When we asked readers recently whether they used the shuffle feature on their iPod, a popular response was "yes, in combination with smart playlists". If that sounds like Greek to you, here's how to go about it.
Being able to construct playlists is one of the most appealing features of the iPod (or indeed most digital music players). However, many new users never get beyond building simple playlists by dragging and dropping their favourite tracks. iTunes offers a much more sophisticated approach — smart playlists — which let you assemble lists based on other criteria, such as the ratings you've applied to songs.
The instructions below are based on the Windows version of iTunes (which is the most widespread version), though I imagine that the options on the Mac would be more or less the same.
To construct a smart playlist, select the New Smart Playlist option from the File menu. You can also type Ctrl-Alt-N for a quick keyboard shortcut. Either way, you'll get the dialog below.
If you click on the dropdown featuring Artist in this shot, you'll see a potentially bewildering list of 40-odd different criteria. However, the basic approach is pretty straightforward: you simply select a criteria and then choose how you want to limit it.
One of the most popular options is to use the song ratings (expressed in a range of one to five stars) which you can apply to tracks in iTunes. Select 'ratings' and set the adjacent option to 'is greater than' and the criteria to three stars. You've now got a playlist that contains all songs you've rated at four or five stars — that is, music which you really like.
Playlists can be assembled using more than one rule. To add additional rules, click on the plus sign. You might, for instance, build a 'Best Of 1980s' playlist by seeking all songs rated four stars or more with a year in the range 1980 to 1989.
Aside from ratings, here's some of the more useful criteria you can select to build a playlist:
- Artist: useful for building a master list of all music by a favourite performer. You can also use this to exclude a particular artist (so if you're sick of those U2 tracks, you can drop them from a particular playlist easily).
- BPM: Select tracks running at 120 to 140 beats per minute for a great workout mix.
- Composer: Find out if every song Ryan Tedder has composed really does sound the same. (This option will probably only work with iTunes Store purchases, since your ripped CDs don't usually include composer information in tracks).
- Date Added: Use this to create a playlist of your newest purchases.
- Play Count: Find the tracks you rarely listen to by building a play list with play count of 2 or less.
The 'Limit to' option under the rule settings can be useful if you want a playlist to contain a particular number of tracks or to run for a specified period. For most playlists, you'll want the Live updating box selected so that newly-added or changed items are placed on suitable playlists.
When you click OK, the playlist will be created. Type in a suitably memorable name and hit Enter. To edit an existing smart playlist, click on it then select Edit Smart Playlist from the file menu.
Getting rules to work assumes that your music data is accurately tagged. If that isn't the case, check out the six best MP3 tagging tools.
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