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 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 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 on January 13, 2004 at 7:50 PM (CST)


Thanks for the link Bob!

Posted by Schiano 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 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 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 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 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? 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 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 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 on January 15, 2004 at 6:30 PM (CST)


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

Posted by Steve 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 San Diego 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 San Diego on January 17, 2004 at 5:56 AM (CST)


thanks….but does this “preference>importing” on Itunes convert from AAC to MP3 or does it just import straight as MP3.  I’ve heard when converting from AAC to MP3 there is a slight loss in quality.  If I do change over to Itunes so I can create smart playlists, I have 2 questions:
1)  DO I definitely have to uninstall my MMJB (which I’m in for about $70 w/upgrades) in order for my IPOD to be recognized?  (I had problems before)

2)  Will Itunes automatically recognize “my music library” that was in MMJB, and put it in Itunes?
I appreciate the assistance.  Thankfully we have these forums.

Posted by Checka12 on January 17, 2004 at 8:04 AM (CST)


I have a 20gb 3rdG iPod arriving from the USA on wednesday. I have been using RealOne Player (previously real jukebox) for years, have in excess of 5GB of music which is constantly being added to. I like to keep my music very well organised, in folders by artist/album etc. When my iPod arrives, im reluctant to stop using RealOne Player, as i am very used to the interface. Could someone with experience of both RealOne Player AND iTunes advice me on i will miss any of the functionality, organisation and interface of RealOne if i switch to iTunes. And does iTunes restrict any of your rights to use/transfer mp3s which you already had on your harddrive. Also, i am running windows xp, is there any reason to run musicmatch jukebox instead of iTunes? Thanks to anyone who just read through that, and even more thanks to anyone who responds.

[cant wait for my ipod!! - Farook - UK]

Posted by farook911 on January 18, 2004 at 3:07 PM (CST)


is there any way to download more games 2 my ipod?

Posted by James on January 20, 2004 at 11:40 AM (CST)


Hey Jerrod - looking forward to putting this in to practise, my 40gigger arrives from the States on Monday (therefore no sleep on Sunday!).
Great article, vee-informative.

Posted by dunny-dweller on January 23, 2004 at 6:40 AM (CST)



Thanks for your comments!  No need to wait, though.  Go download iTunes 4.2 from, and begin playing *now*.  No iPod required!  :D

Posted by azdude_15gb on January 23, 2004 at 8:19 AM (CST)


Is there a way to transfer a smart playlist to the Ipod that plays the 25 most recent songs added to the Itunes library?  I’ve been able to create it in Itunes, but once I sync it up to the Ipod, the list goes blank.

Thanks in advance to anyone who can help!

Posted by Mark on January 25, 2004 at 9:07 AM (CST)


To expand on my last message…. I was able to get my recent songs list to work by changing the “Limit to…selected by” section from “most recently added” to “random”.  Don’t know why it worked, but it did!

Posted by Mark on January 28, 2004 at 9:21 AM (CST)


There are a couple things I want to happen when I connect my ipod to my computer What settings do I have to do first to allow these things to happen?  Please note that I don

Posted by cheapname on January 28, 2004 at 1:41 PM (CST)


azdude, in your review you noted that all criteria are treated as “AND”, but in itunes 4 for oxX, i can select AND for multiple criteria or i can choose OR.

also, Mark, i believe if you make an on the go list, my itunes (osx) automatically syncs it to itunes naming it “on-the-go 1” or something, and if you rate a song on ipod it changes the rating in itunes, same for question one. however this is probably only for people like me who select “automatically sync entire library”, which is not what you want to do…i believe there is a program that can help you witht his, (i think it was posted on the front page maybe a week ago?) but i am not positive.

Posted by andy on February 3, 2004 at 7:11 PM (CST)


Anyone got any tips on specifying a running order for smart playlists that are created on your iPod? It just seems to always default to alphabetical/album title, even though you can sort by any field in iTunes.

Posted by Chris Waller on February 5, 2004 at 5:39 AM (CST)


How do I make a play list to play when my alarm goes off in the morning? That is, play music I’ve selected instead of beep.

Posted by Sherman Zieve on March 22, 2004 at 9:51 PM (CST)


This is a really *really* cool article! My Ipod doesnt arrive for another three days(ish), but I’m getting all my MP3’s in order as we speak.

I’ve used the smart playlist feature to find all tracks where they don’t have an artist specified so I can manually sort them!

Posted by Andyk in Worcester, UK on April 1, 2004 at 4:29 PM (CST)



I appreciate your praise very much!  Thanks!

You’re doing what I suggest to EVERYONE.  Get iTunes and sort your music BEFORE you even get your iPod, if you’re planning on getting one.  :D

Have fun!

Posted by Jerrod Hofferth on April 1, 2004 at 4:49 PM (CST)


does anyone know what the little blue and sometimes orande icons are by the checkboxes in playlist/library? I just got this ipod and theres no mention in booklet.

Posted by john Payne on April 18, 2004 at 8:12 AM (CDT)


how do i get my ipod (15gb) to notice the names and the artist that i have on my ipod please e-mail me if you have any kind of answer

Posted by Cameron Walker on April 25, 2004 at 5:38 PM (CDT)


Regarding “Or” and “And” issue:
When you press “+” to set more than one condition for your playlist, the Smart Playlist dialog box will automatically change the 1st line to allow you to select either Match “All” of the conditions or “Any” of the condition.  This is where you can use the “Or” and “And” function.

Posted by pat on May 25, 2004 at 3:02 PM (CDT)


Hi Jerrod - quick question.
When I create a smartlist for ex. all 1 star files, then delete these files.
Don’t I just delete them from my playlist?
How can I delete them from my whole library?
Do I have to look up each one?

Posted by torsken on May 25, 2004 at 3:24 PM (CDT)


I posted this in another area:

This doesn’t have a whole lot to do with party shuffle, but I have a neat way of never hearing the same song twice until you’ve heard them all. Set up a smart playlist that includes any number of songs (let’s say 5) that have a play counter equal to 0 selected randomly, and make sure you have live updating checked. Further randomize it in the lower left hand corner of itunes. When you play this list, after a song plays, it’s counter will be one and it will disappear from the list, replaced by another tune you have not yet played! It will play until every song in your entire library has been played once.

I made another list like it for my ipod, but limited the playtime to one hour to equal my evening walks. Everytime you go back to the list another hour of randomly selected unheard tunes are waiting.

I’ve been listening to my music this way sporadically all summer and it is quite amusing what will pop up randomly (your results will surely vary). I’ve still got about 4GB of music to get through before summer ends.

Posted by Mark on August 24, 2004 at 7:01 AM (CDT)


to change the play order. Click the first column (with the numbers) to sort by play order. Then you can drag the individual tunes up and down to change the order.

Posted by Weidemann on September 4, 2004 at 12:04 PM (CDT)


When you make playlists on itunes, does it appear on your ipod under playlist and say the name of that playlist?

Posted by k20n on October 2, 2004 at 5:52 PM (CDT)


Great article! 

How can I create a smart playlist on my iTunes and then drag that over to my iPod?  I’ve tried just creating one and then drag/drop it to my iPod but the iPod (60G iPod Photo) will not take them.  I selected manually manage songs and playlists, but it won’t let me drag them over.


Any suggestions?

Posted by ckirby on January 13, 2005 at 9:00 AM (CST)


Smart playlists is an awesome feature!  Looking forward to using it - I’m still just dumping my CDs into iTunes (563 and counting…).  A question: how can you create a smart playlist that’s different every time you play it?  In other words, I’d like to have a playlist that matches the Genre: Jazz tag (for example) and gives me a random hour (or 12 tunes, or whatever) every time it’s played.  Do I have to use the “least recently played” trick, or is there another way to do this?

Posted by celtic_elk on November 23, 2005 at 4:50 PM (CST)


Great article.  I only have one question.  When creating my smart playlist I have problems populating the playlist if I gave “play count is 0” as one of my criteria.  I played around with my different possibilities and this option is the only one that I can’t get to work.  Any suggestions?

Thank you.

Posted by toothpaste in NYC on December 11, 2005 at 5:41 PM (CST)


I need some help. i haven’t had any complications with i tunes before. and this morning i opened i tunes and all if the original smart playlsts that come with i tunes were gone… all that as left was party shuffle(i.e. recently played, recently added, 90’s…) can you help we get those play lists back with out having to create them over again…


Posted by Erin on June 18, 2008 at 2:10 PM (CDT)


New to Itunes/Ipod Touch, so bear with me.  Have a vast collection, but want to categorize type (Latin Salsa, Mexican, Italian, Cirque, Rock, Gaelic, Cajun, etc.).  Some are only 1 purchased song from an album.  This is where am confused.  I want to put all fav’s in the category and let it shuffle/play so I don’t have to return to change it. Sort of a DJ playback.  How is this done?  I use my ipod in travel with docking station for group music, etc.  It would be a nuisance to go back to FWD to other songs in same category.  Can you point me to a lesson?  Thx

Posted by Lorene Alston on January 4, 2009 at 1:26 PM (CST)


Does anyone know of a way to change the order of the songs in a smart playlist? I have a recently played playlist that I listen to often and it is in order of least recently played to most recently played. I would like it to be ordered by name of the song but I can’t figure out a way to make that happen. I can change it in itunes but when I disconnect my ipod nothing happens. Any help would be great.

Posted by Nick on December 29, 2009 at 3:34 PM (CST)


has anyone tried to create a playlist based on the timestamp of the music tracks creation time ? how does that work out ?

Posted by max on August 1, 2010 at 9:04 AM (CDT)


I base most of my smart playlists off of songs ratings. It takes a while to rate your entire library but its so worth it. Especially after creating custom keyboard shortcuts to rate. Check out this tutorial to learn how to set that up

Posted by matt on February 13, 2012 at 8:33 PM (CST)


I have been using iTunes for years.  Only recently though I’m having a problem setting up Smart Playlists.  I am trying to set one up with a bunch of my favorite artists which I have done.  However, it does contain some Holiday songs which I don’t want to listen to this time of year.  I have tried to put in a field which would eliminate all Holiday music, only to have it add everything else in the music library to the playlist.  It’s very frustrating.  Please advise.

Posted by John on May 5, 2012 at 9:13 AM (CDT)

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