What is the iTunes Grouping Tag?

I wrote recently how Apple Music now uses the Grouping tag to indicate performers and composers for music when you browse Apple Music. The Grouping tag has been available in iTunes for many years. If you select a set of tracks and press Command-I, you’ll see its field:

Grouping tag

As you can see above, I’ve selected the 32 tracks of this recent recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations by Igor Levit. The Grouping field shows the name of the work.

When this tag contains metadata, you can also see it in the iTunes Store. With the album below, you can see how the Grouping tag organizes the album. Multi-track works are grouped under that tag, and single-movement works stand alone.

Grouping itunes store

There are two problems with the Grouping tag. First, if you look at a lot of music on the iTunes Store and Apple Music, you’ll find that not many classical albums use the tag. It’s up to the record labels to provide this metadata.

Second, while you can edit the Grouping tag in iTunes, and display a column showing that tag’s contents, you cannot view works using that tag. Ideally, iTunes would allow a work – defined by the Grouping tag – to display as a single line with a disclosure triangle. When you click the triangle, you’d see the work’s tracks. Even in the iTunes Store, where you see the down-pointing disclosure triangle above, clicking it does nothing; it merely serves as a bullet to indent the tracks that are grouped by that tag.

With Apple’s recent addition of the grouping tag to Apple Music, perhaps the company is going to improve its use in iTunes. For now, at least it makes browsing Apple Music a bit better.

34 thoughts on “What is the iTunes Grouping Tag?

  1. So. For multipart classical compositions, should we start putting the composition name in the Grouping tag? At least that could be used for searching for all parts of a composition if you only have the movement or section name in the “Name” tag (I haven’t tested this search). Often the full composition name PLUS the movement name together in the Name tag is just TOO long to ever show you the movement name on the iPhone. Argh.

    • iTunes doesn’t search in the Grouping tag; at least not yet. So there’s no real upside to adding that info in iTunes, unless you use Songs view, and want to display the Grouping column.

      • If you enable Grouping column in Songs view in “My Music” section and disable “Search Entire Library” in search bar you can search for Grouping everywhere in iTunes , in every view (Artists, Albums, Composers etc.) Actually if you add every column in the main “My Music” section in songs view it will be searchable in the entire program.

          • Go to Songs view , hit Command-J, then in the “Show Columns” drop down menu click on Grouping and add it to the columns in your list view.

            • I know how to do that. What I mean is that I can’t search for anything in the Grouping field. I tried putting text strings there that don’t appear anywhere else in my library, and iTunes did not find them.

            • No, that’s not working for me at all. I added “weird shit” to some grouping tags, and iTunes doesn’t find them. I’ve tried random characters, real words, nothing works. I wonder what the difference is.

  2. So. For multipart classical compositions, should we start putting the composition name in the Grouping tag? At least that could be used for searching for all parts of a composition if you only have the movement or section name in the “Name” tag (I haven’t tested this search). Often the full composition name PLUS the movement name together in the Name tag is just TOO long to ever show you the movement name on the iPhone. Argh.

    • iTunes doesn’t search in the Grouping tag; at least not yet. So there’s no real upside to adding that info in iTunes, unless you use Songs view, and want to display the Grouping column.

      • If you enable Grouping column in Songs view in “My Music” section and disable “Search Entire Library” in search bar you can search for Grouping everywhere in iTunes , in every view (Artists, Albums, Composers etc.) Actually if you add every column in the main “My Music” section in songs view it will be searchable in the entire program.

          • Go to Songs view , hit Command-J, then in the “Show Columns” drop down menu click on Grouping and add it to the columns in your list view.

            • I know how to do that. What I mean is that I can’t search for anything in the Grouping field. I tried putting text strings there that don’t appear anywhere else in my library, and iTunes did not find them.

            • No, that’s not working for me at all. I added “weird shit” to some grouping tags, and iTunes doesn’t find them. I’ve tried random characters, real words, nothing works. I wonder what the difference is.

  3. I’ve been using the Grouping tag for something quite different – to specify what the content actually is ie. album, single, 12″ remix, b-side, greatest hits album etc. Then I include that info in smart playlists to manage everything a bit more automatically – ie a playlist containing just an artist’s albums without all the other other nonsense, duplicate tracks you might get from compilation appearances, greatest hits albums etc.

    • I’ve been using it to put down what country it comes from and/or what language the song is in. A lot of singers release their songs in English, but they might be from idk Spain or something. Or I don’t know the language it is off the top of my head like I have a song from Sweden IN Swedish and I can never remember what the language is.

      The information can be considered useless, but I like knowing where my music is coming from just for the sake of interest. I’ve been using this system since I was about 10 and only just now have I bothered to search the real use for the Grouping section xD

      Now that I know the section is useless unless you’re into your classical music, I shall keep my own system

  4. I’ve been using the Grouping tag for something quite different – to specify what the content actually is ie. album, single, 12″ remix, b-side, greatest hits album etc. Then I include that info in smart playlists to manage everything a bit more automatically – ie a playlist containing just an artist’s albums without all the other other nonsense, duplicate tracks you might get from compilation appearances, greatest hits albums etc.

    • I’ve been using it to put down what country it comes from and/or what language the song is in. A lot of singers release their songs in English, but they might be from idk Spain or something. Or I don’t know the language it is off the top of my head like I have a song from Sweden IN Swedish and I can never remember what the language is.

      The information can be considered useless, but I like knowing where my music is coming from just for the sake of interest. I’ve been using this system since I was about 10 and only just now have I bothered to search the real use for the Grouping section xD

      Now that I know the section is useless unless you’re into your classical music, I shall keep my own system

  5. Having a large classical music library I find the song view and the column browser the most effective way to handle my files. Going left to right in the column browser I move from more general to specific: Composer, Artists who perform music by that composer and then the specific works in the Album field. Not perfect but it works.
    If the name of the work goes into the grouping field then what should the album field be used for?
    For example if I start by choosing a composer (Beethoven) and in the grouping column I select one of the symphonies (Symphony no. 9 in D minor) then I find all the artists who perform that symphony (Bernstein, Karajan, Abbado etc) and decide which one I want to listen. But then in the column browser comes the album column. If you use it for the name of the boxset (for example: ‘Beethoven: the 9 symphonies – DG collectors edition’) I go from specific to general again so I guess there is something I don’t understand. I’m missing something about how to work with Grouping + Album to improve my library.

    • The main use I see right now is to shuffle by grouping. Let’s say you want to listen to all your Beethoven symphonies, but not in order. You choose Controls > Shuffle > Groupings, and turn shuffle On. You’ll then hear, instead of individual tracks from classical works, entire works. (Assuming you set the Grouping tag for all your works.)

      You can also display the Grouping tag in a column in Songs view. So you may have an album which is Beethoven Complete Symphonies, and be able to see, from the Grouping tag, which tracks belong to which symphony. (Presumably, though, you’ve got that information in the Name tag.)

  6. Having a large classical music library I find the song view and the column browser the most effective way to handle my files. Going left to right in the column browser I move from more general to specific: Composer, Artists who perform music by that composer and then the specific works in the Album field. Not perfect but it works.
    If the name of the work goes into the grouping field then what should the album field be used for?
    For example if I start by choosing a composer (Beethoven) and in the grouping column I select one of the symphonies (Symphony no. 9 in D minor) then I find all the artists who perform that symphony (Bernstein, Karajan, Abbado etc) and decide which one I want to listen. But then in the column browser comes the album column. If you use it for the name of the boxset (for example: ‘Beethoven: the 9 symphonies – DG collectors edition’) I go from specific to general again so I guess there is something I don’t understand. I’m missing something about how to work with Grouping + Album to improve my library.

    • The main use I see right now is to shuffle by grouping. Let’s say you want to listen to all your Beethoven symphonies, but not in order. You choose Controls > Shuffle > Groupings, and turn shuffle On. You’ll then hear, instead of individual tracks from classical works, entire works. (Assuming you set the Grouping tag for all your works.)

      You can also display the Grouping tag in a column in Songs view. So you may have an album which is Beethoven Complete Symphonies, and be able to see, from the Grouping tag, which tracks belong to which symphony. (Presumably, though, you’ve got that information in the Name tag.)

  7. Well, I see advantages and disadvantages both in using
    1) Composer –> Artist –> Album
    or
    2) Composer –> Grouping –> Artist.
    If I use 1) I can easily find, for example, every work I have by Beethoven recorded by Abbado. If I use 2) I can easily find every version I have of the same work, for example Symphony no. 9 and then Abbado, Bernstein etc. Both organization can be useful.
    What I think is useless is using the Album field for the name of big boxsets: for example using the album field for ‘Sviatoslav Richter: Complete Decca, Philips & DG Recordings’ (more than 50 cds if I remember it correctly) doesn’t really help anybody finding a track or a work. The main problem with a large classical music library is being able to FIND something: a file not properly tagged is hidden/lost.
    Itunes should do a little more for us classical music nerds, we are species in danger of extinction.

    • Yes, you can use groupings in the Column Browser too. The problem with that, though, is the width of each column. If you have five columns displayed, you need a wide screen to view them all.

      For big box sets, I have two strategies. Either list items by disc (so, Beethoven Sonatas 1 – Brendel), or by work. It’s a big job tagging individual works, so it depends on the type of music.

  8. Well, I see advantages and disadvantages both in using
    1) Composer –> Artist –> Album
    or
    2) Composer –> Grouping –> Artist.
    If I use 1) I can easily find, for example, every work I have by Beethoven recorded by Abbado. If I use 2) I can easily find every version I have of the same work, for example Symphony no. 9 and then Abbado, Bernstein etc. Both organization can be useful.
    What I think is useless is using the Album field for the name of big boxsets: for example using the album field for ‘Sviatoslav Richter: Complete Decca, Philips & DG Recordings’ (more than 50 cds if I remember it correctly) doesn’t really help anybody finding a track or a work. The main problem with a large classical music library is being able to FIND something: a file not properly tagged is hidden/lost.
    Itunes should do a little more for us classical music nerds, we are species in danger of extinction.

    • Yes, you can use groupings in the Column Browser too. The problem with that, though, is the width of each column. If you have five columns displayed, you need a wide screen to view them all.

      For big box sets, I have two strategies. Either list items by disc (so, Beethoven Sonatas 1 – Brendel), or by work. It’s a big job tagging individual works, so it depends on the type of music.

  9. Finally I know what it is for, thank you for explaining, in theory the idea you present may cause confusion on viewing some closed some not etc can be daunting on the eye. My guess they left it out? Thank you again, much appreciated!

  10. Finally I know what it is for, thank you for explaining, in theory the idea you present may cause confusion on viewing some closed some not etc can be daunting on the eye. My guess they left it out? Thank you again, much appreciated!

  11. Not using iTunes. I use the Grouping tag as a flag for Vinyl (source), Live, Soundtrack, and Instrumental. In other words I use the Grouping tag to flag for descriptive terms for music that are not genre related. Works GREAT!

  12. Not using iTunes. I use the Grouping tag as a flag for Vinyl (source), Live, Soundtrack, and Instrumental. In other words I use the Grouping tag to flag for descriptive terms for music that are not genre related. Works GREAT!

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