Studies of vertebrate heart development have identified key genes and signalling molecules involved in the formation of a myocardial tube from paired heart-forming fields in splanchnic mesoderm. The posterior region of the paired heart-forming fields subsequently contributes myocardial precursor cells to the inflow region or venous pole of the heart. Recently, a population of myocardial precursor cells in chick and mouse embryos has been identified in pharyngeal mesoderm anterior to the early heart tube. This anterior heart-forming field gives rise to myocardium of the outflow region or arterial pole of the heart. The amniote heart is therefore derived from two myocardial precursor cell populations, which appear to be regulated by distinct genetic programmes. Discovery of the anterior heart-forming field has important implications for the interpretation of cardiac defects in mouse mutants and for the study of human congenital heart disease.