How to make a Smart Playlist in iTunes

May 13, 2012 in iTunes

iTunes playlists are a great way of selecting songs for specific occasions/moods, burning a music CD “mixtape”, sharing on your home network, or syncing with your iPod / iPhone / iPad. “Smart Playlists” let you quickly create a list of songs based on rules you choose. These rules can be simple like “songs from the 1970s” or complex like “songs in the Rock, R&B, or Blues genres with ‘love’ in the title that are under five minutes and I’ve assigned a rating of 3 or more stars”.

I’ll go over those and a few other fun and useful examples below but first watch this quick video to learn how easy it is to make a Smart Playlist.

Video too small? Watch full screen by clicking the YouTube Full Screen button button here

Not only do Smart Playlists let you create interesting song lists, but the “Live Updating” feature lets your Smart Playlists grow as your music library grows. If that box is checked in a Smart Playlist, that list will always automatically include all the songs in your library that match that rule.

Mother's Day Party Smart Playlist

Smart Playlist "Live Updating" feature

iTunes comes with a few Smart Playlists already defined, like “My Top Rated”, “Recently Added”, and “Top 25 Most Played”. You can inspect how they (or any other Smart Playlist) are configured by clicking on the list name in iTunes left pane, then either pressing Command-I (⌘I), or right-clicking (or Control-clicking) and choosing “Edit Smart Playlist”.

A few handy examples

You may have noticed in the video that I left the top checkbox set to “Match all of the following rules”. I almost always use the “all” setting but there are times where changing it to “any” makes sense. For instance, here’s my Smart Playlist for all songs by The Beatles together and in their solo careers.

George John Paul Ringo Smart Playlist

Using the "any" option to include matches to any of a set of rules

Not only does iTunes store information about each song like its name, artist, genre, length, year, etc., but it also remembers how many times a song has been played and when the last time was. To make sure I don’t get stuck in a rut, here’s a Smart Playlist I created to show me all the songs I’ve rated highly but haven’t listened to in awhile.

Haven't listened to lately smart playlist

Good songs I haven't listened to lately

What’s really neat about this Smart Playlist is as I listen to it, it disappears! Since I have “Live updating” checked, as each song finishes playing its “Last Played” date is no longer before the date I have set in the rule so it disappears from the list. Once I’ve listened to every song in the list, the list is empty so I then edit it and change the “Last Played” rule to a more recent date.

Complex Smart Playlists

If you’ve read this far and watched the video, you can probably now figure out how to create the “songs from the 1970s” list I mentioned in the first paragraph. But how about that “songs in the Rock, R&B, or Blues genres with ‘love’ in the title that are under five minutes and I’ve assigned a rating of 3 or more stars” list? Well, that requires a feature that you probably wouldn’t find unless you (gasp!) read the iTunes help documentation. Let’s build this complex list by first tackling the easy parts. Here’s how you could set up a Smart Playlist for songs:

  • with ‘love’ in the title
  • under 5 minutes long
  • rated between 3 and 5 stars
Good short love songs

"Love" songs under five minutes with three or more stars

But how do we limit this playlist to just Rock, R&B, or Blues songs? That requires a “nested” rule. This is yet another really clever feature that Apple strangely chose to hide. To uncover it, while creating or editing your Smart Playlist, hold down your “option” key and you’ll see the + buttons change to “…” buttons.

Good short love songs nest button

Holding down "option" key reveals "..." "Nested Rule" buttons

Clicking one of these “…” buttons will let you create a group of rules with its own “Any or All” selector. This is important because we want to match “Any” of the Rock, R&B, or Blues genres, but we want to match “All” of the Name, Time, and Rating rules. So, after a few more clicks our Smart Playlist looks like this.

Good short love songs three genres

Adding a "nested rule" to match any of three musical genres

There are even more Smart Playlist settings that you can play with. Check out the settings on the “Limit to” line under the rules to find even more ways to control your Smart Playlists.

I’d love to hear any interesting Smart Playlists you’ve created in the comments below, or feel free to ask for tips on creating a list you’re having trouble setting up.

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