The timing of songs during vocal interactions in male passerines is an important component in territorial signalling as it can reflect information on the singer's state or possibly its quality. Using interactive playback, I investigated effects of song alternation and song overlapping on the nocturnal singing behaviour of nightingales, Luscinia megarhynchos. Subjects timed their songs differently depending on whether the playbacks songs overlapped their songs or alternated with them. During overlapping treatments, subjects sang at higher rates and interrupted more songs than during alternating treatments. In addition, during alternating treatments subjects sang at higher rates when they had been exposed to the overlapping treatment than when the alternating treatment was the first treatment they had received. These latter responses indicate that timing of songs is not just an immediate effect such as to avoid signal masking but that prior experience with a rival influences the way an individual uses its song. The results thus suggest that not only song overlapping but also the timing of songs during alternating singing carries important information. Individual differences in response suggest further that slate (e.g. arousal or motivation) or possibly quality of a territorial male is important for decisions on how it responds vocally.