iTunes is Apple's software that acts like a jukebox for all your music. You can populate it with music from your CD collection (if you have a CD drive you can import the tracks onto your Mac), you can download tracks from iTunes, and you can add tracks dowloaded from other locations.
The benefit of using iTunes is that you can create playlists, rank music to make it easier to find tracks you like, and crucially, sync the same music library with all your Apple devices. We'll discuss how to do all this below.
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. We also have iTunes Problems and Fixes where we gather some of the answers to the more common questions.
Note that this article is based on iTunes 12.7 (version 188.8.131.52, 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 find iTunes
If you're using a Mac, you've almost certainly got iTunes already, it's likely there will be an icon that looks like a musical note in your Dock at the bottom of your screen.
If there isn't, check your Applications folder, or do a Spotlight search, to find it.
If you're on a very old machine, 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.
Once you have installed, or located iTunes, drag the icon into your dock and you'll be able to access it more easily in future.
How to update to the latest version of iTunes
To update iTunes 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.
Read this if you want to update iTunes to the latest version.
How to autorise your Mac to play music in iTunes
If you already use iTunes on another Mac you may need to authorise your Mac to play iTunes tracks you have downloaded from the iTunes Store.
Read this article for more information: How to authorise your computer to play DRM-protected songs and gain access to Apple Music.
How to add media to your iTunes library
If you already have music stored on your Mac you can automatically add it to iTunes. You can also easily import music from CDs and other devices. Here's how:
To add all the music on your Mac to iTunes, open up iTunes by double-clicking its icon. If this is the first time you have used the software 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.
If this doesn't work - or 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.
How to add music from a CD
If you've got an optical drive (and have some CDs gathering dust somewhere), you can add them to your iTunes library.
Insert the CD and iTunes will instantly offer to rip it and add the tracks to the library.
If you don't have a CD drive there is still a way to do this - find out how here: How to play a DVD/CD on a Mac without a optical drive.
How to add music from the iTunes Store
Buying tracks from the iTunes Store on your Mac is easy - 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.
However, 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.
To re-download the tracks you already do the following:
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.)
How can I get my iTunes on all my Macs and Apple devices?
It is possible to sync your entire iTunes library across all your devices meaning that you can listen to your favourite tracks wherever you are.
iTunes Match, which costs just over £20 a year, makes it possible to store the whole of your music collection in the cloud so that you can download the tracks at any time you fancy listening to them. Read more about how to use iTunes Match here.
If you have added vouchers to your iTunes account you might like to find out How to Check your iTunes and credit balance.
How to move your iTunes library
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.
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.
If you are running out of storage space you might be interested in How to transfer the iTunes library to a new computer or external hard drive. We also have How to move your iTunes music to another Mac or retrieve it from the cloud.
Now you have added all your music to iTunes you will want to set about getting things just the way you want them. For example, creating playlists, and adding art work. We'll look at these scenarios below.
Editing track names in iTunes
You may find that once imported some of the names of tracks and albums are a little wrong. Luckily it's possible to edit them.
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.
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.
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.
Add album artwork in iTunes
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.
For more advice on getting artwork for your iTunes library read: How to get the right cover art in iTunes
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.
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.
How to play media in iTunes
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Remember to use Cmd + J and tick the relevant metadata category if it isn't currently displaying.
How to create playlists in iTunes
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.
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.
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.