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A Beginner's Guide to the iPod®


Ralph Graves

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

More from Ralph Graves

An iPod® is one versatile device. It can be your portable jukebox, video player, movie theater, digital photo album, and hand-held game console all in one. What's more, its user-friendly companion program, iTunes®, making it one of the easiest digital players to use.

iTunes collage

But that doesn't mean that you won't have questions about your new iPod-enhanced life. Don't worry — we're is here to help. We've compiled lots of useful information, including answers to the most common questions customers ask us.

While we're primarily talking about the iPod classic® in this article, you'll find that most of our tips apply to the rest of the iPod family, including the iPod nano®, iPod touch® and to a lesser extent the iPod shuffle®.

So read on — and learn something about your new best friend. [Note: Apple makes frequent updates to iPod and iTunes software, so refer to Apple's support site for answers to specific questions. These tips are meant as general guidelines only.]

Getting started with iTunes and your iPod

You've finally got your new iPod home and you're ready to rock. Fortunately, getting up and running is easy: just follow these simple steps:

  • If you don't already have iTunes software on your computer, you'll need to go to and download the latest version (it's free).
  • To save songs onto the iPod, you'll need to have music stored in your iTunes music library. If you don't already have music stored in iTunes, simply load an audio CD into your computer. iTunes will walk you through the simple process of "importing" tracks to your iTunes music library. You can also purchase songs from the iTunes Store, which will automatically download to your iTunes library.
  • Connect the iPod to your computer's USB port using the included cable. (You can transfer music one way only: from your computer to your iPod.)
  • After a few seconds, your computer should notice that your iPod is connected. The iPod will appear on iTunes' Source list (on the left side of the iTunes window).
  • iTunes will transfer songs to your iPod automatically. This means that your iPod will contain an exact duplicate of your iTunes music library, so as songs are added to and deleted from iTunes, they will be automatically added to and deleted from your iPod as well. (If you prefer to hand-pick music for your iPod, see our discussion on updating your music manually).
  • While the music transfers, the iPod icon in the Source list flashes red, and "Do not disconnect" appears both in the iTunes window and the iPod screen. If you need to disconnect your iPod before the music transfer is finished, click the "x" in the iTunes message window.
  • When iTunes is finished transferring music, its message window and the iPod screen both display "iPod update is complete."
  • Before you disconnect your iPod, select the iPod icon in the iTunes Source list and click the Eject symbol. Then simply disconnect your iPod from the USB cable, and you're done.

Disconnecting your iPod from your computer

You may have noticed that, while it's connected to your computer, your iPod displays a stern message informing you that it doesn't wish to be disconnected. The reason? Disconnecting your iPod while files are being transferred can cause you to lose data. Just follow these steps to safely disconnect your iPod:

If connected to a Mac. . .
  • and you're using iTunes, click the Eject button right next to the iPod in the iTunes Source menu
  • and you're using your iPod as a hard disk, drag the iPod icon from your desktop to the Trash
If connected to a Windows PC. . .
  • and you're using iTunes, click the Eject button right next to the iPod in the iTunes Source menu.
  • and you're using your iPod as a hard disk, navigate to My Computer, right-click the iPod icon, and select Eject.

It's safe to disconnect your iPod when you can see its menus instead of the "Do not disconnect" message.

Listening to music on your iPod

Playing music on an iPod's pretty straight-forward and there are some useful tricks you can learn to make listening even easier. While we primarily talk about the Click Wheel in this section (used on the iPod classic and the iPod nano), there are similar touchscreen controls on the iPod touch.

Just so there's no confusion, let's start with the basics:

  • By moving your finger around the Click Wheel, you can scroll through a menu, like the one that appears when you turn your iPod on. To select an item, press the button in the center of the Click Wheel.
  • Your iPod lets you browse through music by playlist, artist, album, song, or genre. When you find the song you want to hear, press the Select button to start playing it.
  • To pause music, and play it again, you'll use the Play/Pause button at the bottom of the Click Wheel. Pressing this button for three seconds turns the iPod off.
  • While a song is playing, simply move your finger around the Click Wheel to adjust the volume.
  • To jump to the next song, press the Forward button on the right side of the Click Wheel. To restart the current song, press the Back button on the left side of the Click Wheel. To move forward or backward within a song, just press and hold down the appropriate button.

Once you have all those functions down, you can get a little fancy. These features are a bit more advanced, but nearly as essential:

  • The Hold switch locks all the controls on the iPod, so you can't accidentally turn it on by bumping it.
  • You can browse through your music while a song is playing. Just click the Menu button at the top of the Click Wheel. Either scroll to a new song and select it or, to return to the currently playing song, press Menu until you get back to the main menu. Then scroll down to Now Playing and select it.
  • In dark settings, you can activate the iPod's backlight by holding down the Menu button. Then turn it off by holding the Menu button again. (You can specify how long you want the backlight to stay on by going to the Settings menu and selecting Backlight Timer.)
  • Move around within a song (or audiobook) by holding the Select button. The playback progress indicator turns into a diamond, and using the Click Wheel, you can move it to any point within the track.
  • Browse by album art. If you're more visually oriented, you can search your music library by album covers rather than titles. Select the "Cover Flow" option under the Music Menu. Rotate the Click Wheel and watch the album covers flip across the iPod's screen.

Updating playlists on your iPod

You know how you have different clothes for different occasions? You've got a business suit for work, sweats for the gym, a swimsuit, a party dress. Well, playlists let your iPod be your musical closet, holding a different soundtrack for every occasion or mood. Custom-tailor a playlist for driving, one for working out, one for parties — your iPod keeps them all right at your fingertips.

Like individual songs, playlists are transferred from your computer to your iPod. For some ideas on how to organize your music in iTunes check out our Crutchfield blog.

While the iTunes program lets you manipulate individual tracks to create playlists, the iPod does not allow you to directly modify playlists — the only exception is adding songs to an On-the-Go playlist.

If you navigate to your iPod's Playlists menu and see one labeled "On the Go," follow these steps to add songs:

  • Navigate to the song you want to add.
  • Press and hold the Select button until the song title flashes to show that it has been added.
The Official Crutchfield Guide to Life with iPod

Repeat these steps until your On-the-Go playlist includes all the songs you want. Now your On-the-Go playlist will be transferred to iTunes the next time you connect your iPod to your computer.

If iTunes is set up to automatically update your iPod, the player will contain an exact duplicate of your iTunes music library, so as playlists are added to and deleted from iTunes, they will be automatically added to and deleted from your iPod as well.

If iTunes is set up to allow you to manually update your iPod, you can use iTunes to delete a playlist from your iPod:

  • Connect your iPod to your computer, and open iTunes
  • In the Source list (on the left side of the iTunes window), select the iPod
  • iTunes will display the songs and playlists on your iPod. Select the song or playlist you want to delete, and press Delete.
  • If a dialog box asks you to confirm, click Yes.

Don't worry — deleting a song or playlist off your iPod does not delete it from your iTunes library.

Genius buttons and playlists

Another simple way to generate a playlist is to use the Genius button. Just select a song, and the Genius feature will gather together other songs from your library in a relational playlist. Genius looks at the selected song's artist, genre, etc. and picks songs that are similar. It also pays attention to your listening habits, and over time adds that into the selection process, creating a more personalized collection of songs.

Using multiple iPods with one computer

Many families have more than one iPod in the home, and some individuals own more than one player for different functions (an iPod shuffle for jogging; an iPod touch for commuting, and so on). No problem: you can sync more than one iPod to the same computer.

Every iPod has a unique ID, so iTunes has no problem telling your player from your thirteen-year-old's. But there are some things you can do to make all your music transfers smooth and hassle-free:

  • Give each iPod its own name, so you don't confuse the players. (Unless you don't mind accidentally loading your iPod with the Justin Bieber, while your daughter gets stuck with your Miles Davis playlist.) Naming an iPod is easy: just select the player from the iTunes Source list at the left side of the screen, and type in the new name.
  • Unless all the iPods in your household boast enough memory to store your entire music library, you'll probably want to set at least one to allow you to add songs manually. See our discussion on updating music manually for instructions. Fortunately, each iPod retains its own set of preferences, so you can have iTunes automatically update your 160GB iPod classic, but only transfer a specific playlist to your 32GB iPod touch.

Using one iPod with multiple computers

Chances are good that you've got a computer at home and one at work, both with iTunes. Or maybe you've got a couple of computers at home. Either way, if you want to sync your iPod to more than one computer, it's simple to do. Here are some tips:

  • Song management. On at least one computer, you'll probably want to set iTunes to let you manually update the songs on your iPod (see our tips about updating music manually below). This will keep each computer's version of iTunes from overwriting all your music files every time you sync your iPod.
  • Switching between Mac and Windows. When you first get your iPod, you can format it for either a Mac or a Windows PC; it's not designed to switch from one to the other. You can re-format it, but that erases all the music from the iPod.
  • Moving songs between computers. Apple makes it easy to transfer music to your iPod, but doesn't allow you to move songs in the other direction. Fortunately, there's a workaround — particularly handy if you want to move your iTunes library to a new computer.
    • Configure iTunes for manual management of songs (see instructions below).
    • When your iPod is selected in iTunes' Source menu, check the gauge at the bottom of the window to make sure it is at least half empty. If not, delete some music from your iPod.
    • Under the Advanced menu, select Consolidate Library. When iTunes asks you if you want to consolidate your music, click Consolidate.
    • Quit iTunes.
    • Navigate to the iTunes folder in your Music directory. Drag it to your iPod to copy it.
    • Connect your iPod to the new computer, and copy the iTunes folder from your iPod to the new computer's Music folder. When iTunes starts up, it should locate your music library.

Updating music manually

Many people find that their computer hard drive is the perfect place to store their entire music library — more than they could possibly fit onto their iPod. Others want to use their iPod with more than one computer — for instance, one at home and one at work. Still others simply want close control over the songs that get loaded onto their iPod.

If you're one of these people, you can set iTunes to let you hand-pick the music you transfer to your iPod. And manually managing your music is simple; just follow these steps.

  • Select your iPod from the iTunes Source list (on the left side of the iTunes window).
  • Click the iPod Options button on the bottom right corner of the iTunes window. (It's the square button with a picture of an iPod on it.)
  • When the iPod dialog box pops up, it lets you choose "Automatically updated selected playlists" or "Manually manage songs and playlists."
    • "Automatically updated selected playlists" lets you choose the playlist(s) you want to load onto your iPod. Any music on your iPod will be replaced with the music in the iTunes playlist(s) you select.
    • "Manually manage songs and playlists" lets you hand-pick songs to transfer to your iPod.
    • Select the option you want and click "OK."
  • If you opted to manually manage songs and playlists, simply select the song (or songs) you want, and drag it over to the iPod in the iTunes Source list at left. You can even transfer a playlist by dragging and dropping it onto the iPod icon.

When you manage your music manually, your iTunes music library and your iPod library are no longer identical. There are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • You can listen to music stored on your iPod through iTunes and your computer, but you can't transfer songs from the iPod to iTunes.
  • You can delete a song from your iPod through iTunes. Just select the iPod from the iTunes source list. To the right, the iPod's music library appears. Select a song and press the Delete key. When iTunes asks you if you're sure, click Yes.

If you ever want to switch back to automatically updating your iPod, just follow the steps above, selecting "Automatically update all songs and playlists" or "Automatically updated selected playlists," instead of "Manually manage songs and playlists." Just remember that automatic updating replaces the songs on your iPod with the songs in iTunes.

Viewing album art using iTunes and your iPod

With iTunes, music isn't just an auditory experience: it's visual as well. You can see cover art, or any still image file, while you listen to your music.

Songs that you purchase at the iTunes Store automatically come with cover artwork — you can see it by clicking the "Show or hide song artwork and video viewer" button on the left lower side of the iTunes window. For the rest of your music, just select "Get Album Artwork" under the iTunes' Advanced Menu. Album art will automatically be matched up and downloaded to your library.

Sometimes, though, album art may not be available (especially if you've imported tracks from out-of-print CDs). No problem. You can add your own artwork simply by dragging the photo you want to that same viewer box. You can even drag more than one photo to the box: the viewer displays one photo at a time, letting you scroll through them by clicking the right or left arrow. You can also see a larger version of the photo by clicking on it.

Naturally, iPods can display album artwork as well. Once you've loaded the artwork into iTunes, you simply configure iTunes to transfer the art to your iPod:

  • In the iTunes Source menu, click iPod.
  • From the iTunes menu at the top of your screen (or, if you're using Windows, the Edit menu), choose Preferences.
  • Click the iPod icon.
  • Select "Display album artwork on your iPod."
  • Click OK.

If you decide to turn off this option, don't worry — you won't lose images you've saved in iTunes and/or on your iPod.


Maybe you've heard of podcasting. If you haven't, you're missing out on a world of free audio and video on-demand programming. Shows run the gamut from offerings by major networks such as ESPN, NPR, and ABC to niche programs about virtually any subject, such as indie music, crafts, comics, parenting, and tech news, just to name a very few.

What is a podcast?
A podcast (the word combines "iPod" and "broadcast") is an audio or video show that produces new episodes on a regular basis (usually daily, weekly, or monthly). These episodes are posted to the program's website and made available for downloading to your computer.

That may sound a little involved, but iTunes makes it easy. That link takes you to the podcast section of the iTunes store, where you can browse to your heart's content.

  • Click on the Podcast icon in the Library listing. It will probably be blank (when you start subscribing, this is where you will find the downloaded episodes of your podcasts), but down on the lower right corner you'll see a link to the Podcast Directory.
  • Click on the Podcast Directory link. You'll be taken to the podcast section of the iTunes store.
  • Find a podcast that looks interesting, and click on it to see available episodes.
  • Check out a sample of the podcast by double-clicking an episode.
  • If you like it, click Subscribe, and iTunes will automatically download the latest episode whenever it comes out.

You can view and manage podcasts by clicking Podcasts from the iTunes Source menu. Click the Settings button to choose:

  • How often to download new episodes,
  • What to do when new episodes are available,
  • How many episodes to keep, and
  • Which podcasts to transfer to your iPod

If you find a podcast online that isn't in the iTunes Music Store, you can subscribe to that, too. In iTunes, choose the Advanced menu, select Subscribe to Podcast, paste in the podcast's web address, and click OK.

Watching videos using iTunes and your iPod

Of course, iPods are more than just portable juke boxes. You can take TV shows, movies, games, and music videos with you wherever you go.

With the exception of the iPod shuffle, all iPods can display MPEG-4 and MOV files, including videos and TV shows downloaded from the iTunes Store. You need to have iTunes 9 or later, though. If you need to update iTunes, head to Apple's web site and download the latest version.

ALT TEXT Denon's ASD-51W dock also connects to your home network wirelessly.

Here's how to transfer and view video on your iPod:

  • Download a video from the iTunes Store, or convert a video to an iPod-compatible format using QuickTime Pro, and drag it into iTunes.
  • If you want to automatically sync videos to your iPod, navigate to iTunes Preferences, select iPod, then select Videos.
  • You can choose to automatically update all your videos, to automatically update only certain playlists, or not to update videos at all. (See our discussion of automatic updating for more information).
  • From your iPod's main menu, select Videos. From there you can choose the video you want to see.
  • Select TV Off.

Here are some more tips for using your iPod to enjoy videos:

  • Your iPod can play videos on a TV if you have an A/V iPod dock or cable. Simply use the cable to connect your iPod to your TV's component video input. Then, on your iPod, choose the video you want to see, and select TV On.
  • You can listen to just the audio portion of a music video. Go to your iPod's Music menu, and you'll see the video listed. Select it and the audio will play.
  • To see a video directly on your computer, double-click it in iTunes. It plays in the lower left corner of the iTunes window — if you don't see it, click the Video Viewer button. If you click the video, it will appear in a larger window. There's also a Full Screen button at the bottom of the iTunes window; click it to see the video in full-screen mode. You can return to the iTunes window by pressing ESC.

Viewing photos using iTunes and your iPod

iPods make great high-tech "brag books" for showing off your kids, your friends, or your vacation pictures. Seeing photos on the iPod's screen is simple:

  • In addition to iTunes, you'll also need one of the following programs:
    • For Mac: iPhoto 4.0.3 or later
    • For PC: Adobe PhotoShop Album 2.0 or later, or PhotoShop Elements 3.0 or later
  • In iTunes, select your iPod from the Source menu.
  • Click the iPod Options button at the bottom right of the iTunes window.
  • Select Photos, and choose the photo viewing program you're using, as well as the photo album(s) you want to automatically transfer to your iPod.
  • From your iPod's main menu, select Photos. From there you can choose a photo album, and your iPod will display thumbnail images of the photos in the album.
  • Use the iPod's scroll wheel to navigate to the photo you want, then press the Select button.
  • You can move through the photos using the scroll wheel or the Rewind and Forward buttons.
  • If you press the Select button while a photo is displayed, your iPod will show the Start Slideshow menu. Select TV Off, and the slideshow will start with the photo you viewed last.

Here are some more tips for using your iPod to enjoy photos:

  • Your iPod can display a slideshow on a TV, if you have an A/V iPod dock or cable. Simply use the cable to connect your iPod to your TV's video input. Most often this is either a composite video or S-video connection. Then, on your iPod, from the Start Slideshow menu, select TV On.
  • You can play music while you watch a slideshow. Simply navigate to the iPod's Photos menu, choose Slideshow Settings, then select Music. The iPod will let you choose a playlist to use as a soundtrack for your slideshow.

Listening to your iPod in the car

Once you get your iPod's songs and playlists the way you want them, you'll want to enjoy them everywhere, including while you drive. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to play your iPod through your car's radio. Check out our iPod Car Stereo Adapter Shopping Guide for details.

Five simple steps to an iPod RESCU

Whether your iPod holds your entire music library, or just provides the beats you need to power through a workout, a technical problem can cause you major stress. Don't fret — there are five easy potential fixes. Just try them one by one, until your iPod is working good as new.

Of course, you should first check to be sure your iPod's battery is charged. After that, toggle the Hold switch on and off. If you're still tuneless, you're ready for an iPod RESCU:

  • Reset your iPod:
    • Switch the Hold control on and then off.
    • Hold the Menu and Select buttons (for Click Wheel models), or the Menu and Play/Pause buttons (for earlier models).
  • Ensure that you have the latest version of the iPod and iTunes software by downloading the latest versions from the Apple website.
  • Shut down and restart your computer.
  • Connect your iPod to a different USB port on your computer.
  • Update your iPod using the iPod Updater software from Apple's website. This will erase all songs and files, restoring your iPod to the original factory settings. (However, you can transfer music and files from your computer back to your iPod later.)

If these steps don't work, Apple's support site offers more information.

Problems playing music in iTunes

iTunes and your iPod are designed to work together seamlessly, and most of the time they do. But even with this dynamic duo, you may encounter the occasional hiccup when you're trying to listen to your music.

If you find that iTunes won't let you play a particular song, the cause probably has to do with "authorizing" that song to play on your computer. Authorizing is Apple's way of copy-protecting the songs that it sells via its iTunes Music Store. Here are a few tips:

  • Have you authorized five computers to play your purchased music? If so, iTunes won't let you play your purchased music on any more computers until you "deauthorize" one of your previously authorized computers. You can do this by navigating to iTunes' Advanced menu and selecting Deauthorize Computer while the computer is online.
  • Where did you get the AAC song file you're trying to play? iTunes won't play some types of AAC files available online in places other than the iTunes Music Store — and neither will your iPod.
  • Are you trying to access a shared playlist on a network? If so, your computer may not be authorized to play music that someone else has downloaded. Double-click the song you want to hear, and get the person who purchased it to enter his or her Apple account ID and password.
  • Are you having trouble playing a song on a CD you burned? Make sure your equipment is compatible — for example, CD-RWs and MP3 CDs don't play on all CD players.
  • How fast is your Internet connection? Computers with slower connections may have trouble playing song previews in the iTunes Music Store. Go to the iTunes menu, then choose Preferences. Select Store, and click "Load complete preview before playing."

Need more information? Try Apple's iTunes support website.

Problems burning a CD using iTunes

iTunes makes it easy to burn a mix of your favorite tunes. If you're having trouble creating a CD, here are some helpful tidbits to keep in mind:

  • You have to burn your CD from a playlist you create. iTunes won't let you burn a CD directly from your library — or from a shared playlist, an iPod playlist, or Internet radio, for that matter. To create a playlist, go to the File menu and select New Playlist. Then just select the songs you want, and drag them to the playlist in your iTunes Source menu.
  • Once you've set up a playlist you want to burn, make sure the songs you want on the CD are checked. Unchecked songs won't be included on your CD.
  • If you want to burn music you've bought from the iTunes Music Store, your computer must be authorized to play it. Having trouble authorizing your computer? You may already have authorized five computers to play your iTunes purchases — and five is the limit. You'll have to deauthorize a computer. You can do this by navigating to iTunes' Advanced menu and selecting Deauthorize Computer while the previously authorized computer is online.
  • Another copy protection measure that iTunes uses: letting you burn a limited number of copies if the playlist includes at least one Music Store purchase. One easy workaround is to modify the playlist, perhaps rearranging the songs. The new playlist should then be burnable.
  • Make sure your CD-R drive is compatible with iTunes. To do this, go to the iTunes menu and choose Preferences. Then click Advanced, and choose Burning. If your CD-R drive is listed, it's compatible with iTunes.
  • Are you trying to burn an audio CD, or an MP3 (data) CD? An audio CD will play in just about any CD player, but an MP3 CD will only play on hardware specially designated as compatible with MP3 discs. Go to the iTunes menu and choose Preferences. Then click Advanced, and choose Burning. Then select either Audio CD, or Data CD or DVD. (Note that, if you are trying to burn AAC files, you can't choose the MP3 CD option.)
  • Having trouble ejecting a CD? Try the Eject button in the bottom right corner of the iTunes window.

Need more information? Try Apple's iTunes support website.

  • Jan Cochran from Alpharetta, Ga.

    Posted on 5/20/2015 8:46:59 AM

    I have a very early I-Pod Nano (2 ?) Today a big check mark appeared and I can't get it to do anything, even turn on, although it is fully charged. Now what?

  • Travis Brophy from Oakley, Ca. 94561

    Posted on 5/20/2015 5:52:06 PM

    My ipod is stuck in Japanese language. How ti get it back to english

  • Anthony

    Posted on 7/23/2015 9:05:16 AM

    How to download free app to iPad.