The study of active and passive neuronal dynamics usually relies on a sophisticated array of electrophysiological, staining and pharmacological techniques. We describe here a simple complementary method that recovers many findings of these more complex methods but relies only on a basic patch-clamp recording approach. Somatic short and long current pulses were applied in vitro to striatal medium spiny (MS) and fast spiking (FS) neurons from juvenile rats. The passive dynamics were quantified by fitting two-compartment models to the short current pulse data. Lumped conductances for the active dynamics were then found by compensating this fitted passive dynamics within the current–voltage relationship from the long current pulse data. These estimated passive and active properties were consistent with previous more complex estimations of the neuron properties, supporting the approach. Relationships within the MS and FS neuron types were also evident, including a graduation of MS neuron properties consistent with recent findings about D1 and D2 dopamine receptor expression. Application of the method to simulated neuron data supported the hypothesis that it gives reasonable estimates of membrane properties and gross morphology. Therefore detailed information about the biophysics can be gained from this simple approach, which is useful for both classification of neuron type and biophysical modelling. Furthermore, because these methods rely upon no manipulations to the cell other than patch clamping, they are ideally suited to in vivo electrophysiology.