Sequences – recurrence relations and nth term

Recurrence Relations

We often refer to sequences defined by recurrence relations as term-to-term sequences. Recall that $u_n$ is the $n$th term in a given sequence.  A recurrence relation is defined as follows:

$u_{n+1}=f(u_n)$.

As you can see, the next term in a sequence is a function of the previous term. In order to generate a sequence like this, the first term must be stated. For example, consider the sequence generated by:

$u_{n+1}=u_n\left(7-\frac{1}{2}u_n\right), \hspace{15pt}u_1=2$

We find $u_2$ by setting $n=1$ and substituting $u_1$. We find $u_3$ by setting $n=2$ and substituted $u_2$ and so on. Hence why it is called a ‘recurrence relation’. This sequence is nonlinear and the terms are given by

$u_2=u_1\left(7-\frac{1}{2}u_1\right)=2(7-\frac{1}{2}\times 2)=12$,

$u_3=u_2\left(7-\frac{1}{2}u_2\right)=12(7-\frac{1}{2}\times 12)=12$,…

… and so on. After the first term, the terms in this sequence will always be 12. See Example 1 for another recurrence relation.

nth term sequences

We often refer to $n$th term sequences as position-to-term sequences. This is where the sequences are defined as follows:

$u_n=f(n)$

This is also known as closed form. In this case, each term in the sequence if a function of its position. Unlike for recurrence relations, we do not need a first term to generate a sequence like this. This is because, when given in closed form, each term of a sequence is defined by its position number. For example, consider the sequence generated by the closed form $u_{n}=4^n-1$. We find $u_1$ by setting $n=1$, $u_2$ by setting $n=2$ etc:

$u_1=4^1-1=3$,

$u_2=4^2-1=15$,

$u_3=4^3-1=63$, …

 and so on. This sequence is also nonlinear and will diverge (what does diverge mean?). See Example 2 for more.

Increasing, Decreasing and Periodic Sequences

  • Increasing sequences satisfy $u_{n+1}>u_n$. For example, the sequence generated by the recurrence relation $u_{n+1}=u_n^2+1$ with $u_1=0$ is given by $0, 1, 2, 5, 26, 677,…$ This is an increasing sequence. 
  • Decreasing sequences satisfy $u_{n+1}<u_n$. For example, the sequence generated by the $n$th term rule $u_n=5-2n$ is given by $3, 1, -1, -3, -5,…$. This is a decreasing sequence.
  • Periodic sequences are those that repeat after a fixed number of terms. We can write this as $u_{n+k}=u_n$ for some fixed value of $k$. $k$ is known as the order or period of the sequence. For example, the sequence $4, -1, 7, 4, -1, 7, …$ is periodic with period 3. 

See Examples 1 and 2.

 

Examples of Sequences

The recurrence relation of a sequence is defined by $x_{k+1}=ax_k(x_k+1)$ where $a$ is a constant with $x_1=\frac{1}{2}$. 

  1. Given that $x_2=\frac{1}{4}$,  find the value of $a$.
  2. Generate the first 4 terms of the sequence.
  3. State whether or not the sequence is increasing, decreasing or periodic.

The nth term of a sequence is given by $u_n=\cos\left(\frac{1}{4}\pi n\right)$. 

  1. State the period of the sequence.
  2. Calculate $\sum_{i=1}^{80} u_n$.

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