Larval zebrafish provide a unique model for investigating the mechanisms involved in generating rhythmic patterns of behavior, such as swimming, due to the array of techniques available including genetics, optical imaging, and conventional electrophysiology. Because electrophysiological and imaging studies of rhythmic motor behaviors in paralyzed preparations depend on the ability to monitor the central motor pattern, we developed a fictive preparation in which the activity of axial motor neurons was monitored using extracellular recordings from peripheral nerves. We examined spontaneous and light induced fictive motor patterns in wild type and mutant larval zebrafish (4-6 days post-fertilization) paralyzed with curare. All spontaneous and light-induced preparations produced alternation of motor activity from side-to-side (mean contralateral phase = 50.7 +/- 7.0%; mean burst frequency = 35.6 +/- 4.7 Hz) and a progression of activity from head-to-tail (mean ipsilateral rostrocaudal delay = 0.8 +/- 0.5 ms per segment), consistent with lateral undulation and forward propulsion during swimming, respectively. The basic properties of the motor pattern were similar in spontaneous and light-induced swimming. This fictive preparation can be used in combination with conventional electrophysiological and imaging methods to investigate normal circuit function as well as to elucidate functional deficits in mutant lines. Toward this end, we show that two accordion class mutants, accordion and bandoneon, have alternating activity on opposite sides of the body, contradicting the hypothesis that their deficit results from the absence of the reciprocal glycinergic inhibition that is typically found in the spinal cord of swimming vertebrates.