It would have been played vertically like the modern oboe or clarinet but it is uncertain whether the reed would have been single or double. Of more significance acoustically is the fact that the bore was cylindrical, thus producing a sound an octave lower than an instrument with a conical bore.
The most surviving pipes are those from Pompeii, made of ivory and silver, and from Meroe in the Sudan with an inner tube. The importance of the London pipe is enhanced by its excellent condition.
The technical achievement of producing a seamless copper tube is also astonishing. The sections fit together with precision to avoid leaking air causing inadvertent squeaks during any performance.
The modern British firm, British Telecom, adopted a single figure playing a double-pipe as its logo but Roman contemporary sources refer to massed pipe bands and large groups of players and they are depicted on funerary scenes.
A consistent feature of the illustrations is that the pipes were played in pairs, restricting the number of playable holes for each pipe to the fingers on one hand.
Technically, there is no practical difficulty in sounding two instruments simultaneously and often the piper is shown wearing a supporting neck-brace. The pipes could have been played in unison or one pipe could have played a melody, while the other a drone.
It is certain that at a professional level, the full musical capacity of the instrument would have been exploited. There are graphic descriptions of virtuoso performances at music contests and it is probable that a mixture of unison playing, drone and some degree of harmony was possible.
For further information on musical instruments in London, see the music section in the object catalogue.