For a piece of software used by so many people - a ubiquity achieved in large part off the back of the iPod - iTunes sure gets a lot of criticism, from changes to the interface to feature creep. But there's a solid media player/management application under there if you know what you're doing.

In this simple but comprehensive guide we explain how to use and get the most out of iTunes on Mac, from setup to the latest features. (And if we can't persuade you to love iTunes, try our roundup of the best iTunes alternatives.

Note that this article is based on iTunes 12.7 (version 12.7.0.166, to be precise). If you're on a different version, you'll find that most functions work in the same or broadly the same way, but the screens may look different; and that will particularly be the case if you're using iTunes for Windows.

How to use iTunes

How to set up iTunes

If you're using a Mac, you've almost certainly got iTunes already, and you should check your Applications folder, or do a Spotlight search, to find it. If you're on a very old machine, however, or you're using Windows, or you just can't find it, Apple has a download page for iTunes which includes the newest version for Mac.

Drag the icon into your dock and you'll be able to access it more easily in future.

How to update to a newer version of iTunes

To update iTunes in the future (or right now, assuming you didn't just download the latest version from Apple's site as linked above), you need to go to the Mac App Store and click on the Updates icon at the top. If there are any updates available for iTunes they will be listed in this page.

You can do a search for the name of the application if you've got lots of available updates and can't immediately spot iTunes.

Add media to your iTunes library

Open up iTunes in the usual way by double-clicking its icon. It will promptly ask if you'd like to scan for media it can play. Agree to this if you've got music (or video or other compatible media) on your system, since it can speed up the early steps of building a library.

However, if at any point in the future you want to add some media to your iTunes library you can do so by going to File > Add to Library, or using the shortcut Cmd + O. Navigate to your music (or other media) files and click Open; it will be added to your library - but won't necessarily start playing.

If you've still got an optical drive, inserting a CD will result in iTunes offering to rip it and add the tracks to the library. Likewise, buying tracks from the iTunes Store on your Mac - click the Store option on the right of the menu below the Now Playing display to browse Apple's vast offering - will automatically add them to your library. If you bought them from Apple on a different device you'll need to redownload them on this one, but you obviously won't be charged again.

How to use iTunes: Redownload purchased tracks

Click the dropdown menu below the pause button and select Films, Music or whatever, then click Recently Added to see the new additions. (Note that if you add videos you've created yourself, these will appear under the Films category, but then under the Home Videos subcategory rather than the in the main Films section.)

Editing your library

If you just want to change the name of a track, you just need to click it, wait a moment, then click its name a second time; the name will be selected and you can type in something else.

How to use iTunes: Rename track

For more involved editing of metadata, however (or for editing data for multiple tracks at once), you need to select the desired files and then hit Cmd + I. This opens a mini-page with all the information iTunes holds on a piece of music or video.

How to use iTunes: Edit track info

Most of the things you're likely to change can be found in the first pane (Details), including the name of the song, artist and album, when it was released, its track number, genre and so on. You can also add a comment.

Bear in mind that these various metadata fields can be used for things other than what they were intended for. We know a gentleman who uses the BPM field (which he doesn't care about) to record a track's highest UK chart position (something he does care about, for some reason). This means that if he ever wants to listen to a load of number ones, he can sort by BPM and they'll be gathered at the top; or he can create a Smart Playlist.

You can sort by comments too, which means that can be a useful place to (consistently) put a single important piece of data you can't enter anywhere else.

Album artwork

To add artwork, click on the second pane: Artwork. You can either drag an image from your desktop (or another Finder window) on to the pane, or click Add Artwork and navigate to the file.

How to use iTunes: Album artwork

Removing duplicate tracks

It's almost inevitable that an iTunes library of any size and age will gradually accrue duplicates - multiple copies of the same file. (This isn't the same as different recordings of the same song by the same artist, which you might want to keep because they're subtly different.)

iTunes has a built-in tool for detecting duplicates, which you can use to trim down the size of your library. Go to File > Library > Show Duplicate Items.

How to use iTunes: Find duplicates

You'll notice that this is not a sophisticated tool: it simply looks for multiple songs with identical entries in both the Name and Artist fields. This means that the variant recordings we mentioned above are likely to get caught too, unless they've been given a variant name such as 'Teenage Kicks (Peel Session)' or similar.

In other words, unless you're confident your library doesn't contain any variant recordings of the same song by the same artist, we don't recommend indiscriminate deletion. However, having all the suspected duplicates in one place makes it easier to play the first 10 seconds of each one (or in some cases just look at the album) and delete as necessary.

We cover this in more detail in our article How to remove duplicates on iTunes.

Where is my iTunes library stored?

This is important when moving from one Mac to another - you can save a lot of time by locating the library, saving it to a portable hard drive, then copying it to the correct location on the new machine.

The location of the iTunes library varies slightly depending on the versions of iTunes and macOS you're using, but if you look for nested folders called either 'music', 'iTunes' or 'library' you won't go far wrong. We found ours in [username] > Music > iTunes > iTunes Music.

How to use iTunes: Where is my iTunes library?

However, you may find it easier to simply do a spotlight search for 'iTunes Music' and/or 'iTunes Library'.

Since the location is slightly complicated to find, we recommend taking a screenshot, like the above, to help you remember exactly where it needs to go when you copy it on to your new Mac.

How to play media

Double-click any file in your iTunes library and it will start playing (at the start of the file, by default, or later if you've selected a different timestamp in the Options pane of the file's info page, accessed by selecting it and pressing Cmd + I).

Up Next

Once a file is playing, double-clicking another file will make the first one stop and the second one start. If you'd prefer the second one to wait for the first one to finish before playing, right-click it instead and select either Play Next, in which case it will be added to the front of the Up Next queue, or Play Later, which adds it to the end.

You can view your Up Next queue at any point by clicking the icon to the right of the Now Playing display (three dots and three lines) and selecting Up Next.

How to use iTunes: Up Next

The Up Next menu also gives the option to clear all tracks. If you stop playback and then come back and start playing something else, Up Next will ask if you wish to clear the queue or keep those tracks lined up to play next.

Viewing options

The lefthand menu lets you view your tracks in various categories: Artists, Albums, Songs and Genres. Click one of these and you'll see files organised by that criterion.

However, you've got far more control over your view than this. Press Cmd + J (or click View in the top menu bar then Show View Options) and you'll see what you can change - a set of options that is different for each of the viewing categories mentioned above.

For the Album view, for instance, you can choose to arrange them in a grid or list view, and select the primary and secondary sorting criteria. (The default will be to arrange the albums alphabetically by the name of the artist, and then by the name of the album itself, so that all your Smiths albums sit together.)

The Songs view offers the most viewing options, with 45 pieces of metadata you can choose to display or not display.

How to use iTunes: View Options

Sort by

Sorting by metadata is easiest in the Song view. If the desired sorting criterion is already visible, you just have to click it (ie click where it says Name or Date Added or Rating or whatever, above the tracks themselves). The text will become slightly bolder and a little arrow will appear next to it, pointing either up or down. Click again to change the direction of the arrow and sort in the opposite order.

How to use iTunes: Sort by

Remember to use Cmd + J and tick the relevant metadata category if it isn't currently displaying.

How to create playlists

To create a new playlist, you can either press Cmd + N (which creates a new playlist, called Playlist, Playlist 2 or similar, with nothing in it), or select tracks you want to be in the new playlist, right-click them and select Add to Playlist > New Playlist.

Your playlists will be listed in the lefthand menu: the main categorisation options (such as Artists, Albums, Songs etc) sit at the top, then automatically generated playlists (such as Classical Music) sit below, then your manually created playlists sit below them, in alphabetical order. At any point you can drag a file from the main view on to one of the playlists in this menu, or right-click, select Add to Playlist and select the chosen playlist.

Smart playlists

We mentioned just now that there are automatically generated playlists above the ones you made yourself. These are smart playlists, and can be identified because they have a cog icon next to them.

You can get iTunes to create smart playlists for you, and this can be a tremendous time-saver.

Click File in the top bar and then select New > Smart Playlist. (Alternatively you can just press Cmd + Alt + N.) This will bring up the Smart Playlist menu, where you dictate the criteria iTunes should use to create the playlist.

How to use iTunes: Smart Playlists

You can have multiple rules - click the + on the right to add more - and you can have positive ('genre contains', for example) or negative ('genre does not contain') ones. We also recommend imposing a limit on the size of the playlist, particularly if you have a very large library or your playlist rules are quite broad, and getting iTunes to pick and choose based on rating.

Once you're satisfied, click Ok and it will be generated and added to the cog-decorated section of your playlists.