How to Create Playlists in Windows Media Player 12

Playlists allow you to create themed mixes or restrict playback to songs based on a certain criteria, such as your favorite songs, newly added songs and other parameters. Creating, saving and editing Windows Media Player 12 playlists and auto playlists (sometimes called "smart playlists") is incredibly easy to learn but has a great depth of potential for invested tinkerers. In this tutorial, we'll get you started on creating regular playlists and auto playlists.

Play list vs. Playlists

Before we begin, it's important that we clear up an oddity in Windows Media Player 12 terminology. Within this tool, there are playlists and there is the Play list. They aren't the same thing. Here's the difference:

  • The Play list refers to the songs that are playing or are queued up to play next and appear in the List pane on the right when the Play tab is clicked. This changes depending on what you are playing. When you save a group of items queued up in your Play list, it becomes a saved playlist.
  • A playlist is a saved list of media items and won't change unless you edit it and save your changes. These appear in your Library on the left side in the Navigation pane.

Confusing, we know. But it makes more sense when you see it in action. Take a look at this screen shot, where the List pane is not visible. When you click Play, it is revealed.

Here, you can see your Play list, which contains any songs you've chosen to play now. Meanwhile, you can also see your saved playlists on the left, which are saved to be played later (when you add them to your Play list).

Got it? We hope so. Because we're moving on.

Creating a Regular Playlist

Begin with the List pane open to the Play tab, which will display your Play list. If there are items in the list, click 'Clear list' to remove them.

Begin by naming your playlist by clicking the text that reads "unsaved list" and typing a name. Next, click 'Save list'. You'll want to do this whenever you make changes.

Next, navigate to a song you'd like to add in your Player Library. Right-click the song and choose 'Add to'. If you have your playlist open already, you can choose 'Play list'. You can also choose specific list you'd like to add it to, even if that list is not open in the List pane.

You can also drag and drop a song into the Play list to add it. Alternately, you can drag and drop a song directly into an existing saved playlist on the left and it will be automatically added.

Once you have songs in your playlist, you can move them about and edit them by right-clicking them and choosing 'Remove from list' or 'Move up' or 'Move down'. You can also reorder them by dragging and dropping them within the list.

For more options, click the button in the top-right corner of the Lists pane.

Here, you can sort your list according to attributes such as artist name, song name and length. This is similar to sorting songs by columns. Clicking 'Shuffle list' rearranges the items in your playlist in a random order.

You can also change the way that Windows Media Player 12 treats skipped items. For example, if you have a large playlist, you can pare it down by having Windows Media Player 12 automatically remove anything you skipped the next time you save it. If you'd like to skip it without removing it, you can choose the 'Skip during playback' option.

In the next screen shot, you can see the skipped song grayed out. Now, when you click save, the window to the right appears, asking you what you'd like to do with the skipped songs, if you've checked the 'Prompt me to remove upon save' option.

Creating Auto Playlists

For iTunes users, you may already be familiar with the concept of auto playlists (which are called "smart playlists" in iTunes). These are dynamic playlists that choose songs according to rules you set, rather than specific songs you've chosen. It's a bit like creating a radio stations for yourself, filled with only songs from your Library and containing only songs you love, only songs shorter than 2 minutes, only songs recorded in the 1960s or other criteria. The possibilities are nearly endless. Here's how you get you started:

Click 'Create playlist' and choose 'Create auto playlist'. If you don't see this option, try maximizing your Windows Media Player 12 window.

This brings up the 'New Auto Playlist' window. Type in the text box to name your playlist. Click on the various plus signs below to add criteria.

For this example, let's make an auto playlist that contains only songs that have never been played and are less than 3 minutes long. To do this, we want to populate our list with songs with a 0 total overall play count and a length not more than 3 minutes. However, you'll notice that "length" doesn't show up in the initial list of criteria when you click the plus sign. No worries - just scroll all the way down and choose 'More'.

The full list is much longer. You'll find length about halfway down. Choose it and click OK.

Repeat this process to add the 'Play Count: Total Overall' criteria. You'll see them added in the main window.

To change the parameters of the criteria, click the underlined text.

You'll either be prompted to choose a parameter from the list or type in a value.

If you want to, you can also include media from your other libraries. To do so, click the plus sign beneath the 'And also include'. section. Here, you can see that the Pictures library has been added.

However, we don't want to include pictures in this playlist. To remove a criteria or other item, choose it and click Remove.

Now, if you're anything like me, you probably have thousands of songs under three minutes in your Library. But let's say you wanted a playlist that was small enough to fit on your 1 GB digital media player. Click the plus sign below the 'And apply the following restrictions' to show your available restrictions. For this example, we'll choose 'Limit total size' so we can specify the total disk space that this auto playlist will take up.

In this example, the parameters are set to one gigabyte. (Also, I've gone ahead and corrected my shoddy math and put the length to 180 seconds, rather than 360 seconds.)

Okay, it's ready to go. Click OK and choose your auto playlist from the Navigation pane to see it.

Notice that all the songs are under 3 minutes in length and have never been played. Now, let's see the auto playlist in action. I'm going to play through the first two songs on the list entitled "Maid with the Flaxen Hair" and "Hello From Eau Claire."

The next time I load my auto playlist, these two songs have been removed, since they no longer meet the criteria of 'Play count: Total overall = 0'. Instead, the next two songs in the list have been bumped to the top.

If you'd like to make changes your auto playlist, simply click Edit while viewing it in the Player Library.

That about wraps up playlists. But before you go, here are some additional tips:

  • You can save an auto playlist as a regular playlist. This won't overwrite the original auto playlist, rather, it will save all the songs that meet the criteria at the time that it was saved. So, for example, you could save a version of your auto playlist once every six months and then go back and see what your favorite songs were in the past.
  • Windows Media Player 12 orders auto playlists with little rhyme or reason. Once you add them to the Play list in the Lists pane, you can shuffle the songs or reorder them as you see fit. It's a good idea to do so, unless you'd rather listen to your songs in alphabetical order.
  • Missing the 'Recently added' list from Windows Media Player 11? Create an auto playlist with the criteria 'Date Added to Library is after last 30 days'. Voila, it's back.


This short tutorial showed you how to get up and running with regular playlists and auto playlists but only scratched the surface of the potential of the latter. Take time to fiddle around and use your imagination to create cool mixes. And stay tuned for more tips on Windows Media Player 12.