Playlist Helpers

iTunes 3 introduced such helpful features as ratings, the ability to pass judgment on a song by assigning it a rating of one to five stars; play count, a feature that keeps track of the number of times you've played a song in iTunes and on your iPod; and recently played, a feature that keeps track of when you last played a song.

Here's a quick look at how these features enhance your iPoding experience:

Ratings. Although employing ratings is a fine way to vent your critical spleen ("I don't care how hefty a royalty it brought the composer, 'Brandy [You're a Fine Girl]' was a dreadful waste of vinyl!"), it's also quite useful. After you rate your songs, you can use those ratings as a playlist criterion.

You can, for example, create a Smart Playlist that contains nothing but songs with a rating of four stars or more, thus guaranteeing that you hear nothing but your personal favorites. Or if an ill-favored cousin has planted himself on the living-room sofa for one night too many, create a playlist made up of nothing but one-star wonders, and blast it from one end of the house to the other in a repeating loop.

You can assign ratings to the songs in your iTunes Library in two ways. The traditional way is to click the My Rating column in the main iTunes window and then drag the pointer to the right. This maneuver causes stars to appear in the column.

Or, if you prefer doing things as inefficiently as possible, you can click a song title, press Command-I on the Mac or Ctrl-I on a Windows PC to produce the Song Information window, click the Advanced tab, and drag your pointer in the My Ratings field to produce the desired number of stars. (OK, one instance in which assigning ratings this way isn't inefficient is when you want to assign the same rating to a batch of songs.

Just select all the songs to which you want to assign a rating; press Command-I on the Mac or Ctrl-I on the PC; and, in the resulting Multiple Song Information window, check the box next to the My Rating field. Now issue a rating in that field. The rating you create is assigned to all selected songs.)

The other way to go about it is to assign a rating directly on the iPod. To do so, start listening to a song, and press the Select button twice. You'll be whisked to a rating screen, where you use the scroll wheel to assign the one-to-five-star rating. When you next synchronize your iPod, the ratings you've entered on your iPod are transferred to iTunes. Note that you can rate songs only on third-generation and later iPods.

Play count. The ability to keep track of the number of times you've played a song is also helpful when you want to create a playlist. One might reasonably assume that if you've played some songs more than others, those tunes hold a special place in your heart.

By using play count as a smart-playlist criterion, you could take all songs that you've played more than 10 times, shove them into a playlist, andusing the batch-rating technique I mention earlier in this sidebarrate all the songs in that playlist with five stars.

Or you could use play count as a way to limit the songs you've played to death. In this case, create a Smart Playlist of songs that you've never heard. Play this group of tunes when you'd like to listen to some fresh material.

iTunes 3 and 4 keeps track of number of times you've played a song in the Play Count column of the main iTunes window. The iPod tracks the play count in the Top 25 Most Played playlist in the iPod Playlists screen.

Recently played. The name says it all. iTunes 3, iTunes 4, and the iPod keep track of when you last played a song. This information is reflected in the Last Played column of iTunes' main window. On the iPod, songs most recently played appear in the Recently Played playlist in the iPod Playlists screen.

You can also use the recently played criterion to create a Smart Playlist comprised of fresh material (or tunes you just can't get enough of).

iTunes 3, iTunes 4, and the iPod keep track of play counts and recently played status. This status won't change on the iPod, however, until you connect the iPod to your computer and update it.

You can play Nick Lowe's "Truth Drug" 17 times in a row on your iPod, for example, but it won't appear in the Recently Played or Top 25 Most Played playlist until you update your iPod in iTunes. (Note that the Live Updating option must be switched on in these playlists for this feature to work.)

When you update the iPod, the play-count tally increases in iTunes to reflect the number of times you've played particular tunes on your iPod.