The tremors of Parkinson's disease (PD) and essential tremor (ET) are traditionally considered to depend on a central oscillator producing rhythmic activation of the motoneurones of all extremities. To test this hypothesis, we have compared electromyographic tremor activity in different muscles of the affected limbs using cross spectral analysis, including coherence and phase. Surface electromyographic recordings from both arms, legs, and the neck were analyzed in 22 patients with PD and 28 patients with ET. Volume conduction between neighboring muscles producing artificial "coherence" has been found to be an important methodologic problem. We have developed a mathematical test to exclude data that could distort the results. According to this test, 10% or 25% of muscle combinations from the same limb had to be excluded from further analysis in PD or ET, respectively. In both, patients with PD and ET, we found a considerable number of muscle combinations oscillating at virtually the same frequency (delta frequency <0.4 Hz) without showing a significant coherence. Thus, the frequency difference between different muscles is not sufficient to measure the correlation between two muscles. Significant coherencies between muscles within the same arm or leg were found in 70% or 90% of patients with PD or ET, respectively, whereas only one patient with PD and not a single patient with ET showed significant coherencies between muscles from different limbs. The phase between coherent muscles of the same arm of patients with PD showed a preference of either a reciprocal alternating pattern for antagonistic muscles in forearm flexor and upper arm extensor as opposed to a co-contraction pattern between the hand flexors and the triceps brachii. In patients with ET such clear differences were lacking. We conclude that multiple oscillators are responsible for the tremor in different extremities of patients with PD and ET. Differences between PD and ET concerning the phase relation within the arm may either be related to the topography within the basal ganglia or to differently involved-spinal pathways.