Patch clamp recordings from ion channels often show periods of repetitive activity, known as bursts, which are noticeably separated from each other by periods of inactivity. Depending on the type of channel, such recordings may exhibit (conductance) levels between the closed (zero) level and the fully open level. Properties of bursts are less subject to problems that arise from recording than are properties for individual sojourns at different levels, and study of bursting behaviour provides important information about the finer structure of the underlying channel gating process. For a general finite state space continuous-time Markov chain model allowing one or more nonzero conductance levels, the present paper establishes results about the semi-Markov structure of a single burst and of a sequence of bursts, and uses this in a unified approach to properties of both theoretical and empirical bursts. The distribution and moments of particular burst properties, including the total charge transfer, the total sojourn time and the total number of visits to specified conductance levels during a burst, are derived. Various extensions are also described.