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Computing Derivatives

Computing Derivatives

Derivative of a Constant Multiple of a Function

Start with taking the derivatives of some lines.

Sample Problem

Find the derivative of each function.

  • f(x) = x
  • g(x) = 3f(x)
  • h(x) = 3g(x)

Answer. These are all lines.

  • The derivative of f(x) = x is the slope of the line f(x) = x, which is 1. Therefore f'(x) = 1.
  • Since f(x) = x,
    g(x) = 3f(x) = 3x.
    This is a line with slope 3, therefore g'(x) = 3.
  • Since g(x) = 3x,
    h(x) = 3g(x) = 3(3x) = 9x. 
    This is a line with slope 9, therefore h'(x) = 9.

If we multiply a function by 3, the derivative gets multiplied by 3 also. If we multiply a function by 2, the derivative gets multiplied by 2. And so on. The derivative of the function cf(x), assuming f is differentiable, is cf'(x).

In symbols, if g(x) = cf(x) where c is a constant, then 

g'(x) = cf'(x).

In words, if we have a function f and multiply it by some constant c to find a new function, then the derivative of that new function is c multiplied by the derivative of f. This works for any differentiable function f and any constant c.

In pictures, it's easiest to see what's going on with a line. If we take a line y = mx + b, it looks something like this:

If we multiply the whole line by 3, the line gets stretched vertically:

Now the line is 3 times steeper. Although it's a bit harder to see the picture with curvy functions, the idea is the same. If we stretch (or shrink) the function vertically, we're also stretching (or shrinking) its derivative.