronization that I discussed above. Any song that is tagged with 1 star gets added to this playlist automatically so that I can easily find it and fix its tag or delete it. pic Forgotten Favorites Now we’re getting slightly more advanced.  This playlist contains 25 songs that are my least-played favorites (5-star songs).  The criterion simply specifies the domain:  5-star songs.  The “Limit to” field selects those which have been least recently played.  Simple! pic


Criteria can be added using the “+” symbol.  Make a list of all of your “Quiet” pieces over 10 minutes in length.  Exclude genres or albums from your smart playlist by adding “Genre” “is not” “xxxxx.”  Multi-criteria smart playlists get very interesting, and quite fun to set up.

Apple does not yet support Boolean operators (AND, OR, etc) for added criteria.  Currently, all added criteria are treated as if they were preceded by a Boolean AND.

“Live Updating,” when checked, allows iTunes to constantly add to or remove from your Smart Playlist as songs are added or removed from your Library.  If you want to “freeze” your Smart Playlists in time, unselect this.  For example, you could create a new “Rated Highest” smart playlist every 6 months and compare.

Follow the general strategy of these examples, but have a good time with the flexibility at your fingertips.  Yes, logic can be creative!  Have fun experimenting with your own custom smart playlists! 

If you would like more smart playlist ideas, visit

Jerrod H. is a Forum Administrator and Contributing Editor for iLounge.

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Great article, very informative.  Wondering, though, if perhaps this is a typo:

““Live Updating,” when checked, allows iTunes to constantly add to or remove from your Smart Playlist as songs are added or removed from your Library. If you want to “freeze” your Smart Playlists in time, select this.”

Did you mean to say “if you want to “freeze” your Smart Playlists in time, UN-select this”?

Also - quick sort-of related question.  Playlists that are created in iTunes - can they be used in Musicmatch?  I know it works the other way around, but I can’t seem to figure out how to access iTunes playlists in MMJB.



Posted by Cheryl in TX on January 13, 2004 at 3:36 PM (CST)


Ahh… Nice find.  Thanks.  I’ll have Dennis correct that.

You can right click on any iTunes playlist and select “Export Song List…” to create a text file playlist.  Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any way to import that file into MMJB.

Posted by Jerrod H. in TX on January 13, 2004 at 4:38 PM (CST)


Anyone create any clever smart playlists?

Posted by Schiano in TX on January 13, 2004 at 5:15 PM (CST)


Not sure if it is OK to plug other sites, but has a lot of suggestions.  I have no affiliation.

My favorite playlist is: Last Played is not in the last 14 days.  I called this Freshen up because it means I have not heard the song for awhile (at least 2 weeks!).  Good way to cycle through your songs.


Posted by Bob in TX on January 13, 2004 at 7:50 PM (CST)


Thanks for the link Bob!

Posted by Schiano in TX on January 13, 2004 at 8:52 PM (CST)


Hey… I plugged it in my own article!  :-D Very last sentence.

Posted by Jerrod H. in TX on January 13, 2004 at 11:16 PM (CST)


haha, yeah… i get bored after the first few sentences :X

Posted by Schiano in TX on January 13, 2004 at 11:37 PM (CST)


Criteria can be combined with AND or OR boolean operators : when you have 2 or more criteria, a box appear at the top near “match the following condition” where you can choose how to combine.

True that you can’t mix AND and OR, but to me, that would be useless and harmful to the clarity of this wonderfull user interface

Posted by tom in TX on January 14, 2004 at 4:06 AM (CST)


Anyone else notice when you play your songs on random over an iTrip, every once in awhile, you will accidentally play the iTrip bleeps.  haha.  To fix this I made a smart playlist to include all my music except those annoying bleeps.  Use the following criteria to do this: < artist < does not contain < Griffin Technology.  I named it Overall Playlist!  Now if I want my ipod to play songs at random I just use the Overall Playlist!!!  Voila, no more blips and bleeps over my car radio!!!

Posted by Jody in TX on January 14, 2004 at 11:47 AM (CST)



You can also exclude the iTrip clips from ALL of your smart playlists by “un-checking” them, and setting all of your smart playlists to “Only Match Selected Songs.”

This is how I exclude my Christmas songs and iTrip tracks.

-Jerrod H.

Posted by Jerrod H. in TX on January 14, 2004 at 11:50 AM (CST)


What’s an iTrip Clip?

Posted by Mathias in TX on January 14, 2004 at 12:41 PM (CST)


The .mp3 files that Griffin gives you to put on your iPod, for the purpose of selecting an FM frequency to transmit on.

Posted by Jerrod H. in TX on January 14, 2004 at 2:02 PM (CST)


Thanks for the great article.  I’ve used iTunes for awhile, but didn’t know much about the smart playlists.

Posted by What the? in TX on January 14, 2004 at 7:54 PM (CST)


This “smart playlist” is a fantastic feature, but I use MMJB for other reasons.  Downside is having dumb playlists on MMJB.  I would love to be able to use “Itunes-smart playlist”, but I believe having Itunes AND MMJB on my WinXP will not allow my computer to recognize my connected IPOD. I tried this before and unless I was doing something wrong it messed up everything.  I was frustrated with Itunes anyways because of AAC, so I removed Itunes.  Any suggestions on using both music mgmt software-  (would love to use smart playlist)???

Posted by Checka12 in TX on January 15, 2004 at 5:48 PM (CST)


Media Centre has smart playlists, and can co-exist with MMJB on Windoze. The interface is not as pretty as the one for iTunes, but it is more flexible, allowed boolean operators and (sub)selection from static playlists also.

They advertise here, they even have a forum:

Posted by smarter in TX on January 15, 2004 at 6:14 PM (CST)


On reading my own link!!! i found this suggestion for getting media Centre and iTunes to coexist. Maybe the same approach would work for iTunes and MMJB?

1) When installing iTunes, disable the options to “move files to iTunes folder” and “allow iTunes to organize your music” - otherwise, the files get moved/renamed and MC9 can’t find them

2) Plug in the iPod and start iTunes, then find the iPod properties button in the lower right hand corner, and set it to “manual update”, switch off the option to start iTunes when the iPod is plugged in, and enable the Firewire disk mode.

I currently have both MC9 and iTunes running. MC9 is currently syncing to the iPod. I have the iPod selected in the iTunes view and it is actually updating the free space on the iPod as MC9 fills it up!

Playlists that were put on the iPod by MC9 show up in iTunes, and I can play tunes on the iPod through iTunes.


Posted by smarter in TX on January 15, 2004 at 6:30 PM (CST)


Can you create a smart playlist on a manually updated iPod?

Posted by Steve in TX on January 15, 2004 at 8:00 PM (CST)



iTunes does not have to use AAC at all… You can change the import format to MP3 if you so desire.  Look in Preferences—> Importing.

Posted by Jerrod H. in TX on January 15, 2004 at 8:15 PM (CST)


Am I missing something? I have alot of musuc loaded on my iPod and have cleaned out the library on my desktop. How can I create s
Smart Playlists with the music on my iPod. Do you have to do this before you transfer the music to the iPod or can you upload the Smart Playlist to the iPod to organize what is already on the iPod. I tried drag and drop and could not get it to work.

Posted by pollyg in TX on January 16, 2004 at 7:32 AM (CST)


OK, it just clicked. I was trying to add to the playlist already on iTunes before I had gotten and added my iPod. Now I see with the iPod connected the new playlist are on the iPod it self and thus music can be draged and dropped on it.

Posted by pollyg in TX on January 17, 2004 at 5:56 AM (CST)

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