If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

## AP®︎/College Calculus BC

### Course: AP®︎/College Calculus BC>Unit 10

Lesson 5: Harmonic series and p-series

# Harmonic series and 𝑝-series

𝑝-series is a family of series where the terms are of the form 1/(nᵖ) for some value of 𝑝. The Harmonic series is the special case where 𝑝=1. These series are very interesting and useful.

## Video transcript

- [Instructor] For many hundreds of years, mathematicians have been fascinated by the infinite sum, which we would call a series, of one plus 1/2 plus 1/3 plus 1/4, and you just keep adding on and on and on forever. And this is interesting on many layers. One, it just feels like something that would be interesting to explore. It's one over one plus one over two plus one over three, that each of these terms are getting smaller and smaller. They're approaching zero, but when you add them all together, these infinite number of terms, do you get a finite number or does it diverge, do not get a finite number? This also shows up in music and this actually might have been one of the early motivations for studying this series. Where if you have a fundamental note, a fundamental frequency in music, and the point of this video isn't to teach you too much about music, but if you have a fundamental note, that might be a pure A or something like that. I'm just showing you one of its wavelengths. Obviously, you would keep going like that and hit is a hand-drawn version, so it's not perfect. The harmonics are the frequencies, the overtones, that at least to our ear, reinforce that A, and what's true about the harmonics are that they will be 1/2 of the wavelength of A. In which case, it might look something like this. So this would be a harmonic of A. It has half of the wavelength of A and notice, it gets, when it finishes its second full wave form, it ends again right at the same time that the wavelength of A ends. And then it would be another harmonic where it'd be something that has 1/3 the wavelength of an A and a 1/4 of a wavelength of A, and if you look at a lot of musical instruments or what sounds good to our ears, they're playing not just a fundamental tone, but a lot of the harmonics. But anyway, that was a long-winded way of justifying why this is called the harmonic series. Harmonic, harmonic series. And in a future video, we will prove that, and I don't want to ruin the punchline, but this actually diverges, and I will come up with general rules for when things that look like this might converge or diverge, but the harmonic series in particular diverges. So if we were to write it, so in sigma form, we would write it like this. We're going from n equals one to infinity of one over n. Now another interesting thing is well, what if we were to throw in some exponents here? So we already said, and I'll just rewrite it. Doesn't hurt to rewrite it and get more familiar with it. This right over here is the harmonic series. One over one, which is just one plus one over two plus one over three, so on and so forth, but what if we were to raise each of these denominators to say, the second power? So you might have something that looks like this, where you have from n equals one to infinity of one over n to the second power. Well, then it would look like this. It'd be one over one squared, which is one, and we can just write that first term as one, plus one over two squared, which would be 1/4, plus one over three squared, which is 1/9, and then you could go on and on forever. Forever, and then you could generalize it. You could say hey, all right, what if we wanted to have a general class of series that we were to describe like this? Going from n equals one to infinity of one over n to the p, where p could be any exponent. So for example, well the way this would play out is this would be one plus one over two to the p plus one over three to the p plus one over four to the p, and it doesn't just have to be an integer value. It could be, some, p could be 1/2, in which case, you would have one plus one over the square root of two plus one of the square root of three. This entire class of series and of course, harmonic series is a special case where p is equal to one, this is known as p series. So these are known as p series and I try to remember it 'cause it's p for the power that you are raising this denominator to. You could also view it as you're raising the whole expression to it because one to any exponent is still going to be one. But I hinted a little bit that maybe some of these converge and some of these diverge, and we're going to prove it in future videos, but the general principle is if p is greater than one, then we are going to converge. And that makes sense intuitively because that means that the terms are getting smaller and smaller fast enough because the larger the exponent for that denominator, that means that the denominator's going to get bigger faster which means that the fraction is going to get smaller faster and if p is less than or equal to one, and of course, when p is equal to one, we're dealing with the famous harmonic series, that's a situation in which we diverge and we will prove these things in future videos.