iTunes 12.x/iOS 9.x: “Can’t play folders” playlist work-around

First, some quick defs:

  • Song: A digital audio performance, similar to an MP3 file but managed by iTunes.  Every song in iTunes has a song number.
  • Playlist: A container that can hold songs (actually song numbers).  A song can be in more than one playlist.
  • Smart playlist: A playlist, plus a set of rules for selecting songs to create itself.  You can set an option that makes a smart playlist re-create itself each time you use it.  A smart playlist looks and acts just like a playlist.
  • Folder: A container that can hold folders, playlists and smart playlists.  Because a folder can hold other folders, it’s possible to create a hierarchical structure of folders.  For example, a folder might contain three folders and some playlists; and each of these folders might contain other folders and playlists.

As a way to organize playlists, iTunes lets you drag them into folders.  If you select a folder in iTunes on your computer, you see all the songs in all the playlists in the folder.  And you can play all of them, intermingled.  Alt-click the folder and, from the floating menu, click Play.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 11.50.54 AM

You can also play a folder on your iPod Classic.  But, on an iOS device (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad), you can’t play a folder.  Touching a folder just lists the playlists in the folder.  You can play one of them, but not the whole folder.


So, here’s a work-around; create a smart playlist that includes all of the playlists in the folder.  You’ll be able to play the smart playlist in iOS, thereby playing intermingled songs from all of the included playlists.  And, if you add songs to one of those playlists, they’ll automatically be included in the smart playlist.  Caveats:

  • If you add a new playlist to the folder, it’s not automatically included in the smart playlist.
  • Some versions of iOS won’t sync some smart playlists.  If you run into this problem, try updating iOS.

Making a smart playlist isn’t complicated, and it won’t take much time.  Let’s say you already have a folder that contains the playlists you want to include in the smart playlist.  What to do:

  1.  In iTunes on your computer, click the big plus sign in the lower left corner of the window.Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 12.20.46 PM
  2. In the floating menu that appears, select New smart playlist …  Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 12.20.26 PM
  3. In the smart playlist definition window, set up rules like this example.  Note that you can select any playlist, including playlists that are in other folders and playlists that are not in any folder.
  • Make sure that Live updating is checked.
  • It’s possible to select a folder while setting this rule.  But if you do, the smart playlist will remain empty.  Looks like a bug to me!Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 12.23.54 PM

4.  To add a rule, click the plus sign at the right end of an existing rule.  If there is more than one rule, set the Match rule in the top left corner to “Any.”  When you’re done setting rules, click OK.  Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 12.27.19 PM

5.  In the song-listing pane, double-click on the name of the smart playlist to change it.Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 12.28.03 PM

6. You can put your new smart playlist in the folder that holds its target playlists if you like.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.22.55 PM

The smart playlist will work just the same, no matter where in your hierarchical folder structure you locate it.  But this way keeps things simple.

7.  Sync your iOS device to iTunes to bring over the smart playlist.

smart playlist

Now you’re ready to play all of the songs in the folder on your iOS device, intermingled.  Just tap the folder to show its contents, and tap the smart playlist.


One thought on “iTunes 12.x/iOS 9.x: “Can’t play folders” playlist work-around

  1. Jose

    Great! Good idea. Will do for sure!
    I posted an improvement require in apple itunes suggestions web also.
    Cheers mate!


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