Taming iTunes & iPod for Classical Music
(and Non-Classical Too)
revised 10 Apr 2013
revised 10 Apr 2013
“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
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.)
Abbreviations for Performers
Abbreviations for Works
Abbreviations for Instruments and Voices
“Classical” Genres and Other Genres
Album Ratings and Ratings
If you know of other instances, please tell me.
Copying: You’re welcome to print copies of this page for your own use, and to link from your own Web pages to this page. But please don’t make any electronic copies and publish them on your Web page or elsewhere.
“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 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.
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.
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 Column Browser menu; click to view the full browser
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 search input box; click to view the search results
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.)
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 Number–Track Number order. In my scheme, when I want to shuffle a playlist of classical music, I use shuffle by album.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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:
My take: Playlists is fine for selecting a playlist, but useless for selecting within a playlist unless the playlist is very short.
(No, it’s not the wrong picture. For reasons that will be clear later, I’ve put the composer in the Artist tag.)
Select an album, and you get a list of Name tags in track-number order.
This is pretty useless for any classical library of more than a few albums; who’s got time to scroll through thousands of entries, and who wants to sort all “Act I” together? For this reason I disable Songs in Settings → Music Menu.
Select a genre, and you get a list of the artists, even if there’s only one artist in that genre. (Again, I have the composer in the Artist tag.) The highlighted artist name scrolls if necessary.
Select an artist, and you get a menu of albums with the count of “songs” in each. However, if the selected artist has only one album in this genre, you never get the album title but instead get a track list (last screen shot).
Select an album, or select an artist who has just one album, and you get a list of the Name tags for the tracks in that album.
Select a composer, and you get a list of two-line entries, Album (scrolling if necessary) and Artist (which for me is composer).
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.
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:
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.
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.
or cuing or full title
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)
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.
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)|
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|
|ASMF||Academy of St-Martin-|
|RSO||Radio Symphony Orchestra|
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.
“Classical” — (blank)
Other — main performer
Simon & Garfunkel
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.
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.
|Abbreviations for Works|
"subtitle" (performer date)
Other—see next section
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:
For standard categories of works like symphonies and quartets, I use the abbreviations at right, followed either by a # sign and the work number or the catalog number, then the key signature.
Spacing: Usually I butt the number against the # or “op” or catalog designation, but I always consider how an alphabetical list will appear. Thus Beethoven’s first is #1 because his last symphony is number 9, but Mahler’s first is # 1 with a space because his last symphony is number 10. In the Corelli example, opus 6 number 7 is coded as op6: 7 because the numbers within opus 6 go above 9, and I don’t want opus 6 number 2 to sort after opus 6 number 10. (If my Corelli concerti grossi had opus numbers higher than 9, this one would be op 6: 7.)
Key signatures: Capital letters mean major keys and lower-case letters mean minor; I use # and b for sharp and flat. After an opus number or other identifying number, I omit the word “in” before the key—compare the Mahler and Mendelssohn examples.
Capital letters take up more room than lower case, so I capitalize only the first word of the title, as in the Corelli example. Proper nouns are still capitalized, as in the Grofé and Rossini. I omit articles (The, An, La, Un, etc.), as in the Rossini example.
For a double or triple concerto, I don’t use those words but simply designate the instruments, as in the Mendelssohn example. In a similar way, a piano quintet is distinguished from a string quintet by adding a -p suffix, as in the Brahms example. The abbreviations for instruments shown at right are derived in part from my memories of the program guide issued in the 1970s by the Cleveland FM station WCLV.
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.
Clooney Sings Johnny Mercer
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Coding: see below
(see musical periods below)
|AC/Violin/period||Violin and/or cello concerto|
|AC/*/period||Concerto for other solo instruments|
|AS/Violin/period||Solo violin and/or cello|
|AV/Choral/period||Secular choral work|
|AV/Lieder/period||Secular song for solo|
|AV/Sacred/period||Sacred solo or choral work|
|A/Humor||Humor and parody (classical)|
|B/Humor||Humorous songs (non-classical)|
|B/NA Mixed||New Age instrumental|
|B/NA Piano||New Age piano solo|
|B/Pop||Traditional pop, including swing and show tunes|
|B/Pop Europe||European pop|
|B/Rock||60s&70s rock ’n’ roll|
|B/Shows||Broadway and filmed musicals|
|S/Fiction||Novels and stories|
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.
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.
I use “Romantic” for composers up to about 1870, including Berlioz, Brahms, Dvorak, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Saint-Saëns, Schubert, Johann Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, and Weber. “Romantic Late” covers roughly 1860–1910 and includes these composers suggested by Donald Jay Grout, in A History of Western Music (Norton, 1960):
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 On||Unchecked or Off|
|iTunes View → Column Browser →
(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 →
(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:
|★★★★★||(not used)||“Classical” and shows: favorite parts within 3- or 4-star works; pop and humor: favorite songs or sketches|
|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|
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).
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.
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.
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 ★★★★★.
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.
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.
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:
See the old version of this page for previous history.