How to create Music playlists on your iPhone or iPad

Cliff Joseph
8 October, 2014
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Music playlist, help, macworld australiaBefore I went on holiday recently I was planning to prepare a couple of happy holiday playlists using iTunes on my iMac that I would then download onto my iPhone. But, of course, I never got around to it until I found myself sitting on the plane to sunny Portugal.

When I tapped the Playlist button on my iPhone I discovered two playlists that were already there. The Purchased playlist is compiled automatically by the Music app to keep track of the songs you buy, while the 70s playlist was one that I created on the iMac during a bit of a retro phase recently.

You can tap on any of these playlists to listen to your music, but there’s no obvious way here to create an entirely new playlist on the iPhone itself.

After randomly tapping around for a bit I discovered that you can do this simply by swiping your finger down the screen. This ‘pulls’ the New Playlist command and the Search tool down from the top of the screen.

Adding and searching for tracks

As you’d expect, the Search tool allows you to type in the name of a song, artist or album in order to quickly locate a particular track, but you can’t use it to add songs to a playlist just yet.

Add a PlaylistThe Music app on iOS devices isn’t as sophisticated as iTunes on the Mac and it lacks features such as the ‘smart playlist’ option in iTunes that can automatically locate tracks that fit certain criteria, such as the length of the song or the year it was released.

That means we have to tap the New Playlist button to name the playlist and then start adding tracks by hand. There doesn’t seem to be a quick way of changing the name of a playlist once you’ve created it, so make sure you’ve chosen a suitable name and the spelling is all correct before hitting Save.

The Music app will now display the full list of all the songs you have on your iPhone, with a ‘+’ sign by each song.

You can scroll through the list of songs just as you would normally, and then tap on the ‘+’ sign to add each song to the playlist.

You can also tap the buttons at the bottom of the screen to browse your music by album, artist or genre.

The ‘+’ sign will show in those lists as well, so you can browse through your music any way you want and quickly add songs to your new playlist.

If you know exactly which songs you want on your new playlist then you can use the Search tool to quickly locate songs by name rather than scrolling through your entire library list.

To display the Search tool you need to place your finger about half-way down the screen and then swipe downwards (don’t swipe down from the top of the screen as that just pulls down the notifications bar).

Music Playlist Search

When the Search bar appears you can type in just one word from the title of the song and the app will display a list of all the songs and albums that include that word.

When you’ve found all the songs you want you can just hit the ‘Done’ button in the top-right corner of the screen and you’ll see the contents of your new playlist displayed on the iPhone screen. You can tap on any song to start playing, and the songs will play in the order that they were added to the playlist.

Alternatively, you can pull down on the screen again to display the Shuffle option and play the songs in random order.

It’s also possible to reorganise the songs on the playlist by tapping on the red Edit button at the top of the window.

A number of new options appear when you press the Edit button.

The red circle just to the left of the song’s artwork allows you delete a track from the playlist altogether.

The app will always ask you to confirm the deletion before removing the song so you don’t have to worry about deleting anything accidentally.

And, of course, the song is only deleted from this playlist, leaving the original song as part of your music library.

A red ‘+’ sign has also appeared in the top-right of the screen as well, so you can just tap this to add more songs to the playlist whenever you want.

Music Playlists, iOSAs well as adding and deleting songs from the playlist you can change the order in which the songs play too.

The grey three-bar symbol that is further over to the right of each song title allows you move songs up or down in the playlist order. Press and hold on that three-bar symbol until a new outline bar appears around the song title, and then just drag the song into a new position in the playlist.

Hit ‘Done’ to return to the main playlist window.

You can delete tracks from this window as well, without having to hit the Edit button, simply by swiping your finger to the left across the song title.

There are two other commands also highlighted in red at the top of this window.

The Clear button removes all the songs from the playlist so that you can just start again from scratch.

The Delete button removes all the songs and the playlist itself, so that it no longer appears in the main Playlist view anymore.

Back to Mac

Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick way to transfer playlists from an iOS device back onto your Mac.

If you want to copy the playlist onto your Mac you need to plug your iPhone into the Mac and then use the ‘On This Phone’ option in iTunes to view the music and playlists stored on the iPhone.

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Command-Click on the name of the playlist and then use the Export command to export the playlist as an XML file.

Now go to the main File menu, select Library, and then use the Import Playlist command to import that xml file and add the playlist to iTunes.

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