During embryonic development, temporal and spatial cues are coordinated to generate a segmented body axis. In sequentially segmenting animals, the rhythm of segmentation is reported to be controlled by the time scale of genetic oscillations that periodically trigger new segment formation. However, we present real-time measurements of genetic oscillations in zebrafish embryos showing that their time scale is not sufficient to explain the temporal period of segmentation. A second time scale, the rate of tissue shortening, contributes to the period of segmentation through a Doppler effect. This contribution is modulated by a gradual change in the oscillation profile across the tissue. We conclude that the rhythm of segmentation is an emergent property controlled by the time scale of genetic oscillations, the change of oscillation profile, and tissue shortening.