We describe our methods for analysing muscle function in a whole intact small insect, taking advantage of a simple flexible optical beam to produce an inexpensive transducer with wide application. We review our previous data measuring the response to a single action potential driven muscle twitch to explore jumping behaviour in Drosophila melanogaster. In the fruitfly, where the sophisticated and powerful genetic toolbox is being widely employed to investigate neuromuscular function, we further demonstrate the use of the apparatus to analyse in detail, within whole flies, neuronal and muscle mutations affecting activation of muscle contraction in the jump muscle. We have now extended the use of the apparatus to record the muscle forces during larval and other aspects of adult locomotion. The robustness, simplicity and versatility of the apparatus are key to these measurements. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.