Skeletal muscles in vertebrates develop from somites as the result of patterning and cell type specification events. Here, we review the current knowledge of genes and signals implicated in these processes. We discuss in particular the role of the myogenic determination genes as deduced from targeted gene disruptions in mice and how their expression may be controlled. We also refer to other transcription factors which collaborate with the myogenic regulators in positive or negative ways to control myogenesis. Moreover, we review experiments that demonstrate the influence of tissues surrounding the somites on the process of muscle formation and provide model views on the underlying mechanisms. Finally, we present recent evidence on genes that play a role in regeneration of muscle in adult organisms.