Zebrafish somitogenesis is governed by a segmentation clock that generates oscillations in expression of several Notch pathway genes, including her1, her7 and deltaC. Using a combination of pharmacological inhibition and Mendelian genetics, we show that DeltaD and DeltaC, two Notch ligands, represent functionally distinct signals within the segmentation clock. Using high-resolution fluorescent in situ hybridization, the oscillations were divided into phases based on eight distinct subcellular patterns of mRNA localization for 140,000 cells. her1, her7 and deltaC expression was examined in wild-type, deltaD(-/-) and deltaC(-/-) embryos. We identified areas within the tailbud where the clock is set up in the progenitor cells (priming), where the clock starts running (initiation), and where the clocks of neighbouring cells are entrained (synchronization). We find that the clocks of motile cells are primed by deltaD in a progenitor zone in the posterior tailbud and that deltaD is required for cells to initiate oscillations on exiting this zone. Oscillations of adjacent cells are synchronized and amplified by deltaC in the posterior presomitic mesoderm as cell movement subsides and cells maintain stable neighbour relationships.