Fast cyclic movements and discrete motor acts are controlled differently, presumably because fast cyclic tasks are more automated, thereby depending on different circuits. If fast cyclic movements are made less predictable (e.g., by mixing frequencies), one would predict that their control will be less automated, requiring increased activity in motor cortical areas. The present functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) study investigated whether switching between frequencies increases the motor cortex activity compared to movements at single rates. Therefore, hand tapping at mixed frequencies (“mixed”) was compared with hand tapping at 0.4 (“low frequency”), 0.8 (“mid-frequency”), and 1.4 Hz (“high frequency”). Oxy-hemoglobin (HbO) and deoxy-hemoglobin (HbR) concentration changes were studied in eleven healthy subjects with eight-channel fNIRS covering the hand motor cortex. Repeated-measures ANOVAs revealed significant main effects for the type of task in HbO and HbR. Post hoc analysis showed a larger HbO increase and HbR decrease for the mixed task compared to the low- and high-frequency conditions. In addition, the mid-frequency condition revealed a smaller HbR decrease compared to the mixed task. Single frequency data indicated the existence of separate motor control systems for low- and high-frequency movements. The increased activity for the mixed task is suggested to be the result of the recruitment of a voluntary command motor system instead of automated systems. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.