Ask Max: How to Unlock an iPod/iPhone/iPad If You've Forgotten the Password
My son has an iPod that is locked. He can't remember the combination. What can I do to get unlocked?
A forgotten password is a common occurrence on iDevices, so Apple has a few ways to help get you past your locked iPod. This also works for iPhones and iPads. As you may have discovered, once you try the wrong password 6x, you will be locked out of your device and have to wait before you try again. Apple has taken great measure in the past few years to combat theft by making it near-impossible to get into a locked device, thus making it pointless for theives to steal them, but there are a few different ways you can get back into your iDevice, depending whether or not you're using iCloud to back up or iTunes. Each of them, however, require you to erase your device.
If you're using iTunes to back up, connect the device to your computer you synced with and open iTunes. If it asks you for your password, follow the Recovery Method listed below or try another computer you've synced it with. If it conncts with your iDevice without a problem, wait until your iDevice syncs with your computer, then click "Restore [Your_Device_Name]." When prompted, restore from the latest iTunes backup.
iCloud and Find My iPhone
In order to restore from iCloud, sign into iCloud.com with your Apple ID. If you forgot your Apple ID, try to reset it using iForgot. Click "All Devices" at the top of the screen. Select the device you want to erase, then restore from backup.
If you haven't backed up to either iTunes or iCloud, then you will have to restore from Recovery Mode, which will also erase your device and passcode. To resotre from Recovery Mode, connect your iDevice to iTunes. (If you don't have a computer, you can go to an Apple Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider. When it's connected, force restart it. (Press the Sleep/Wake button and Home button at the same time.) Keep holding those buttons down past the Apple logo until you see the Recovery Mode screen. Choose Restore. Let the process finish, then set up your iDevice as usual.
Then please get in the habit of backing up your iDevices and your Computer regularly. With iCloud and Time Machine, respectively, after a one-time set up, the devices back up on their own. It's well worth the minimal effort.
Older Versions of OS X
If you're running an older operating system, like Snow Leopard (10.6.8) and an earlier version of iOS, you still might be able to connect the iPod to the computer it was originally configured on and open iTunes. When you disconnect iPod from the computer, it will no longer be locked. You then can go into the preferences and turn off the lock. If you don't have access to the original computer or it just does not work, you can jump to the second method. The best fix for any iPod problem is the classic "restore your iPod to factory settings." That this will erase all data on your iPod and take you back to day one, but you can just add your music and data back to iPod from iTunes. This is the true benefit of the iPod / iTunes relationship.