We used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to study the time course of corticospinal excitability before and after brisk thumb abduction movements, either in a simple reaction time (RT) paradigm or self-paced. Premovement increase in corticospinal excitability began about 20 msec earlier for self-paced compared with simple RT movements. For both simple RT and self-paced movements after electromyographic (EMG) offset, there was a first period of increased excitability from 0 to 100 msec, followed by a second period from 100 to 160 msec. Corticospinal excitability was decreased from about 500 to 1,000 msec after EMG offset for both types of movements. Our results show that motor preparation that begins 1.5 to 2 seconds before self-paced movement is not associated with increased corticospinal excitability. The first phase of increased corticospinal excitability after EMG offset may be due to activity of motor cortex neuron subthreshold for activating spinal motor neurons, and the second phase may reflect a subthreshold second agonist burst. The period of decreased corticospinal excitability after movement corresponds to the onset of event-related synchronization (ERS) of electroencephalographic signals in the 20-Hz band, and supports the hypothesis that ERS may be related to an inactive, idling state of the motor cortex.