iTunes Smart Playlists

Images have been removed from this obsolete post.

When I bought my first iPod I was still on Windows and the software delivered with the Windows iPods (yup, Windows specific iPods back then) was a version of MusicMatch. The software was OK, but just OK. It was slow and a pain to build playlists. One of the reasons I bought the hard disk iPod over other flash MP3 players was so I could have all my music with me and not have to decide what I wanted to listed to while sitting at the computer. MusicMatch did that to some degree but it was lacking. I still didn’t use the iPod all that much and didn’t always carry it with me.

But then iTunes for Windows came out and that’s what really made me a iPod fan. Not the iTunes store (which I avoided for the longest time), just iTunes as jukebox software that could manage my iPod. The killer feature for me was the smart playlists. They’ve evolved over time but here’s an overview of a few I have now. Screenshots are from iTunes for Mac but they should apply just fine to iTunes for Windows.

Rating Songs

I rely on the song ratings for some of my playlists so some background is in order. Every song is rated 2 to 5 stars but it’s not true that I like every 5 star some better than every 4 star.

A song with two stars means I don’t like it. It’s probably not synced to my iPod although there are exceptions if I like the song when played as part of an album but don’t want it to play outside the album.

Every song starts with 3 stars. Five stars means I like it more than most for that genre or artist.

Four stars means I liked it more than most. I may rate a song 4 stars instead of 5 if I have too many five stars for the artist.

One star isn’t used for songs, it means it’s spoken word and I’ve already listed to it.

Smart Playlists

Smart Playlists are created by selecting “File -> New Smart Playlist…” from the menu. They can be edited by right-clicking the list and selecting “Edit Smart Playlist”. Click the thumbnails for for full size images.

All Music

For the mother of all playlists I start with one called “Music Only”. This one is set up to only include songs and exclude everything else. If new file types are added I have to change it but at least I only have to change it in one place. All my playlists are set to include only checked items as shown here. If I don’t want a song on my iPod I uncheck it in iTunes.

While “Music” can be selected as a playlist this indicates what iTunes sees as the Music library. In my case this isn’t just songs so I need the Music Only playlist.

List of 5’s (by LRP)

This is an example of a playlist that uses my ratings, the All Music playlist and presents me the songs that I haven’t heard in awhile at the top of the playlist. In this case the “by LRP” means “by Least Recently Played”. The playlist criteria is shown in the screenshot. As you can see from the screenshot it picks files with a five star rating and is limited to my “Music Only” playlist so I’ll only get music.

It’s not checked, but you’ll see it’s set to limit to 700 items based on least recently played. This is a holdover from when my music didn’t all fit on my iPod. Checking the box would limit the playlist to the 700 songs and if this playlist was set as the sync criteria only those songs would sync.

As for the Least Recently Played Piece…

Save the Smart Playlist then sort by the “Last Played” field in iTunes by clicking on it until it’s sorted least recent to most recently play. If you need to add the field right-click the field header bar and select it from the list. The playlist will sync to the iPod in this order (at least it does for my 5G iPod) and any field can be sorted. Click the first column (numbers – no title) to return to manual sort.

I have similar playlists for my other ratings. It’s convenient to listen to songs of a certain rating and change the rating if my tastes have changed.

Best of…

I have numerous “Best of” playlists for specific artists. There are minor differences between the way they’re set up in order to either keep the number of matched songs relatively low or provide enough songs for a playlist. But they’re all basically the same and the screenshot to the left shows the basic playlist. Some artists may be limited to 5 stars while others may include songs from various bands they were in, which is covered in the next section.

Similar to the best of for artists I also have best of genre playlists. Simply pick Genre as the criteria instead of artist.


The properties of every song contains a Grouping field on the info tab. This can be used to contain the artist name if they were in various bands. The example shows Buddy Holly entered into a song done by The Crickets.

To create a Best Of collection for Buddy Holly I can use the Group field and avoid some complex nested playlists. Smart Playlists can only “match all” or “match any” which can be limiting at times. The criteria is “contains” because there may be cases where several artists I like are in the same group and I want those songs to appear in each of their own playlists.

Unrated Songs

When I add a song to the iTunes library the first thing I want to do is rate it. So I have a playlist setup to identify unrated songs. This way I can easily play the songs and rate them. No star is selected, if you accidentally click a star you can clear it my clicking at the very left edge of the field.

One thing to keep in mind – if you are playing the list in iTunes and rate a song it will immediately drop off the list, even if it’s playing. If it’s the one playing then all playback stops. To prevent this uncheck “Live Updating” or do what I do and rate the song when it’s done playing. Songs can be rated on the iPod without affecting playback.

Playlist of Selected Podcasts

I like listening to podcasts while driving to work in the morning. I have a smart playlist set up that contains the podcasts I like to start the day with.

Podcasts can be selected by using the Album field.

Amazon MP3 Store

For me, the Amazon MP3 store has become a place to buy music since it’s all DRM-free and in many cases cheaper than iTunes. This smart playlist identifies the music that was bought from Amazon.

My Favorite Playlist

This is my most used playlist. I like the constant refresh of the music I listen to even if it does take several months to get through everything. Still, this playlist doesn’t contain every song. It’s limited to 250 songs so I can still do random play and only get older songs. It also excludes Classical and Jazz since I only listen to those when I’m in the mood for them. It also excludes all those lowly 2 star songs. Some people like shuffle but I prefer this list.

As for where I came up with the 250 number. It’s approximately how many songs I’d have to listen to each week to make it through the entire collection in 6 months.

Additional Playlists

Theses playlists are variations on the above themes so don’t really require any explanation once you see the criteria. Hover your mouse over each thumbnail for the list description and double click it to view if your interested.


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