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iPod: The Missing Manual, 10th Edition by J.D. Biersdorfer

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Chapter 4. iTunes Basics

IF YOU READ Chapter 1 TO FIND A SPEEDY WAY TO GET YOUR IPOD set up and ready to play, you’ve already dipped a toe into the iTunes waters. But as you may have guessed, beneath its pretty surface, iTunes is a deep well of media-management wonders.

Even if you haven’t bought any music from the iTunes Store yet, you can use the program to import music from your CD collection. Once you check everything into your iTunes library, the program makes it easy to browse and search through all your treasures—and automatically mix your music. You can add song ratings, lyrics, and artwork to your music files, too.

Yes, iTunes is a powerful media organizer. So powerful, in fact, that this chapter focuses on its most basic and useful functions—like what its controls do and how to import music from CDs. Chapter 5 focuses on advanced iTunes features, and Chapter 6 tells you how to create customized song playlists. Chapter 7 is all about blowing your bucks at the iTunes Store, and Chapter 8 spotlights the video side of iTunes.

So turn the page to get to know iTunes better.

The iTunes Window: An Introduction

ITUNES IS YOUR IPOD’S best friend. You can do just about everything with your digital files here—convert songs on a CD into iPod-ready tunes, buy music, listen to Internet radio stations, watch videos, and more. Here’s a quick tour of the main iTunes window and what all the buttons and sliders do.

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The gray-tinted Source panel on the left side of iTunes displays all your media libraries and connected devices. Click an item in the panel to display its contents in the main window (number 6 above), like so:

  1. Click any icon in the Library group to see what’s in your various media libraries. As you add music, movies, and other stuff to iTunes, click the appropriate icon to find what you’re looking for—a song, a TV show, and so on. Programs you buy for the iPod Touch land here under Apps. Want to change what iTunes lists? Press Ctrl+comma (⌘-comma) to call up iTunes’ Preferences menu, and then click the General tab. In the “Sources” area, turn on (or off) the checkboxes for, say, Ringtones or iTunes U.

  2. In the Store area, click the shopping-bag icon to buy new stuff from the Store, or click the Purchased icon to see what you’ve already bought. The Ping icon takes you to iTunes’ music social network (Ping Your Way to New Music). The Downloads icon shows items downloading from the Store, or files ready for you to snag, like the latest episode of a podcast. The icon for Apple’s iTunes Match service (Use iTunes Match) lives here as well.

  3. If you have a music CD in your computer’s drive, it shows up in the Devices area, as will a connected iPod. Click the gray Eject icon next to the device name to safely pop out a disc or disconnect an iPod.

  4. In the Shared area, you can browse the media libraries of other iTunes fans and stream their music if you have iTunes’ Home Sharing feature turned on (Share Your iTunes Music and Videos). The stacked music-note icon also lets you know that you can copy music and videos between machines.

  5. iTunes keeps all your custom song lists—whether the iTunes Genius automatically created them or you lovingly handcrafted them—in the Genius and Playlists sections. The iTunes DJ feature, which quickly whips up party mixes, lives here, too.

  6. When you click a name in the Source list—Music, in this case—iTunes’ main window displays all the items in that category. The three columns that appear above the main song list let you browse your collection by genre, artist, and album. Naturally, this part of the window is called the Column Browser. It’s shown here in the top position, but you can display it on the left by choosing View→Column Browser→On Left.

The outer edges of the iTunes window are full of buttons and controls. Here’s what they do:

  1. Play and pause a song or video—or jump to the next or previous track. The volume slider adjusts the sound level.

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  2. The center of the upper pane shows you the song currently playing. To the right of that, you have handy buttons to change views within the main window and a search box so you can find songs fast.

  3. The bottom-left corner includes shortcut buttons for (from left to right) making a new playlist, shuffling or repeating your playlists, and displaying album artwork or video stills.

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  4. The lower-right corner of iTunes is where the Genius controls hang out. When you have a song selected, click the whizzy electron–shaped icon to create a Genius playlist (Chapter 6) based on that tune. The boxed-arrow icon toggles the iTunes sidebar panel on (great if you love Ping) and off (if Ping isn’t for you). If you’re the proud owner of an Apple TV or AirPlay-compatible speakers (Stream Music and Video from iTunes), the AirPlay icon sits in this row too, waiting for you to click it and select an output source for the song or video currently playing in iTunes.

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Change the Look of the iTunes Window

DON’T BE MISLED BY the brushed-aluminum look of iTunes: You can push and pull various window parts like saltwater taffy.

  • To toggle iTunes’ three-pane Column Browser (previous page) open or closed, press Ctrl+B (⌘-B). You can adjust how much of the browser you see by dragging the tiny dot (circled) at the top of the song-list window up or down. If you prefer to see the browser as rows of vertical columns anchored along the left side of the iTunes window, click View→Column Browser→On Left.

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  • iTunes divides the main song list into columns you can sort or rearrange. Click a column title (like Name or Album) to sort the list alphabetically. Click the title again to reverse the sort order. Change the order of the columns themselves by dragging them, as shown above.

  • To adjust a column’s width, drag its right-hand vertical divider line (it’s easiest to grab it in the column title bar).

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  • To resize all the columns so they expand to precisely fit their contents, right-click (Control-click) any column title and choose Auto Size All Columns. This option appeals to those who like things organized in regimental formation.

  • To add (or delete) columns, right-click (Control-click) any column title. From the pop-up list of column categories (Bit Rate, Date Added, and so on), choose the column you want to add or remove. Checkmarks indicate currently visible columns. Once you add a column, you can click its title to sort your songs by that characteristic.

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Change the Size of the iTunes Window

LOVELY AS ITUNES IS, it takes up a heck of a lot of screen real estate. When you’re working on other things, you can shrink it down. In fact, iTunes can run in three sizes: small, medium, and large.

  1. Large. This is what you get the first time you open iTunes. Hate the social networking nags from Ping, or the hard-sell “suggestions” for purchases from the iTunes Store in the sidebar on the right? Close it by clicking the square button in the lower-right corner.

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  2. Medium. Need something smaller in a flash? Switch back and forth between large and medium by pressing Ctrl+M (Shift-⌘-M) or by choosing View→Switch to Mini Player.

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  3. Small. To really scrunch things down, start with the mediumsize window, then drag the resize handle (the diagonal lines in the lower-right corner) leftward. To expand the panel, reverse the process.

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Tired of losing your iTunes mini-player among an array of windows on your screen? You can make it always visible, so that it sits on top of other open windows, documents, and assorted screen detritus. Open iTunes Preferences (Ctrl+comma [⌘-comma]), click the Advanced tab, and turn on the checkbox next to “Keep Mini Player on top of all other windows.” Now you won’t have to click frantically around the screen trying to find iTunes if you get caught listening to your bubblegum-pop playlist at work.

Import Selected Songs from Your CDs

IN Chapter 1, YOU learned how iTunes simplifies converting (also called ripping) songs from your compact discs into small, iPod-ready digital files: Pop a CD into your computer’s disc drive and iTunes walks you through the process. If you’re connected to the Internet, iTunes downloads song titles and other album info. A few minutes later, you’ve got copies of those songs in iTunes.

If you need time to think about which songs you want from each CD, no problem. Summon the Preferences box (Ctrl+comma [⌘-comma]), click the General tab, and then change the menu next to “When you insert a CD” to “Show CD.”

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So now, if you don’t want to rip an entire album—you may not want anything from Don McLean’s American Pie besides the title track, for example—you can exclude songs you don’t want by removing the checkmarks next to their names. Once you pick your songs, click the Import CD button in the bottom-right corner of the screen.


If you know you want all the songs on that stack of CDs next to your computer, just change the iTunes CD import preferences to “Import CD and Eject” to save yourself some clicking.

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You can Ctrl+click (⌘-click) any box to deselect all the checkboxes at once. To turn them all on again, Ctrl+click (⌘-click) a box next to an unchecked song. This is a great technique when you want only one or two songs from a CD; turn off all the checkboxes, and then turn on only the tracks you want.

As the import process starts, iTunes moves down the list of checked songs, converting each one to a file and, in Windows 7, dropping it in your Music→iTunes→iTunes Media→Music folder; on Mac OS x systems, songs go in the Home→Music→iTunes→iTunes Media→Music folder. (If you’ve had iTunes for years, your iTunes Media folder is probably still called iTunes Music, and there’s a separate Music folder inside it.) An orange squiggle next to a song name means that iTunes is currently converting the track. Feel free to switch to other programs, answer email, surf the Web, or do any other work as iTunes rips away.

Once iTunes finishes up, each imported song bears a green checkmark, and the program signals its success with a melodious little flourish. Now you have some brand-new songs in your iTunes music library.


Don’t like all those checkboxes next to song titles cluttering up your screen? Turn them off in the Preferences box shown on the opposite page. Press Ctrl+comma [⌘-comma] to get the box, and then click the General tab. Turn off the checkbox next to “Show list checkboxes” (ironic, huh?). If you wan an all-over streamlined look, turn off the little icons next to Source-list items by turning off the checkbox next to “Show source icons.”

Change Import Settings for Better Audio Quality

IPODS CAN PLAY SEVERAL digital audio formats: AAC, MP3, WAV, AIFF, and one called Apple Lossless. Feel free to safely ignore that last sentence, as well as the rest of this page, if you’re happy with the way music sounds on your iPod or through a pair of external speakers.

If you find the audio quality lacking, however, you can change the way iTunes encodes, or converts, songs when it imports them from a CD. You get two main options in iTunes’ Import Settings box (Edit [iTunes]→Preferences→General, and then click the Import Settings button). They are:

  • Audio format (use the drop-down menu beside “Import using”). Some formats tightly compress audio to save space. The trade-off: lost sound quality. Highly compressed formats include AAC (iTunes’ default setting) and MP3. Formats that use little or no compression include WAV and AIFF; they sound better, but they take up more space. Apple Lossless splits the difference: better sound quality than AAC and MP3, but not as hefty as WAV or AIFF.

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  • Bit rate (beside “Setting”). The higher the number of bits listed, the greater the amount of data the file contains, and the larger the file size. The advantage? Better sound quality.

To see a song’s format and other technical information, click its title in iTunes, press Ctrl+I (⌘-I), and then click the Summary tab in the Get Info box.

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Four Ways to Browse Your Collection

INSTEAD OF JUST PRESENTING you with boring lists, iTunes gives you four ways to browse your media collection—some of them more visual than others. Click the View button at the top of iTunes to switch among them.

  • List view is the all-text display favored by people who find comfort in the predictable layout of Excel spreadsheets (see The iTunes Window: An Introduction for an example). Press Ctrl+B (⌘-B) to toggle on and off the browser that shows your music in vertical (or horizontal) panes grouped by genre, artist, and album. Press Ctrl+Alt+3 (Option-⌘-3) to jump back to List view from another view.

  • Album List view displays an album cover in the first column if you have five or more tracks from an album. (Go to View→Always Show Artwork to override the five-track minimum.) Press Ctrl+Alt+4 (Option-⌘-4) to see Album List view.

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  • Grid view presents your collection in a nifty array of album covers and other artwork. There’s a lot you can do in Grid view, so flip the page for more. Press Ctrl+Alt+5 (Option-⌘-5) to switch to the Grid.

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  • Cover Flow view. If you really like album art, this is the view for you. Ctrl+Alt+6 (Option-⌘-6) is the shortcut. Your collection appears as a stream of album covers. To browse them, press the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard, or drag the scroll bar under the albums. Click the little Full Screen button by the slider to turn your whole screen into Cover Flow, complete with playback controls. If you have an iPod Touch, you also get the joy of Cover Flow to Go (Cover Flow in Motion).

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Get a Bird’s-Eye Look at Your Collection with Grid View

ALTHOUGH IT’S BEEN AROUND since iTunes 8, Grid view is still probably the most eye-catching way to see your media library. It’s like laying out all your albums on the living room floor—great for seeing everything you’ve got without the hassle of having to pick it all back up. More picturesque than List view and not quite as moving as Cover Flow, Grid view is the middle road to discovering (or rediscovering) what’s in your iTunes library.

Grid view can display your collection four ways: grouped by album, artist, genre, or composer. Click each named tab at the top of the screen to see your music sorted by that category. (If you don’t see the tabs, choose View→Grid View→Show Header.) Here’s how to work the Grid:

  • Hover your mouse over any tile to get a clickable Play icon that lets you start listening to music.

  • Double-click a cover in Albums view to display both the album cover and song titles in List view.

  • If iTunes stacks multiple albums when you sort by artist, genre, or composer, hover your mouse over each tile to rotate through the album covers. If you want to represent the group using a particular cover or piece of art, right-click it and choose Set Default Grid Artwork. You can do the opposite for art you don’t want to see: right-click the group and choose Clear Default Grid Artwork.

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  • Adjust the size of the covers by dragging the slider at the top of the window.

One thing about Grid view, though: It’s pretty darn depressing unless you have artwork on just about everything in your collection. If you don’t, and you see far too many generic music-note icons, Chapter 5 shows you how to art things up. And if you hate Grid view, don’t use it—iTunes displays whatever view you were using the last time you quit the program.

Search for Songs in iTunes

YOU CAN CALL UP a list of all the songs with a specific word in the title, album name, or artist’s name by clicking the Source pane’s Music icon (under Library) and typing a few letters into the search box in iTunes’ upper-right corner. With each letter you type, iTunes shortens the list it displays, showing you only tracks that match what you type.

For example, typing train brings up a list of everything in your music collection that has the word “train” somewhere in the song’s information—maybe in the song’s title (“Mystery Train”), the band name (Wire Train), or the album name (Train A Comin’). Click the other library icons, like Movies or Audiobooks, to comb those collections for titles that match a search term.

Another way to search for specific items is to use the Column Browser mentioned earlier in this chapter. (If you can’t see it, press Ctrl+B [⌘-B].) Depending on how you configured the browser in View→Column Browser, it reveals your music collection grouped by genre, artist, or album. Hit the same keys again (Ctrl+B [⌘-B]) to close the browser.

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Shuffle Your Music in Many Ways

WITH ITS ABILITY TO randomly pluck and play songs, iTunes’ Shuffle feature has won over a huge number of fans, especially those who don’t want to think about what to listen to as they noodle around the Internet. To start shuffling, click the twisty-arrows icon in the bottom-left corner of the iTunes window.

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You’re not stuck with a single shuffling method, either. Some days you may feel like mixing up your music song by song, and other days you may be in the mood to change things up by album.

To control just what iTunes shuffles, choose Controls→Shuffle and select Songs, Albums, or Groupings from the submenu. (“Grouping” is a way to keep certain tracks together in your iTunes library, like separate movements in a piece of classical music that are part of a larger work; Edit Song Information has details.)

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Animate Your Songs: iTunes Visualizer

VISUALIZER IS THE ITUNES term for an onscreen laser-light show that pulses, beats, and dances in perfect sync to your music. The effect is hypnotic and wild, especially when summoned midway through a sluggish day in the office.

Choose View→Visualizer to select from the iTunes Visualizer (lots of Disco in Space moments) or the iTunes Classic Visualizer (trippy psychedelic patterns-ago-go, as shown below).

  1. To summon the scenery, choose View→Show Visualizer. The show begins immediately. To see a tiny menu of even more controls for the Visualizer or Classic Visualizer, press the / key and then the letter of the desired command listed onscreen. It’s a great way to fiddle.

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    The keyboard shortcut for turning the Visualizer on and off is Ctrl+T (C-T).

  2. If you find the iTunes window too constraining for all this eye candy, play it full-screen by going to View→Full Screen (View→Enter Full Screen). The keyboard shortcut to this coast-to-coast visual goodness is Ctrl+F (Ctrl-C-F) .

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True, you won’t get a lot of work done, but when it comes to stress relief, visuals are a lot cheaper than a hot tub.

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