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Taming iTunes & iPod for Classical Music
(and Non-Classical Too)

revised 10 Apr 2013

Copyright © 2006–2013 by Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems

Summary: Apple iTunes is great at handling files, but its support for so-called classical music is pitiful. This page explains my scheme to make iTunes and iPod work for my collection, which is mostly classical but includes some other genres. I’ve set things up to access classical and non-classical in the most natural ways that iTunes and iPod allow. You might not use my scheme as is, but I hope it will alert you to the choices and get you thinking about how to set up your own collection.

“Your solution, while still a kludge, is an elegant kludge that is about as perfect as you can get.”  —Owen Mathews

“Your tips are worth the price of any Apple for Dummies manual. ... A godsend for those of us with hefty CD libraries we want to import to iTunes as intact albums or audiobooks, rather than a jigsaw puzzle of disconnected ‘songs’.”  —Mary Lou Steptoe

Applies to:

iTunes 10; iPod Classic, unofficially known as iPod 5.5G and iPod 6G. (The old page is still available for those interested in earlier iPods and iTunes.)

Several readers have asked if I plan to update this page for iTunes 11. Though I have no direct experience with iTunes 11, given what I’ve heard I don’t plan to install it any time soon.

Contents:

Tables: Abbreviations for Performers
Abbreviations for Works
Abbreviations for Instruments and Voices
“Classical” Genres and Other Genres
Musical Periods
Album Ratings and Ratings

See also:
15 minutes
of fame:
In early 2012, this page was mentioned or quoted twice in the national news media:

If you know of other instances, please tell me.


What’s Classical Music?

“Classical music” isn’t really the right term. “Classical” is one period in the history of Western music. Calling it all “classical music” is like using “England” to mean the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—people usually know what you mean, but it’s not accurate.

I’ve heard “concert music”, “serious music”, “art music”, “Western classical music”, and “Western art music”, and any of them would be better. But human language isn’t logical, and so like everyone else including Wikipedia, I’ll continue using “classical music” as a catch-all term.


What’s the Problem?

What’s wrong with the iTunes and iPod experience, for the collector of classical music? In a nutshell, they were designed for pop music, not classical. Here are some specific problems:

I could go on, but you get the idea.


What Do We Have to Work With?

The searching and browsing abilities of iTunes, and especially of iPod, inevitably drive my recommendations for importing and tagging music.

First, the good news. In recent versions of iTunes, browsing and searching are actually pretty good. Unfortunately, it’s a different story on iPod.

Browsing in iTunes

The iTunes main window lets you show almost any field. Right-click on any column heading to add or remove columns, and drag column headings left or right to rearrange them. Left-click on any column heading to sort all “songs” by that field, in ascending or descending order.

Filtering is convenient. You can turn on a browser at the top of the screen (Ctrl-B, or View » Column Browser) for easy filtering on one or more of Genre, Artist, Album, Composer, and Grouping. (Grouping and Composer were added somewhere between iTunes 7 and iTunes 10.)

iTunes 10 Column Browser menu
iTunes Column Browser menu; click to view the full browser

Searching in iTunes

iTunes search is one of its best features. Type text in the search window to search Name, Artist, Album Artist, Album, Grouping, and Composer simultaneously. iTunes presents the results in one list of all “songs” that have the searched text in one or more of those fields. If you want, you can then filter results using the column browser.

I tested this by creating dummy entries with xy in one field and zz in the others, then searching for xy. The Album Artist column isn’t shown in this illustration, but I know that iTunes searched it because xy in item 3 occurred only in that field.

iTunes 10 search input box
iTunes search input box; click to view the search results

Shuffle in iTunes and iPod

iTunes offers shuffle by “song”, album, or grouping, under the Controls menu. (It used to be possible to control the degree of randomness, but that was removed some time after iTunes 6.)

Shuffle menu in iTunes 10

One nice improvement in iPod Classic over iPod 5G is that you can turn shuffle on or off right from the Now Playing screen: just press the center button three times. But iPod shuffles only on “song” and album, not grouping, so grouping isn’t much help in planning shuffles.

When you shuffle by album in iTunes or iPod, tracks within an album are kept in Disc NumberTrack Number order. In my scheme, when I want to shuffle a playlist of classical music, I use shuffle by album.

Searching on iPod

Summary: When you use iPod’s Search menu, it finds text within the Name, Album, and Artist tags and presents those results in a useful way.

iPod Classic ’Now Playing’ screen My iPod 5G lacked a search feature. This has been added to the iPod Classic, and I think Apple did a good job except that you can’t search on numbers.

Search is in the Music menu; if it’s not there, go to the main menu and select Settings » Music Menu » Search. (You can also enable search in the main menu by selecting Settings » Main Menu » Music » Search.)

When you enter text to search for, iPod finds it in Name, Album, and Artist, and presents the results in a single merged list:

Now Playing on iPod

Apple gave, and Apple hath taken away; blessed be the name of Apple. We gained a nice search facility, but the Now Playing screen has been degraded.

iPod Classic splits the Now Playing screen vertically, with an album cover at the left and Name, Artist, Album at the right. That might make some sense when you actually have an album cover, though even then it should be user selectable. But when there’s no album cover—and I’ve got album covers for maybe five albums out of my current 1583—iPod still wastes half the screen on a stupid picture of two eighth notes. What were they thinking?

iPod Classic ’Now Playing’ screen Artist and Album are thus truncated to near-uselessness, though I give Apple props for choosing an eminently readable font. Name is also chopped, but at least it scrolls.

If there’s any way to override this idiotic screen splitting, I’ve been unable to find it. The iLounge thread Is there an option to turn the “split screen” off? seems pretty definite that it can’t be done. But if you know a way, please let me know; I’ll acknowledge and publish it here.

This misfeature has caused me to rethink my original scheme for tagging. I’m seriously considering retagging all my music, by adding the album name to the Name tag, though at this writing I haven’t yet taken the plunge on what would be a massive effort.

Browsing on iPod

Summary: In iPod you can browse by these tags: Artist → Album, Album, Name (the Songs menu, pretty much useless), Genre → Artist → Album, and Composer → Album. Here are the details.

Given that you can do pretty much anything in iTunes with smart playlists, what can you do when you’re out on the road with iPod and want to play something you didn’t plan in a playlist? Browse methods under the Music menu are enabled or disabled from the main menu, under Settings » Music Menu, just like the aforementioned Search. Here are the relevant submenus for browsing under the Music menu:

 

Now that it’s clear what iTunes and iPod can do by way of searching and browsing, it’s time to formulate some goals for how I want to listen to music. Then I hope it will be clear how to tag the music files to come as close as possible to those goals, within the constrains of what iTunes and iPod can do.


What Are My Goals?

Like most people, I imagine, I want to set up playlists for future listening, but sometimes skip ahead or choose a specific work without regard to the playlist. In iTunes, that kind of browsing and searching are easy, but it’s a different story on iPod. So the challenge is to tag all my “songs” so that I can most easily access them on iPod. Let me try to be specific about what I want to do on my iPod.

I want to search or browse on iPod in these ways:

Second, I want to use standard or smart playlists on iPod in these ways:


How Do I Tag Everything?

For effective browsing, you need effective tagging—that’s the whole point of this article.

And it’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I have to admit, I had imported 6388 “songs”—about three fourths of my collection at the time—with a growing sense of unease, when finally I faced the fact that there were some flaws in my tagging. I’d been doing it all myself, not relying on the CDDB, so I didn’t have problems with inconsistency. But I couldn’t do some of the searches I wanted to do on iPod. In particular, I couldn’t decide on the spur of the moment to play a particular work, and only that work.

At that point I stopped, did a lot of research and experimentation and a lot of thinking, and came up with the scheme I’m about to present to you. And I gritted my teeth and retagged those 6388 “songs” before importing any more. (It would have been even worse without these labor-saving tips.)

So here’s my plan ...

The details take up most of the rest of this document. I’ve organized my recommendations by tag. You can click on a particular tag name in the Contents, or just click in that tag’s area in the illustrations below.

iTunes Info screen for one track Name Artist Year Album Artist Track Number Album Disc Number Grouping Composer Comments Genre Part of a compilation

Advice: It’s best to tag every CD track on the Audio CD screen before you import the CD. Here’s my advice on importing, along with general labor-saving tips for tagging: Importing (“Ripping”) CDs to iTunes.

Name Tag

Coding: “Classical”movement marking  or  cuing  or  full title
Othertitle (performer)

Examples: 1. Allegro non troppo
II-4. Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix
Symphony #7 in C in one movement, op 105
A room with a view (Coward)
The Hobbit

Bearing in mind that the Album tag will hold the work title, what goes in the Name tag?

By the way, current iTunes and iPod are smart enough to ignore leading “A” and “The” in alphabetical lists. iTunes does have sort-as fields, but I haven’t needed to use them so far.

This use of the Name tag does leave a problem: on iPod, a playlist shows only Name and Artist. Since Name is just the movement or cuing in a larger work, it’s effectively impossible to know what’s coming up or select a particular work from the middle of a playlist: which one of dozens of “1. Allegro” is that? That prevents attaining my goal F. The only solution I’ve thought of would put the work title as well as the movement title in the Name tag, but then all my Names would get really long and I’d have to wait for them to scroll. So this is just something I have to live with.

Artist and Composer Tags

Coding: In the Artist tag: composer’s last name, first names (dates)
In the Composer tag: soloists, conductor, orchestra

As mentioned above, to meet my goal A I have to lie to iTunes. (I first read this suggestion in the column Ask iLounge 9-16-05.)

Granted, this is controversial—maybe the only controversial section on this page. It’s obvious from the metadata in the CDDB that some people go one way and some go the other. Whether you follow this recommendation or not, you’ll gain some things and lose some things, as shown in the table below.

It all comes down to how you prefer to work. I search iPod (within a genre) by composer more often than by artist, and I browse iTunes by composer more often than by artist. I want to code things to make composer searches easier, and therefore I have to code the composer in the Artist tag and the artist(s) in Composer. If the performers are more important to you than the composers, you’d do it the other way.

How do you search and browse?
More often by composer More often by performer
How to enter metadata Put composer in the Artist tag and performer(s) in Composer Put artist in Artist and composer in Composer
Browsing iTunes library In Column Browser, you can include Artist, Composer, or even both.
Browsing iPod by genre See composer within genre (e.g. oboe concertos → Albinoni) See performer within genre (e.g. string quartets → Guarneri)
Browsing iPod by composer Use Artists list Use Composers list
Browsing iPod by performer Use Composers list Use Artists list
Now Playing screen on iPod Line 2 shows composer; performer(s) probably at end of album title (line 3) and therefore invisible Line 2 shows performer(s); composer probably at start of album title (line 3)

Example: Artist tag: Haydn, Franz Joseph (1732-1809)
Composer tag: Alfred Brendel; Claudio Abbado, Berlin PO

In the Artist tag, the composer’s last name needs to come first: this is essential for browsing in iPod’s Music menu and for using the iTunes browser. I add the composer’s dates, since I only have to type them once.

Abbreviations for Performers
ASMFAcademy of St-Martin-
in-the-Fields
ChamChamber
ChrChorus
COChamber Orchestra
EnsEnsemble
FestFestival
NatNational
OOrchestra
OrigOriginal
PhPhilharmonic
PhaPhilharmonia
POPhilharmonic Orchestra
RSORadio Symphony Orchestra
SOSymphony Orchestra
StrString(s)

In the Composer tag, I list the conductor and orchestra. (I use the abbreviations shown at right for performing ensembles.) When there’s a soloist, I list the soloist first. If there are several soloists, I put the principal one or two in the Composer tag and the rest in Comments, and I use the shown Abbreviations for Instruments and Voices below to distinguish multiple soloists.

Logically, performer(s) should be entered last name first, like composers; but I use first-last order for two reasons. First, it’s easier to read when there are multiple performers. Second, even with last-first order I still couldn’t browse by performer, not effectively anyway. Why? There are multiple performers for almost every work (conductor and orchestra, vocalist and accompanist, etc.). So Abbado will come first when he’s conducting a pure orchestral work, but not when he’s conducting a concerto. Since I include performer in the Album tag, an iPod search for ABBADO will pick up everything he conducts. Of course I could also set up a smart playlist, “Composer contains Abbado”.

For non-classical music, I follow the same pattern. Otherwise I’d have Gershwin and Bernstein and others as Artist for their “serious” music and Composer for their popular songs. The consequence is that if I want everything performed by Glenn Miller, I have to look him up as Composer and not as Artist, or do a search.

The Album Artist Tag

Coding:Classical” — (blank)
Other — main performer

Examples: Simon & Garfunkel
Andrews Sisters
Clooney, Rosemary

For me, this tag isn’t for display but for file storage. If you don’t care how iTunes stores your music files—and you probably don’t—just ignore this tag.

But here’s how I use it. iTunes wants to use a folder structure of Music\(artist)\(album). For classical music that works well: my files are arranged in album folders under composer folders. But for pop music it works poorly: with the composer in the Artist tag, iTunes would scatter the songs from a Rosemary Clooney album under a bunch of folders including “Unknown Artist”. For popular music, I like to have one folder per album under one folder for artist, not a bunch of folders for the same album scattered under a bunch of artists. (I don’t know of any practical consequence; it just nags at my sense of order.) If the Album Artist tag is filled in, iTunes uses that for the folder name instead of Artist and organizes my pop-music files in what seems like a sensible way to me.

As far as I’m aware, iPod doesn’t use this tag. (According to Grouping Tracks into Albums, iPod Touch and iPhone do use it.) But iTunes does use it, if instructed: View » Column Browser » Use Album Artists. If that setting is checked “songs” with a non-blank Album Artist tag will appear in the Artists column of the Column Browser under the album artist rather than under the artist.

This is a mixed blessing. With that setting unchecked, I have 666 composers in the Artists column of the browser. (That will get some weird hits in Google searches!) With Use Album Artists checked, that drops to 182, much more manageable. I lose a lot of one-off songwriters, which is good; but I also lose entries for composers like Gershwin who wrote popular music as well as serious stuff. I haven’t decided yet what to do about this.

Year Tag

If I know the year the work was composed, I put it here; otherwise I leave this tag blank. If the year of performance has some special significance, I put it in the Album tag; otherwise I leave it out or maybe put it in the Comments tag.

Album Tag (Classical)

Abbreviations for Works
CtoConcerto(s)
mvtmovement
OvOverture
Q4Quartet
Q5Quintet
S6Sextet
S7Septet
SerSerenade
SinfSinfonia
SonSonata
SymSymphony
VarVariation(s)
Abbreviations for
Instruments
and Voices
aalto
bbass
bnbassoon
brbaritone
ccontralto
clclarinet
clavclavier
fflute
fh(French) horn
gguitar
hcharpsichord
msmezzo-soprano
oorgan
oboboe
ppiano
ssoprano
ttenor
trtrumpet
vviolin
vccello
vlaviola

Coding: “Classical”composer work "subtitle" (performer date)
Other—see next section

Examples: Bach Brandenburg cto #1 F (Pinnock, English Concert)
Beethoven Sym #1 C (von Karajan, Berlin 1963)
Brahms Q5-p op34 f (Eschenbach, Amadeus)
Corelli Cto grosso op6: 7 D (Marriner, ASMF)
Grofé Grand Canyon suite (Bernstein, NY)
Mahler Sym # 1 D "Titan" (Walter, Columbia)
Mendelssohn Cto-v-p in d (Kremer, Argerich, Orpheus)
Rossini Barbiere di Siviglia (Callas, Alva)
Schubert Son-p D959 A (O'Conor)

Coding album titles for “classical” works is complicated, because there are so many variations. But you have to do it, not only for works with several movements but for one-movement works, to make search and browse work right on iPod.

Here are the parts of my Album tag:

You might be wondering where to code the actual title of the album. If the album title actually matters to you—and for art music I don’t really think it does—you can always put it in the Comments tag. I decided that I really don’t care about the original title of an album, in general. I never want to listen to the album Brahms Fourth Symphony and Tragic Overture as a unit, even though that’s how the CD came—and if I ever do, I can make an on-the-go playlist.

Album Tag (Non-Classical)

Coding: “Classical”—see previous section
Otherperformer album

Examples: Tolkien Silmarillion
Clooney Sings Johnny Mercer
Damn Yankees

For non-classical music and spoken word, I put the actual album title, prefixed if necessary with the performer’s last name. For these types, the album is often arranged like a little concert (or may even be a recorded concert), so the title is likely to have some significance. This lets me listen to an album like Michael Feinstein’s Over There (World War I songs) in CD order.

For Broadway shows and movie soundtracks, I code just the name of the show, not the performers. If I had a particular show both from Broadway and from the movie, I’d add (Broadway) or (movie) to the title.

Track Number and Disc Number Tags

I can’t see any value to thousands of “1 of 1” in the Disc and Track columns of the iTunes browser. (Yes, thousands, literally.) Therefore, I leave the disc number blank for single-disc works, and similarly I blank the track number for single-track works.

For almost all “classical” music, I renumber the tracks to start at 1, in addition to changing the disc number to (blank) of (blank)

Example: My Beethoven Eighth is tracks 5-6-7-8 on disc 4 in my von Karajan set. I renumbered it to 1-2-3-4 (of 4) and blanked the disc number.

Example: In my Kertész set of Dvorak symphonies, the Fifth is tracks 5-6-7 (of 7) on disc 3 and track 1 (of 6) on disc 4. I renumbered it to tracks 1-2-3-4 (of 4) and blanked the disc number.

The main exception is operas and other large sung works, where disc and track numbers are keyed to a libretto. For those, I keep the track numbers from the CD. I blank the disc number if the whole work is within one disc, but keep the disc numbers if the work extends across multiple discs—again, for convenience in referring to the libretto.

For non-classical music and spoken word other than audiobooks, I keep the original track numbers (and original disc numbers, for multi-disc albums like my Piaf Intégrale).

(By the way, you can’t edit the track numbers before you import a CD; you have to do that after the import. The easiest way is to open the default “Recently Added” playlist and edit the items there.)

Grouping Tag

Coding: (none)

“Classical” Music

Since the work is identified in the Album tag, there’s no need to use the Grouping tag for art music. (In any event, iPod don’ know nothin’ ’bout no Grouping tag. Either this is just an entry in the iTunes database, or it’s a real tag but iPod doesn’t give you any way to view it, much less search on it.)

An alternative view: Reader Owen Mathews suggests that the Grouping tag can have a use even for classical music. He points out that shuffle by grouping is fairly new in iTunes, and therefore there’s hope that it will be added to iPod before too long. He proposes the idea of strong and weak groupings. A strong grouping would be the movements of a symphony, and a weak grouping would be the Brahms Liebeslieder waltzes.

He proposes matching the Grouping tag to the Album tag for strong groups, but leaving the Grouping tag empty for weak groups. The effect is that he can shuffle by grouping (in iTunes) to keep each symphony together but randomize the waltzes, or shuffle by album (in iTunes or iPod) to keep the symphony and the waltzes together in original album order.

This approach has much to recommend it, and it’s similar to what I do for other genres; see immediately below.

All Other Genres

For non-classical music and spoken word, I used to use the Grouping tag under certain circumstances, but later improvements in iTunes and iPod shuffle have made what I was doing obsolete. I no longer see a need for the Grouping tag.

Comments Tag

This is my free-form space for full performer or cast information, recording information if it’s especially interesting, and so on. I do this much more with my downloaded music (a small proportion of the whole) than with what I have on CD.

Genre Tag

Coding: see below

Examples: AO/Baroque
AC/Piano/Classical
B/Humor

“Classical” Genres
(see musical periods below)
AA/periodChamber music
AC/Harpsichord/periodHarpsichord concerto
AC/Piano/periodPiano concerto
AC/Violin/periodViolin and/or cello concerto
AC/*/periodConcerto for other solo instruments
AO/periodOrchestral music
AS/HarpsichordSolo harpsichord
AS/Organ/periodSolo organ
AS/Piano/periodSolo piano
AS/Violin/periodSolo violin and/or cello
AV/Choral/periodSecular choral work
AV/InstructionalRehearsal CD
AV/Lieder/periodSecular song for solo
AV/Opera/periodOpera
AV/Sacred/periodSacred solo or choral work
A/HumorHumor and parody (classical)
Other Genres
 
B/BandBig Band
B/CountryCountry songs
B/HumorHumorous songs (non-classical)
B/NA MixedNew Age instrumental
B/NA PianoNew Age piano solo
B/PopTraditional pop, including swing and show tunes
B/Pop EuropeEuropean pop
B/Rock60s&70s rock ’n’ roll
B/ShowsBroadway and filmed musicals
B/XmasChristmas music
S/FictionNovels and stories
S/HumorSpoken humor
S/InstructionalInstructional audio

You’ll notice there are three humor categories. A/Humor is “classical” music humor: Anna Russell, for instance. B/Humor is popular song humor, from Flanders & Swann to “Monster Mash”. S/Humor is purely spoken.

I tag “classical” music both for type of music and for musical period (see below)—after all, a C.P.E. Bach flute concerto is quite a different listening experience from a Nielsen flute concerto. With smart playlists, it’s easy to select all romantic music, or all piano concertos, and so forth.

From the list above you’ll notice that every genre of art music starts with A. I have a smart playlist, “Art Music” “NR Classical”, to select everything in all the art music genres that I haven’t listened to in a while.

Let me emphasize that I made up this list of genres to match my own collection and tastes. It may not be suitable for you as is, but you can use it for ideas about how you want to categorize your music, bearing in mind what sorts of searches you’ll want to do and what playlists you’ll want to create.

Musical Periods

There is no perfect list of musical periods. Not only do musicologists disagree, but many composers straddled two or more periods chronologically or stylistically.

Also, one’s own taste has a lot to do with it. For instance, I lump anything before the Baroque into one period because it’s not my primary interest, even though in college I learned to distinguish several periods.

For what it’s worth, here is my personal list of musical periods: Antique, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Romantic Late, Twentieth [Century]. I don’t always use the most natural name, but my list has the virtue that alphabetical order matches chronological order.

Part of a compilation Tag

Coding: “Classical”—(blank)
Other—(checked for things like Billboard Top Hits: 1963, Dr. Demento 20th Anniversary Collection, and Perry Como Sings Christmas Music; otherwise blank)

Since each work is tagged as its own album, by definition no “classical” album is a compilation. If you’re using Gracenote—which I don’t recommend—you’ll need to clear any Part of a compilation boxes that are checked.

What’s this tag for, anyway? The idea is to keep a bunch of one-off artists (or, in my scheme, one-off composers or songwriters) from cluttering up the Artists column of your iTunes browser. According to The Tippopotamus, with this tag checked, iTunes “ignores the artist field for compilations in its tabular format. This means every track that is tagged with this is grouped together by Album rather than by Artist and all your compilations show up in one group rather than scattered through the huge table.”

Even if a “song” is tagged as part of a compilation, iTunes and iPod won’t treat it any differently unless you turn on compilations. There are independent settings in iTunes and iPod, and you can turn on one, both, or neither:

Checked or OnUnchecked or Off
iTunes View » Column Browser » Group Compilations
 
(iTunes before 9.1: Edit » Preferences » General » Group compilations)

In the Column Browser, “Compilations” is added at the top of the Artists column.

Artists whose only tracks are in a single compilation are removed from the Artists column. An artist who has songs in multiple albums is listed, and if you click on that artist then the Albums column shows all albums containing that artist, regardless whether they’re compilations.

Artists are all listed, and the pseudo-artist “Compilations” doesn’t appear.

iPod Settings » Music Menu » Compilations
 
(older iPods: Settings » Compilations)

In the Music menu, Compilations is added. It’s not added to the list of artists.

Artists whose only tracks are in a single compilation are removed from the Artists screens. An artist who has songs in multiple albums is listed, and if you click on that artist then the next screen shows all albums or songs with that artist, whether or not they’re in compilations.

Compilations is removed from the Music menu. All artists are listed on the Artists screens.

iPod Settings » Main Menu » Compilations

This setting controls whether Compilations appears in the main menu. But iPod ignores this setting for the purpose of listings on the Artists screen; only Settings » Music Menu » Compilations affects which artists are listed.

Apple’s help was no help, but I found some useful references on the Part of a compilation tag:

Rating and Album Rating Tags

Coding:
Album RatingRating
★★★★★ (not used) “Classical” and shows: favorite parts within 3- or 4-star works; pop and humor: favorite songs or sketches
★★★★
and ★★★
Favorite “classical” works and shows Favorite pop songs and humor sketches
★★ Neutral placeholder; see Implied Ratings below (not used)
“Classical” works I don’t like much Pop songs I don’t like much

Implied Ratings

The Rating tag used to be straightforward: you just rated each individual “song” as you felt moved to. Then iTunes 7 introduced the Album Rating tag. If you set an Album Rating, that implies a rating for all the tracks in that album that don’t have a Rating of their own; fair enough.

But then came another instance of What were they thinking? The Rating tags of individual tracks in an album are somehow used to imply an Album Rating, which in turn feeds back to implied Rating tags for all the unrated tracks in that album. (Ratings you assign show as solid stars ★; implied ratings show as outline stars ☆.) So if you give multiple stars to one track in an otherwise undistinguished album, suddenly all the other tracks get good ratings too. Now you can’t assign your own ratings to just some songs within an album: it’s all or none.

My solution to this was to abandon a straightforward scheme of one to five stars in my ratings. I’ve kept 1, 3, 4, and 5 stars to rank my preferences; but I reserve ★★ to rate a pop or humor album where I want to rate just a few tracks (pop and humor). Then for that album, Album Rating is ★★, the tracks I directly rated have their stars, and iTunes assigns ☆☆ to the other tracks. ★★ is my “neutral” rating, between ★ (dislike) and ★★★ or more (like better than most).

How to Set Album Rating

To set the Album Rating tag, I think it’s easiest to select “album list” view (second control of four; see the picture below). Then you can click the number of stars you want to assign to an album and see them reflected in the ratings of the individual tracks. If you want to override any individual track ratings, you can then do it easily.

album list; see text

Notice that when I assigned Album Rating = ★★★★ to this symphony, iTunes assigned Rating = ☆☆☆☆ to every movement. That’s helpful, I think, in constructing smart playlists that use ratings. But if I had rated just one movement myself, iTunes would have assigned implied ratings to the symphony and the other movements, which I find presumptuous and unhelpful. Hence my ★★ “neutral” rating for albums.

Rating “Classical” and Shows

Once somebody figured out the rules for implied ratings, it wasn’t too bad for art music, since one work equals one album in my scheme. To rate a work, I just assign the Album Rating and let iTunes propagate that to the Rating tags. And the same applies to Broadway shows and soundtracks, which are usually packaged one per album anyway.

I rate each “classical” work as a unit, because I usually play a work as a unit. But within my 3- and 4-star works I do rate a very few movements as ★★★★★.

Rating Pop and Humor

Pop and humor are the reverse of art music and shows: tracks within an album are only loosely connected if at all. For pop and humor, I don’t really rate albums, but I use the Rating tag on individual tracks—about 900 out of 2700, as a quick count using a smart playlist revealed.

But if I stopped there, the iTunes misfeature of implied ratings would come into play. To get around that, I assign ★★ to every pop and humor album; see above for the technique of assigning an Album Rating.

Part of a gapless album Tag

People sometimes ask about using this tag for tracks that should be played consecutively, with no gap between them. There is no need to set the Part of a gapless album tag, because iTunes and iPod know when to play tracks continuously, without a gap.


iTunes Alternatives

I myself use iTunes (obviously!) and I’m pretty well satisfied with it, despire a couple of “What were they thinking?” features; but some people have asked me about alternatives. I have not tried any of these myself, but they come from sources that I’ve found credible in other matters:


What’s New?

See the old version of this page for previous history.


this page:  http://oakroadsystems.com/genl/itunes.htm

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