This tutorial shows you how to use iTunes' Column Browser; the exact same Column Browser can be used for music you purchased (or TV shows/movies), and in iTunes' online store. Other tutorials will cover the online store. Please note that we have updated this tutorial to cover the new iTunes Column Browser and its settings (iTunes 9).
To show the Column Browser (hidden by default), choose Show Column Browser from iTunes' View menu. A three-part pane will slide down, allowing you to narrow down the visible songs by using three fields, in order: Genre, Artist, and Album. This tutorial focuses on music, but iTunes' Column Browser can be used throughout your library (in other words, it also works with TV shows, movies and podcasts.)
Keyboard shortcut: show or hide iTunes' Column Browser by pressing Ctrl+B (Windows) or Command+B (Mac)
Note: In iTunes for Windows, you will often have to hit this keyboard twice in a row before it registers.
If the keyboard shortcut does not display iTunes' Column Browser, or if the Show Column Browser command is disabled (grayed-out under the View menu), you are probably in "Cover Flow View". To be able to access iTunes' Column Browser, simply switch back to List View or Album view. (Use the View buttons or the View menu.)
iTunes' Column Browser automatically uses all Genres defined for the given category (Music, Movies...) or playlist. This is where creating custom genres for your music can help. Clicking a Genre will narrow down the Artist column to all artists of the particular Genre; clicking a specific artist narrows down the third column to all the artist's albums you have purchased. Finally, the song listing is narrowed down further once you click on a particular album.
Short of using playlists and smart playlists, iTunes' Column Browser offers one of the quickest ways to access your music. Again, this can be used for movies and TV shows, but you probably have much more music items in iTunes than anything else.
Each category (Music, Movies...) "remembers" whether the Column Browser was visible or not; but each category and playlist is independent, and requires a manual show/hide Column Browser request. Although a bit counter-intuitive, this is justified by the fact that you only want iTunes' Column Browser visible for populous categories (like music), perhaps not for others.
Starting with iTunes 9, the iTunes Column Browser for music you have added to your library functions differently: by default, the iTunes Column Browser now shows a single column ("Artist"), and the Column Browser is displayed vertically, alongside your music (see screenshot). Simply select an artist from the Column Browser, and the corresponding music loads on the right.
iTunes Column Browser tip: double-click on an item displayed in the iTunes Column Browser, and iTunes will start playing the first song corresponding to the selected artist. Pressing the spacebar will pause the music, as it does in the main song listing.
To add more columns next to Artists, go to iTunes' View menu, and choose Column Browser: for music, the following Column Browser columns are available - Genres, Artists (displayed by default), Albums, Composers, and Groupings:
Simply repeat these steps to check or uncheck the columns you want displayed or hidden in the iTunes Column Browser. Note that, regardless of your screen resolution, iTunes does not let you select more than 3 columns for the iTunes Column Browser when it is displayed vertically (as you can see, the two remaining columns are disabled, or grayed out).
You can of course uncheck a column currently displayed, and check another one instead; while this limitation may seem puzzling, most of us will rarely need to show at once more than three columns in the iTunes Column Browser. To view the full 5 columns in the iTunes Column Browser, you will need to display it at the top of the window, instead of vertically.
If you select to show all columns while the Column Browser is placed at the top, and then move it back to the side, iTunes will either display the first three columns, or remember the order in which you selected the columns and show these first three: (the last "column" in the Column Browser on the screenshot is actually the main iTunes pane, where the music results are displayed)
iTunes Column Browser tip: to quickly clear the filters in the iTunes Column Browser, simply click the column header, and it will revert to showing "All" - of course, if you click on the header of the leftmost column, this will reset all columns. In our screenshot, we clicked on the second column: the iTunes Column Browser will then show all Artists in the second column, and automatically show all Albums in the last column.
Another iTunes Column Browser tip! To show more or less information in any of the columns of the iTunes Column Browser, simply move your cursor over the intersection of two columns: it will become a double-pointing arrow, indicating that you can resize the column by clicking and dragging sideways. Drag to the left to make the right column wider, or to the right to make the column on the left narrower. You can also resize by dragging the separator between column headers, the same way you would resize a column in Microsoft Excel or Apple's Numbers:
Tip: to move the iTunes Column Browser to the top of the window, go to View > Column Browser > On Top. (To move the iTunes Column Browser back to its new position, simply go to View > Column Browser > On Left.) Older versions of iTunes displayed the Column Browser at the top, and you may have grown accustomed to this layout.
So far in this tutorial, we have only covered the iTunes Column Browser in the context of music you purchased (or otherwise added to your iTunes library). But the iTunes Column Browser is available anywhere you have items to display, including Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, iTunes U lectures, etc. In fact, you can also use the iTunes Column Browser to browse the iTunes store:
Unlike the iTunes browse for content you purchased, however, the iTunes store's Column Browser only displays 3 columns, which can not be configured; the columns displayed depend on the first category you pick in the first column (labeled "iTunes Store").
You can access the iTunes Store's Column Browser either with the regular keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+B (Windows) or Command+B (Mac), or by using the Browse link the iTunes Store displays in the top right corner of every landing page in the store (see screenshot).
iTunes will remember where you want the iTunes Column Browser displayed or hidden: if you show the iTunes Column Browser when listening to music, and then switch to audiobooks, the iTunes Column Browser will (by default) be hidden. Once you come back to your music, the iTunes Column Browser will be visible again. Moreover, iTunes remembers the iTunes Column Browser settings for each view (which columns to show, their custom width, in which position to display the Column Browser, etc.) The same holds true for the iTunes Store's Column Browser.
The three columns (Genre, Artist, and Album) cannot be substituted for other fields. Keep in mind that for classical music especially, the "Artist" listed is often the soloist or orchestra, and not the composer as you'd expect. Vivaldi's music, for example, could be scattered between artists "Vivaldi", "Fabio Biondi", "Academy of St. Martin in the Fields," etc.
For classical music (or other categories facing the same problem, like audiobook authors), iTunes' smart playlists might be a better choice. This problem is more related to the iTunes store or Audible's classification system, but it has direct ramifications on the iTunes Column Browser's results.
The information displayed by iTunes Column Browser depends on the current content: this is determined by the playlist currently selected (if any), of the category (Music, Movies...). But this content also depends on iTunes' search field.
In the iTunes store, the search field allows you to find content by entering a search string and hitting the Enter/Return key.
Outside the iTunes store, the search field is an on-the-fly filtering tool: simply start typing, and iTunes will display (as you type) all the items with matching description fields. If the search field is empty, iTunes displays all the current category or playlist content; if the search field contains text, only the subset of items matching this text. iTunes' Column Browser uses the whole set, or a subset, whatever is currently visible. To expand on our previous point, here are the result shown by the Column Browser after typing "Vivaldi" in the search field (notice the 18 matching artists).