Harnessing the Power of iTunes Star Ratings


During the past few months I’ve grown a little bored with my music. Even my favorite tracks have become routine. So to inject some life into my iTunes library I’ve been getting my hands on a monthly playlist of Indie Rock tracks (from completely legal and reputable sources, of course). But as I’ve been listening to these lists of 100-200 songs I have run into a new problem — how to rate them.

Of course my favorite songs, the ones I would listen to over and over again, get a 4 or 5-star rating. But the rest of the tracks invariably end up getting a 3-star rating. I tend not to use the 1 or 2-star rating because in my mind if a song is rated that low then it’s not worth keeping.

And then there are other problems with the star rating system. For example, what about holiday songs? Sure, that Relient K Christmas album might get a 4-star rating, but I don’t really want it picked up in my “highest rated” smart playlist unless it’s actually Christmas. And if I begin to exclude every “exception” then my smart playlist ends up with 35 rules.

The rating system is such a powerful tool since it’s one of the few ways to actually “tag” your music on the go and I didn’t want to abandon it altogether. So, in an attempt to learn how to use iTunes star rating system to the fullest, I have asked friends, colleagues, and the internet for ideas on how to harness the star to create perfect playlists.

1-star as Punishment

This idea helps identify which tracks you definitely don’t like. In fact, these are the tracks you hate so much you don’t even want them any more. Which is handy when you’re in the car or at work listening to your iPod where you don’t have the ability to delete the song you’re listening to. Instead, simply give the song a 1-star rating. Then create a smart playlist which collects all the 1-star songs and delete. But be sure to follow the advice on how to permanently delete songs from playlists otherwise the songs will remain in your library.

Stars as Intensity

If you’re not a huge fan of the “genre” tag or want a broader way to categorize your music, you can use the star rating system to assign each song to an intensity or beat level. All slow-dance songs from middle school, for example, would get a 1-star rating. Likewise, the latest club music might get 5 stars. This method also helps in identifying which songs are best to work out to — just create a smart playlist where the rating is equal or greater than 4 stars and you’ll have the perfect workout mix!

Wait and See

This method requires the use of a smart playlist to identify the songs with 2 stars that haven’t been listened to for X-number of days. The thinking is that songs with 2 stars are candidates for deletion, but if you come back to listen to it then perhaps it’s worth keeping.

2-Star = Unique

As I mentioned before, sometimes you have songs (or podcasts or videos) that you really only need once a year. Christmas music is my favorite example. Instead of editing your smart playlists to exclude the “holiday” genre AND the “christmas video” genre, etc. you can simply assign those “unique” tracks 2 stars. That way you can simply add one argument to each smart playlist that excludes all tracks with a rating equal or less than 2 stars.

Does rating your music library take time? Of course. But in my opinion the star rating system can be a powerful ally in getting your music library under control.

In what ways do you use the iTunes rating system?



I realize this entry is years old at this point, but I happened upon it on a Google search, and thought I’d throw my two cents out there.

I use 2-5 to rate my music. 2 would seem like I shouldn’t keep the song, and I wouldn’t if it were standalone, but certain tracks work in a context of an album, and for that reason I will keep them. I also have a playlist of the 2-star songs that I set “skip shuffling” on, so the only time those songs will play is if I’m playing the album straight through.

1 star I use for “marking” a bad file, or a track that’s missing album art, while I’m on the go. When I get home, I’ll check and see. If it’s a tiny glitch, sometimes I take a screenshot at the exact time the glitch occurs so that I can more easily find/fix it later.

I put “Holiday” into my “Grouping” field.

Anyway, just thought I’d throw that out there. Later.


I create a playlist called “Everything”, which contains everything that is “music” or “podcast” (all my podcasts are music). I then create another playlist called “Rejected”, which contains anything with 1 or 2 stars or anything that has been skipped more than it has been played or been skipped more than 5 times. I call this the “skip rule”. Now I have two lists: Everything and Rejected. Next I create a playlist called “Base” and I copy a bunch of music to it that I might want to listen to. This allows me to add to my library and not overfill my iPhone. I call this the “Base Limit”. Now, I’m ready to create the three playlists that will populate my device. Each of these smart playlists will need to be on “Base” and not on “Rejected”. Anything that is skipped more than played, skipped more than 5 times or gets 1 or 2 stars — disappears. The first playlist is my “Top Rated” and gets the additional condition of “greater than 3 stars”. The second playlist is called unheard and has the additional conditions of having never been played or skipped, and no stars. The third playlist is called “Undecided” and has the additional conditions of either having 3 stars or having been played and still having no stars. I handle the “Everything is a three” problem by admitting that a 3 star rating is not a decision whether one likes a song or not. One more thing. I also create a playlist that is on playlist “Everything” but not on playlist “Base”. This way, when I add new music It shows up on this playlist and I know what to add to “Base”.

Dave Mac

Stars? Well I have an app that might help.

‘My Hit Radio’ is an app that takes this all into consideration….


This is all fine and good, but the problem still remains of having to sit for hours and put star ratings on all your music. I know that I can give ratings to the songs on my iPod (or in my case, iPhone) itself, but is there any way I can set it so when i Sync it, it also copies those ratings from my iPod, to the music in my iTunes library on my computer? (Depending, of course, on if those songs are still in your iTunes library [they haven’t been moved or re-named or anything.])


Create a playedout playlist…Exception not in playedout, xmas, etc


1 star- bad
2 srar- average
3 star- good
4 star- very good
5 star- N/A


I use the grouping column, first it gets an ABC for how much I like the song, then it gets a number for speed ..1 fast 2. 3. 4. 5 slow.. 6 if its classical or instrumental, 7 if its oldies, 8 if its 80s 90s etc.. 9 if its newer, 0 if its seasonal. then i might put in other info as well, S designates that its worthy of a sleep playlist, X designates its a speech or something, Z is for audio books, R if i’m not willing to play it in front of my mother, U for unplugged, E for electronic, M if i dont want other people to hear me listening to it :) .. G for songs my girl likes but i could care less about, O for anything broadway or similar

you get the idea.. basically make up a coding system so you can have a smart list that will weed out any letters or numbers you dont want, you dont need that many.. its just the ones i’ve created as i go along.. you dont need to go through and rate each song at once, when i make a smartlist if stuff i dont want on it shows up then i go and edit the ones i dont want on there, mostly just when you download them or just as you listen do the ones that you really like or don’t like at the moment.. eventually you’ll have a fairly specific setup and you can weed out any catagory easily.. I can make a smartlist in just a couple minutes, most of the time they work out really well, at least better than genius : )


I do back up the xml file frequently as well. It just doesn’t have the benefits of putting the ratings in the mp3 id3 comment field (shows up in multiple libraries, info stays with mp3 file, etc.).


fontgoddess–an easier and more comprehensive way to secure your precious metadata would be to include your “iTunes Music Library.xml” file as part of an automatic incremental backup plan, such as with the free service Mozy.


Another facet of my elaborate tagging system is to add (Christmas) or (Halloween) and more to a tag list in the comments field. Then it’s pretty easy to set smart playlists to include or exclude tagged songs, and to choose “skip when shuffling” or not.

This idea expands to including things like (mellow) (male vocals) (happy) or whatever else. I just wish there was a program that could help juggle the keywords I put in the comments field. Any such programs that have appeared have been quite rough and no longer work with an up-to-date system.


One of the really *only* frustrating things for me in iTunes is that I can mark “skip when shuffling” for a track but there is no way to see what tracks have this set (except individually). Its not a column I can display in a playlist (View -> View Options) nor is it something I can filter a smart playlist on.

The only workaround I’ve found to date is to create a manual playlist of songs to skip while shuffling and then make a smart playlist of songs not to skip, then periodically select all songs from each playlist and manually select the right “skip when shuffling” setting.

Why is this important? Because that’s the one reliable way I’ve found to keep the Christmas songs from shuffling in with my regular mix.

Thoughts? Ideas? Comments?


Whatever your system, if you depend on star ratings know that those are part of your iTunes library file only, not linked to the id3 data in your song files. After my iTunes library file got corrupted several years ago, I created a system to back up my rating using the comments field.

I put this “(*****)” in the comments field with as many stars as I’ve rated the song. “(*****)” is 5 stars, “(***)” is 3 stars, etc. I keep the data up-to-date with smart playlists with the criteria such as “My rating is 5 stars, comment does not contain (*****).” Then, if for any reason I need to restore my ratings from the comment field, I can reverse the criteria to “My rating is not 5 stars, comment field contains (*****).” This is helpful for anyone who uses multiple libraries or computers, as well as anyone who’s had their library file corrupted or lost. Plus, your ratings are backed up when you back up your music, so if you lose your hard drive, your backup disks retain your ratings.

An additional bonus is that I can use the comment field to filter my playlists on-the-fly using the search field. If I enter “(***” I get any song rated 3 stars or higher. If I enter “(****)” I get only those songs with 4 star ratings.

Tim Cuthbertson

This post prompted me to bring my website up to date. A while ago, I wrote a dashboard widget to rank iTunes music against arbitrary criteria (eg you might want to use “speed”, “mood”, etc…). You can then use these ratings in smart playlists.

It’s not easy to use, but at least it’s only a one-time setup cost – I haven’t had to edit my smart playlists for years, and they still serve me excellently :)



I do use stars but my problem is when you get a new computer the star system doesn’t seem to be remembered! Anyone got any ideas for a more permanent solution?


What about half a star? I don’t remember how I did it, but I installed a modification wich allows you to add or subtract half a star in iTunes. So, I can mark my songs in 10 different categories.
And, what about tagging an album? It produces hollow stars in songs… Smart lists can recognise theese, but, can anyone explain how iTunes considers theese songs?


I rate every song in my libary as follows:

5: Superb songs only: Almost never skip these
4: Still awesome but might skip from time to time (i.e. a really good slow song might get skipped when I’m jamming out in the car)
3: Have to be in the right mood to listen to these songs
2: Don’t really want to listen to but they could come in handy some day (so why delete them?)
1: Not for general listening: Holidays, audiobooks, etc.

To avoid having to constantly re-evaluate my ratings, I try and pick an appropriate rating from the get go. For example, “So What” by P!nk gets 3 stars. Sure it’s hot right now, and it’s a pretty cool song to listen to in the car, but it’s not (in my book) a classic that’s going to stand the test of the time, and in a year I probably won’t be listening to it anymore.

So to accomodate the songs like this that are cool right now I create a smart playlist that pulls anything 3+ stars from the last 3 months and call it “Currently Popular”. Although I don’t normally listen to 3 star songs on a regular basis, there must’ve been some reason I downloaded a 3 star song and if it’s in the last couple of months that’s probably because it’s one of those “passing fad”-type songs.

Then where space is limited (iPhone, iPod) I sync my 5-star playlist, my “Currently Popular” playlist, and another “Popular 365” list that includes 3+ stars reaching back up to a year in the past. This way I’m not carrying a bunch of garbage around with me and have more space for podcasts, games, etc.

Ian Eure

I’d recommend against abusing ratings or other fields for BPM/intensity/whatever. And it doesn’t make sense to make two stars magic by rating all your holiday music like that.

What I’d recommend is that you create one playlist for each kind of music you don’t want in your ordinary listening. One for kid’s music, spooky Halloween music, one for Christmas music, and one to hold that one song they play at New Year’s.

Then you make a main smart playlist with the conditions:
Playlist is not: Kid stuff
Playlist is not: Halloween
Playlist is not: Christmas
Playlist is not: That one damn song

And use that to listen to. This makes it crystal clear what’s what, and you can easily shuffle through the Halloween playlist when October rolls around.

Joshua Rudd

I’ve been using almost the exact same strategy for rating my music for the past year with decent success. Yes, rating an entire library can tale time and be a little daunting, but doing a little at a time over a long period of time makes a huge difference. I have a smart playlist named “Unrated” that I play on my commute (by bus in S.F.) which helps me rate only the tracks I haven’t rated yet.

5: love it
4: like it
3: like it enough that I’d wouldn’t be embarrassed if it came up on shuffle and someone heard it
2: keep it for certain occasions (e.g., holidays) but don’t normally play it
1: never want to hear it again

Ben C

When it comes to organising by beat intensity/BPM, I’d definitely recommend Tangerine as an option. One can set the BPM as a new field for each track, freeing up the star system for some other use!


I rate tracks according to their highest chart position on the Top 100.
1-10 = 5 stars
11-40 = 4-1/2 stars
41-100 = 4 stars

Tracks that chart on other charts, or overseas, get four stars.
Better than average album tracks are 3-1/2 stars.
Average album tracks are 3 stars
Lower than average album tracks are 2 stars
Utter crap, like remixes get 1 star :)


I rate songs according to replayability rather than quality. My main playlist is a 3+ star playlist. If I hear a song and I think that I would want to hear it again at some point, I give it 3 stars. Songs with 4 stars have higher replayability, and 5 stars are songs that I could put on random when I want to listen to a lot of really familiar songs that I rarely get tired of.

As a subset of the 3+ star playlist, I have genre specific 3+ star playlists. Just more smart playlists that are limited by genre (I use very broad genre categories).


I use 5 stars for a song I’d want to hear at any time, i.e. ones I never skip; 4 stars I use for songs that are the best few tracks from a given album, but that I’m not always in the mood for.

Then I have shuffled 5-star and 4-star playlists, depending on whether I wanta mix of songs I like a lot, or a wider variety of good songs that I don’t necessarily listen to really often.

I also have smart playlists that take 4- and 5-star songs from a genre (e.g. hip-hop), so that I can have two solid mixes on hand for music I want separated out by genre.

Tim Hettler

Uncheck Holiday songs (or any other “novelty” songs you only play at specific times) and exclude unchecked items from your master playlist.


I’m using the 3-to-5-star (for how much i like each track) method combining with genres. I tend to be quite specific with genres (it’s not “pop”, it’s “mainstram pop” or “britpop” or “twee pop” or “chamber pop” or whatever), so I just do smart playlists from that. Besides, I’m thinking about using “disc number” as an intensity factor. I rarely use this tag, since I prefer to tag disc 1 like tracks 1 to n and then disc 2 as tracks n+1 to whatever.

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