Voluntary movements are preceded by event-related desynchronization (ERD) of alpha and beta activity. The present study used magnetoencephalography to investigate the relationship between motor preparation and the time course of beta ERD in a delayed response paradigm. Depending on the task, the required response (left or right finger lifting) was cued either spatially by the lateralization of a sound at trial onset, or verbally by the content of a midline auditory event. Beta ERD appeared over sensorimotor regions contralaterally to the response side about 200 ms earlier for the spatial than the verbal cue task. This suggests a close relationship between the latency of beta ERD onset and the duration of cognitive processes involved in selecting a motor response.